Forestry is in the red zone, at least when it comes to ecological and social practices. According to The Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) 2019 assessment of the timber and pulp industries, only 20 of the 97 companies they studied have pledged not to adopt practices that can contribute to deforestation.
Timber and pulp production is currently one of the four largest drivers of global deforestation — the permanent clearing of a forest to make room for uses such as crop plantations, roads and sawmills.
Unfortunately, these 20 companies do not have everything together. The Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT), the ZSL’s initiative that is behind the report, found that of those 20 companies that had committed to not deforesting, only 12 had systems for monitoring deforestation. Of those 12, seven had published figures on deforestation within the past two years.
The next figure puts the final nail in the coffin of an industry in denial. Only 6 percent of timber and pulp companies have assessed the risks of climate change to their business.
Perhaps the most troubling finding is the lack of transparency these companies have offered the public. SPOTT reports that only 13 percent of companies had publicly available geo-referenced maps of their forestry operations. This makes it nearly impossible to know where a company is operating and how they are harvesting their trees.
Moving onto their social impacts, transparency when it comes to gender representation is even worse within this sector. SPOTT found that only 4 percent of companies reported their salaries by gender.
Opacity is not a good look when industries like fashion are in the news because they are picking up the pace on sustainability and social consciousness. But timber and pulp are not in the public eye in the same way as fashion or energy.
Perhaps they should be. SPOTT recommends that investors, buyers and governments put forestry more in the limelight by asking for clearer and easier access to data.
“Companies operating in tropical forests not only face risks to their business from climate change but have a real ability to effect change – if they can commit to, and demonstrate their actions on, zero-deforestation, we would all – wildlife and people - see a huge benefit,” Oliver Cupit, SPOTT Manager said in a press release.
“If not addressed, climate change and deforestation pose major financial and reputational risks to companies, their buyers and investors.”
What spatial data should these companies disclose? Along with size, location and boundaries, SPOTT recommends three main features to divulge:
Over the past three years, the difference in these companies’ average SPOTT scores was negligible.
As usual, adapting to the current climate (literally and figuratively) is not completely a matter of altruism. Altering practices will not only help curb the impacts of climate change; it will help the sector survive. Climate change affects a forest’s productivity with changes in temperature, levels of carbon dioxide, rainfall, as well as the increase in disturbances like wildfires and insect outbreaks.
Keeping a forest healthier with balanced forestry practices, like selective harvesting, can help these forests remain resilient to change. These practices don’t just help the globe; they help the industry retain the resources it relies on.
It is possible that the companies included in SPOTT’s report are already taking good care of their forests, and they’re too busy doing a good job to publish the data that backs it up. If that’s the case, they should know it doesn’t hurt to publish their successes. If investors find out, their bottom lines might just thank them for it.
And if these companies are not quite there yet, being transparent and honest will surely show they want to get on the right track. Investors will notice that, too.
Image credit: ZSL
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.