Over the last several months we have been tracking the progress of Asia Pulp and Paper's (APP) efforts to manage its supply chain in a more responsible way. Following longstanding campaigns against the company and its customers, in February 2013, APP announced a comprehensive Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), in which the company committed to zero deforestation commensurate with its forest clearing moratorium. Later, the company went further still with a commitment to stop processing natural forest fiber in its pulp and paper mills from any pulpwood supplier.
Now, APP has gone a step further still with its announcement on April 28 that in collaboration with a range of stakeholders, APP will conserve and restore 1 million hectares of forest across vital landscapes in Indonesia.
This is a significant development, because while Greenpeace already ceased its campaign against APP last year with the announcement of the FCP, other groups, World Wildlife Fund notable among them, withheld their full support because APP's conservation policy did not address the company's legacy of forest destruction.
The latest announcement goes some way towards getting WWF on their side. Indeed, APP's new commitment has nudged WWF to acknowledge that it represents progress, posting on April 28 that, "WWF cautiously welcomes the restoration and conservation initiative announced.." adding, "By declaring its intention to restore and support conservation of one million hectares of natural forest and other ecosystems in Sumatra and Kalimantan, APP has substantially strengthened the Forest Conservation Policy it announced in February 2013."
WWF also indicated that it will take a more collaborative role, saying it will continue discussions with APP and other stakeholders, "to offer input on potential implementation approaches, priorities and development of a time-bound action plan for achieving real conservation impacts."
Of course, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. In its response to the news, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) both welcomed the initiative and at the same time led with the statement that the new commitment, "requires further specifics and is fraught with challenges."
Lafcadio Cortesi of RAN said, "The promise is fraught with uncertainties about what will count towards the target, what approaches will be used and how the progress on the commitment will be implemented and measured, but these are welcome challenges." Fraught though it may be, RAN applauded the intention and went as far as saying APP can be proud of the commitment, and that the company is going beyond what any of its peers have done in Indonesia and perhaps internationally.
Rhett Butler, writing in Mongabay.com, details that APP's restoration commitments target nine "landscapes" across Sumatra and Kalimantan and that the company's initial focus will be on Bukit Tigapulah or "30 Hills" -- an area of forest that provides critical habitat for endangered tigers, elephants and orangutans. To facilitate the efforts, APP will provide seed funding for "an independently administered" trust fund. APP's press release says that the company will, "work with an NGO coalition to preserve the natural forest in the 30 Hills landscape."
The 1 million hectares slated for restoration across the nine landscapes is equivalent to the total plantation area from which the company sourced pulp in 2013, according to Mongabay. APP and its supplier concession holders manage a total area of 2.6 million hectares of Indonesian forest land.
The restoration commitment comes ahead of the publication of key results from work undertaken as a result of the Forest Conservation Policy launched last year. Since APP's announcement of FCP, much of the work since undertaken has been in the areas of both "High Conservation Value -- HCV" and "High Carbon Stock -- HCS" assessments on supplier concession lands. As of January this year, APP also secured the help of peatland management experts to address concerns voiced by environmental groups over how these landscapes will be managed.
The results of these assessments are not yet in; HCS and HCV are due by the end of June, but APP has already committed that the recommendations following these will be incorporated into the company's Integrated Sustainable Forest Management Plans (ISFMPs). Consequently, adopting these recommendations and implementing ISFMP is a key milestone that has yet to be reached. But APP says in its press release that the new restoration plans, "will be developed into a more detail time-bound plan that will form part of the company's ISFMP." So, perhaps this displays an air of optimism that things are well on track and that the new plans for restoration will be able to mesh smoothly with prior commitments made under the FCP.
Other recent developments lend credibility to APP's progress, too. In January, the Rainforest Alliance agreed to conduct an audit of the company's zero deforestation policy; their agreement to do so was predicated in part by APP's association with respected organizations such as Greenpeace and The Forest Trust (TFT).
Then on April 15, The Forest Stewardship Council agreed to continue talks with APP about the potential for a re-association of APP with FSC. In the press release, FSC stated that the organization, "appreciates the recent steps taken by APP to become a more responsible company in the field of plantation management and forest conservation following its 2013 Forest Conservation Policy."
For APP's part, they continue to push ahead and want to put distance between the present and past criticisms. Mongabay.com's piece reports Aida Greenbury, APP's managing director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement, as saying: "Past relationships with any of our critics are exactly that - past relationships. History," adding, "Our focus has been simply to keep going with the business of building trust, transparency and delivering commitments. And I think we are succeeding."
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Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.