The global pulp and paper industry is one of the four main drivers of deforestation worldwide, according to environmental groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists. But one player in the industry, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), says it has made significant advances in recent years, and is pushing the global timber sector to do the same.
Recently, TriplePundit caught up with Aida Greenbury, managing director and chief of sustainability at APP, from her office in Jakarta. She shared some of the company’s recent milestones, as well as ideas on how the global pulp and paper can help stop deforestation.
TriplePundit: Let’s start with some of the global initiatives designed to fight deforestation. Is the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) working? Are the criteria realistic or just too simplified?
Aida Greenbury: We should evaluate the NYDF’s success based on what it is: an instrument to facilitate high-level political commitment, and a voluntary and non-binding international declaration ... to halt global deforestation.
In this sense, it is indeed working in that, as a result since it was first endorsed in 2014, over 190 governments, sub-national governments, multinational companies, indigenous communities, and NGOs have committed to halt deforestation and are actively working towards that goal. But sure, more can still be done.
APP is still the only integrated pulp and paper company committed to the NYDF, which shouldn’t be the case. All private companies active in land use should be committed to ending deforestation, work together to achieve set goals and targets. And while it is true that the goals and associated criteria may seem ‘simple’, they allow signatories a basis from which to delve into the details and adapt them to specific national and local contexts. Each goal is accompanied by associated indicators which provide clear guidance on how to achieve the goals.
What has always remained challenging is not the criteria, but turning commitments into implementation. In the latest progress report issued in 2016, the majority of companies assessed had yet to take the essential steps to turn their commitments into actions. Since APP signed the declaration, we have made significant progress on our Forest Conservation Policy - which we just celebrated the 4th anniversary of - but can’t forget that we too still have a long way to go in finding the solutions that work to truly end natural forest loss across the globe.
3p: Where are we today with zero deforestation?
AG: The good thing today is that we are seeing an acceleration of zero deforestation commitments being released by companies worldwide, including those in the four key industries of timber/pulp & paper, palm, soy, and cattle. More than 400 companies have made over 700 pledges to reduce their impacts on forests and the rights of forest communities. More and more companies are making voluntary commitments to forest conservation through the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), the NYDF, the Tropical Forest Alliance and many other initiatives.
However, while it is encouraging that so many companies have established new policies, the challenge comes in ensuring that we’re all talking about the same thing when we say “zero deforestation.” You see the use of terms like “zero illegal deforestation,” “zero net deforestation,” and, of course “zero deforestation.” How companies actually interpret these terms not only has huge implications for actual impacts on forests, but also on the credibility of the concept overall.
One approach that APP has found useful in navigating this space is the High Carbon Stock Approach, which includes a methodology for distinguishing between forest areas that should be protected and non-forest areas that may be considered for production. As the co-Chair of the High Carbon Stock Approach Steering Committee, I can speak first hand to the fact that this approach represents a unified framework, endorsed by a range of stakeholders including governments, private sector, NGOs, and leading academics.
3p: What are the challenges in adopting a zero-deforestation policy?
AG: I would come back again here to the lack of an agreed definition on what a “zero deforestation” policy should include. Other challenges include setting realistic milestones and communicating those milestones effectively with stakeholders.
There is often pressure from various stakeholders to achieve targets overnight, but to truly end deforestation, the full range of causes must be assessed, followed by integrated land use planning to identify how to implement changes among a complex web of land users. I have always said that we have to learn to walk before we can run in this process, and that we will probably stumble a few times along the way.
With the development of APP’s Integrated Sustainable Forest Management Plans, we’ve taken three years, but as a result we’ve also achieved consensus among all land users and have achieved an increase in forest conservation and restoration areas of up to 35 percent in some forest concessions.
3p: What milestones have been accomplished in 2016 by APP and by the movements towards zero deforestation?
AG: APP’s landmark Forest Conservation Policy, which we launched in 2013, marked its fourth anniversary this year. Four years in, we have accomplished a lot, though not without our fair share of challenges.
At the very core, we have been able to achieve the first commitment of our policy – that no deforestation would take place by APP or its suppliers. We’ve done this by conducting Integrated Sustainable Forest Management Plans in each of our concessions, which include plans for the management of each concession on areas for conservation, production, and community use and infrastructure.
In the last year, we also identified areas and completed HCV (High Conservation Value), HCS (High Carbon Stock), and SIA (Social Impact Assessments) for new development, and completed spatial planning for all 38 pulpwood suppliers’ concessions to better define land use.
