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Leon Kaye headshot

Asia Pulp and Paper Says Its Words About Sustainability Are Backed by Action

By Leon Kaye

Indonesia-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) does not always score the most favorable press. Many publications, including TriplePundit, have cast everything from a watchful eye to scathing criticism of the company’s alleged environmental practices — or malpractices. Many NGOs, including Greenpeace, have long accused APP of dodgy deforestation throughout its Southeast Asia operations and have described the company’s words of promise as “greenwashing.”

But the evidence suggests that APP, which ranks among the world’s largest pulp and paper companies and one that is important to many companies' supply chains, is beginning to listen after a decade of withering exposes and censure from the international media.

The company’s most recent sustainability report that covered its operations in China claims it has launched a bevy of environmental and social responsibility programs. They include a $140 million investment in environmental protection in 2014, which the company says has boosted its overall spending on such programs to a total of $1.4 billion. Another $5.3 million of the company’s funds have been devoted to education and community development programs.

Those actions have changed some minds. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited APP executives to last fall’s Climate Summit in New York. The result was the company inking the U.N.’s New York Declaration of Forests.

To that end, APP invited me to represent TriplePundit in China, where I will see some of the company’s mills. The aim is to show progress on what the company says is its “Vision 2020” agenda, which aims to integrate sustainability into every facet of its operations with forest conservation a focal point of this plan.

The company touts several new achievements and policies made over the past couple of years: the elimination of harvesting from natural rainforests; the use of only managed forests for the sourcing of all raw materials; and collaboration with the NGO The Forest Trust, an alliance that has scored the confidence of its largest critic, Greenpeace. Other initiatives include the promise to protect and restore 1 million hectares (3,860 square meters) of forests and remediation of lands elsewhere that are equivalent to the size of the state of Delaware. More information about the company’s environmental policies is included on APP’s global operations’ website.

Included on this dog-and-pony show is a tour of what the company says is a $1.8 billion cutting-edge paper mill in Ningbo, a city of 8 million approximately a three-hour drive from Shanghai. Another mill on the agenda is on subtropical Hainan Island, where the APP says is the world’s largest paper machine.

“Looking ahead, we are ready to learn from our experience and to further collaborate with other stakeholders in our landscape, in our country and beyond, to try to create a better world for future generations,” wrote the company’s sustainability director, Aida Greenbury, in a report that APP sent to me in advancement of this trip.

Indeed, the fair question to ask is what is going on in the areas an organization not showing you, but compared to the company’s tone a few years ago, APP has been far more conciliatory with both environmental advocates and the media. Whether those words really do translate into action is a fair question, and I plan on asking many this week.

Image credit: APP

Disclosure: APP is funding Leon Kaye’s trip to China. Neither the author nor TriplePundit were required to write about the experience. 

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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