Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

leonkaye headshot

NGO Lists Companies, Countries Most Responsible for Deforestation

Words by Leon Kaye

Despite promises from companies stating that they are committed to stopping deforestation, the United Kingdom’s Global Canopy Program (GCP) insists more needs to be done to halt this worldwide problem. To that end, the GCP has assembled what it calls the Forest 500, which includes a list of 250 countries, 150 investors and 50 countries that together largely control the global timber supply chain.

In a nutshell, this group of stakeholders controls about $1.7 trillion in shareholdings that are exposed to “forest risk commodities.” These actors, from Fortune 500 companies to the world’s largest financial institutions, have revenues exceeding $4.5 trillion while dominating the global supply chains of soy, beef, leather, palm oil, timber, and pulp and paper. Corporate promises aside, the GCP insists that this group has much to do in guaranteeing the survival of the world’s forests. The study, however, does acknowledge that some of the individual companies have done much to confront deforestation — but as a group they need to do much more.

So, who are some of the success stories?

According to the analysts who came up with the Forest 500, only a few companies ranked highly, as in earning a perfect 5 out of 5: Groupe Danone, Kao Corp, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser Group and Unilever. Overall, consumer-facing home care, cosmetics and personal care companies fared well in this study. The animal feed industry, not surprisingly to some observers, lagged behind other sectors.

The Forest 500 places a lot of responsibility on investors to pull the reins in on deforestation, in part because they have the means “to ensure a rapid transition to a zero deforestation economy.” The GCP found that not a single investor had a commitment to an overall zero or net-zero deforestation policy in order to address the risks that come with the disappearance of the world’s forests. Only one major global financial institution, HSBC, earned a high score. Several other firms, including Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and UBS, earned a “good” with a 4 out of 5 score. But the survey judged that the vast majority of financial institutions had poor sustainable investment policies. Furthermore, sovereign wealth funds and hedge funds in general scored very low in the survey.

According to the analysts behind the Forest 500, governments share a huge amount of the blame with companies and investors. The countries included in this survey are home to about 90 percent of the world’s tropical forests and about 90 percent of the tropical deforestation that occurred over the past decade. But despite the growing warnings over disappearing forests, few countries have developed zero deforestation goals that come close to the United Nations’ New York Declaration on Forests. As a region, Latin America scores relatively high, notably Peru, Colombia and Brazil. Lower scoring countries include Nigeria and Madagascar. China and India, which are huge importers of forest products, also scored low in the survey.

Considering this group is responsible for 70 percent of the world’s ongoing deforestation, GCP and the Forest 500 insist more has to be done: not only because forests serve as the world’s lungs, but also because the companies and the countries in which they operate have put themselves in long-term financial risk. More background on how the GCP came up with its analysis is available here.

Image credit: Alex Rio Brazil

Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye

More stories from Energy & Environment