We have also successfully rolled out our Integrated Forestry and Farming System (IFFS) program in 60 villages (as of December 2016), which provides a means for community engagement based on agro-ecological practices and climate smart agriculture. Through this we have been able to work with communities to address the root causes of deforestation and help improve the livelihoods of communities and decrease pressure on forests for agricultural expansion. We will continue unrolling this program with the ultimate goal of reaching the 500 villages located in our concessions or immediately adjacent to them.
We cannot avoid tackling the issue of fires as part of our zero-deforestation work, as climate change and slash and burn practices still used by some continue to pose a threat to forests in and around our concessions. In 2016, we spent over US$20 million just on fire prevention, and have focused intensively on preparation, and early response as well to. As a result, last year, we successfully avoided uncontrollable fires in all of our concessions and those of our suppliers.
Additionally, as part of my work as co-chair of the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA), another milestone in 2016 was to agree on the convergence between the HCSA and HCS+ approaches, meaning a single standard for the implementation of zero deforestation commitments across different commodities and countries – an exciting step forward in standardizing the implementation and evaluation of companies’ commitments.
3p: What’s holding companies back from adopting zero deforestation?
AG: The rate at which new company policies are being released is too low to meet 2020 targets – there has been an increase of only 5 percent in the last three years in the number of companies releasing policies for commodities to which they are exposed. There are two problems holding companies back: a blueprint on how to achieve zero deforestation, and illustrating the clear business case for zero deforestation.
On a blueprint that companies can use to achieve zero deforestation, this is something we at APP are enthusiastic about: sharing our experiences, and continually try to engage with others working on this goal to benefit from their knowledge and experiences as well. The Asia Pacific Rainforest Partnership is a regional initiative to share experiences in halting deforestation, and we are proud to serve as Chair of the Private Sector Roundtable where we’ve aimed to contribute to the documentation of these lessons over the last year. When companies can see concrete examples of how zero deforestation is achievable, they will be more inclined to jump on board.
However, we still need to definitively show that the costs in adopting zero deforestation can result in greater returns for the business – be that through access to markets, better licence to operate, or such advantages such as reduced risk in the supply chain. By reframing the conversation to reflect producers’ interests, companies can be encouraged to adopt zero deforestation commitments that will produce a return on investment. We need to be better about showing how zero deforestation is worth it for companies’ bottom lines.
One thing that can help in this regard is support from governments through public procurement policies which require zero deforestation, but also incorporating premiums for zero deforestation produced products, which currently don’t exist in the market. It is the primary producers – often small and medium enterprises – that bear the largest burden in achieving zero deforestation and are often not supported by retailers or large corporate buyers.
In order to show exactly how zero deforestation policies are good for business, there must be a better understanding of the value of natural capital across the landscapes where businesses are operating. By fully accounting for the value of ecosystems services – including species habitat, water, carbon, and soil fertility, among others – the business rationale for protecting key areas will be strengthened. An understanding of natural capital values will also help to facilitate access to new sources of finance directed towards climate, biodiversity, land degradation, and other natural resource related objectives. Bringing in additional sources of finance will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of zero-deforestation commitments as part of commercial investments.
3p: Timber/pulp and paper has been described as one of the big 4 “deforesters” worldwide (along with beef, soy, and palm oil). What is your response to that, as a leading pulp and paper company? What would you like to see your competitors do?
AG: It’s true – these four industries are traditionally considered the world’s biggest deforesters, particularly when looking at tropical forests. For a long time, we all thought that the extractive model worked, and that agriculture took precedence over retaining natural forest. This way of thinking is still present in many emerging economies with tropical forests, from South America to Southeast Asia.
Though the private sector and government are increasingly pledging zero deforestation, agriculture still accounts for 73 percent of deforestation in tropical and sub-tropical countries. This means that we need to address agricultural production needs if we ever want to effectively tackle deforestation. Unless consumption patterns change in industrialized countries and emerging economies, the demand for agricultural production is only set to rise, and we will have to find integrated solutions for land use to deal with these changes.
So, I’d like to see our competitors and all those active in land use jump on board with us in implementing a landscape approach to integrate land use planning, so we can achieve environmental, economic, and social objectives of all stakeholders. In 2013 APP committed to turning its story around, but we can’t do it alone. We have had to look beyond our own concessions to tackle deforestation more broadly, knowing that not doing so would have a direct impact on our business.
3p: So, what’s next?
AG: What’s next is quite clear: We need action and we need dollars backing those actions. Every stakeholder needs to realize the urgency of this issue and the commitment that it will take to truly end deforestation, and step in to play their part. This is not an individual problem, and 2017 is the year for action and implementation.
Image credit: Asia Pulp & Paper
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 Guardian, Sustainable 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.