Friday, March 21, 2014

The Business of Responsible Forest Stewardship

Businesses have an essential role to play in forest conservation. A number of companies are developing policies for sustainable forest management. For the last few years companies like Lego, Mattel and Hasbro have been engaged in responsible forest stewardship focusing on efforts to stop using unsustainable paper products from Indonesian rainforests.

A sustainable forest industry is in the collective best interest as wood and related industries are big business accounting for nearly 1 percent of global gross domestic product. The non-monetary benefits from forests, such as water, energy, shelter and medicine, are estimated to be two to three times as great.

As revealed in the 2013 fourth annual Forest Footprint Disclosure (FFD) Report, companies like Colgate-Palmolive, Groupe Danone, Gucci and Heinz are now disclosing their forest footprints.

The FFD report acknowledged improvements in reporting from a number of other companies including Boots UK, Next, Kingspan Group and Whitbread Group. According to the FFD there has been a 15 percent increase in the number of companies that voluntarily disclose their forest footprints between 2012 and 2013.
Nestlé is another company recognized by the FFD, they acknowledge the problem of forest depletion. Here is part of their statement regarding their development of guidelines for responsible purchasing:

“we are committed to ensuring that we and our suppliers are responsible stewards of the forests we source from. Our priorities in this respect are paper and board, timber, palm oil and soya. In furtherance of these commitments, we have developed Responsible Sourcing Guidelines for the different commodities as well as other measures to ensure responsible purchasing practices. Nestlé firmly believes that through such actions we will improve the sustainability of our raw materials and create shared value across the supply chain from local communities all the way through to consumers.”

Other companies recognized in the FFD report include Nike (clothing accessories and footwear), Sainsbury (food and drug retailers), Kimberly-Clark (personal care and household goods) and Unilever (food products and soft drinks).

Independent of the FFD a number of companies are making headway with better policy that positively impacts forests. Companies including Carlsberg and Avery Dennison have already developed responsible procurement policies.

Even some unlikely players have been forced to come to the table. Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a unit of Sinar Mas Group, once a forest killer on a gargantuan scale, has suspended all clearing of natural forests across its supply chains in Indonesia. They have also accelerated a pledge to use only trees from plantations by 2015. APP has also pledged to protect forested peatland and use best practice management to reduce and avoid greenhouse gas emissions. Further they will avoid and resolve social conflicts across its supply chain as well as respect the rights of indigenous people and local communities where new plantations are proposed.

Despite the efforts of some, there is still much work that needs to be done to encourage responsible forest management across the board. We need the business community to see the value of responsible stewardship if we are to succeed in sewing responsible forest stewardship into the DNA of companies.

While consumers and shareholders are increasingly calling for change, it may well be that the only way we will see broad spectrum change in the short term is through government regulation that assigns a value to ecosystem services and a cost to irresponsible corporate conduct.

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