I was in the Indonesian capital to witness the launch APP's new strategy: "A Sustainability Roadmap for 2020." It was an impressive display, signaling that the company has serious intentions to "get it right" going into the future. But what really made the event impressive was the high level people in attendance, which included top Indonesian politicians and ambassadors, among them the country's Minister for Trade Gita Wirjawan. An engaging speaker, minister Wirjawan kicked off the event and had the international audience eating out of his hand with an impassioned address, where he stated: "Indonesia sits and is blessed with species that are under threat of extinction, I know my kids understand this, and I am sensitive to this, and I know that increasing numbers of people in the business community are aware of this large chunk of biodiversity that we have here - and I think this recognition and sensitivity will shape the thinking and the behavior of Indonesians going forward."
Wirjawan admits that there are imperfections on the environmental front, which he says will only be assuaged by further socializing and educating of the population, he says: "Indonesia is in the middle of retooling itself for the future where we will grow from a $1 trillion economy in 2011 to a much larger number over the next eight years to potentially $7-8 trillion. That will not happen if we don't get things right, and it will not happen if we don't protect ourselves and the environment."
Strong, direct words, but also humbling ones, going to show that from the top down the country is still going through a major transformation as it emerges as one of the leading economies in the region. There is also plain recognition and admission among its leaders in both politics and business that the country does have a lot to learn.
Indonesia in its current democratic state is still very young. Indonesian democracy is, in fact, only in its teens and it is appears that it is going through all the growing pains and angst that come with that tumultuous phase in life. And it is not just the environmental issues it is working on. The country is trying to get everything right, including social and land issues for indigenous people, which are so complicated as to make the hardiest of planners and administrators reach for the headache pills. It is also trying to provide valuable education and employment for its population of 250 million, half of which are under 30 years old. It is a country that really does have its work cut out over the years ahead.
Therefore, APP is not just important to the Wijaya family and its shareholders, it is also massively important to the nation. In Indonesia alone the company employs some 70,000 people. With the spin-off industries and businesses associated with the company and around its mills, it has dependents into the 100,000s. I have, in fact, visited a number of mills in Indonesia myself, and far from simply being massive productions sites, these are real living communities where whole families are dependent upon the mills not only for income, but for education, healthcare and the building of a solid future, much in the way that the "old" mills in more developed countries such as Scandinavia, the US and Canada used to be.
"Indonesia is in the middle of retooling itself for the future ... That will not happen if we don't get things right, and it will not happen if we don't protect ourselves and the environment," says Gita Wirjawan, Indonesia's Minister for Trade.
Hiring the big sustainability guns
It is easy to see why the APP situation has developed into such a position where the Minister of Trade for the country, as well as other prominent members of the community, feel the need to get involved. Actually, APP itself has been working hard behind the scenes in developing the right contacts across the board. The new vision involves a number of pledges that are going to need the assistance of dedicated teams on the ground for their supervision. The most notable pledges are:
- By 2015 APP will have the capacity to be wholly reliant on raw materials from plantations
- By 2015 all its suppliers will operate by the standards of High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF)
- By 2020 all its current suppliers will have credible certification for what it calls Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)
- It is also embarking on carbon measurement and evaluation for its plantations above and below ground which it says will put it at the forefront of the global pulp and paper industry's contribution to climate change
Of course these bullet points throw up questions of their own, but they also shine a light on the already transparent nature of APP which will only increase as it commits to the 2020 Roadmap. It readily admits that there is some mixed tropical hardwood in its fiber mix (10-12%) but states that it comes from government granted concessions that are made up of degraded land and is all legal and above board.
As part of its Sustainability Roadmap to 2020, APP has engaged a senior Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) auditor to undertake HCVF assessment and management. This basically means the company has committed to adopt FSC principles on HCV protection in addition to existing full compliance to the PEFC certification scheme. Loy Jones, who took part in a panel at the event in Jakarta, is managing director of Asia Pacific Certification Services and his team, Remark - Asia and Daemeter, have been appointed to oversee APPs commitment to the transparency of the 2020 Roadmap.
Daemeter is well known for its pool of HCV experts in the region, and Jones has over 35 years experience in forestry, many of them with NGOs, including Asia Pacific regional manager of Rainforest Alliance/Smartwood and both local and national governments in the region. I spoke to Jones at the APP event in Jakarta and he immediately came across as a man who takes no prisoners in his approach to his work, declaring that his company will have zero tolerance to anything other than stringent adherence to the rules of tried and tested sustainable forest management when implementing the new strategy.
Jones commented, "APP is serious about its sustainability target, and to go along with that there will be a serious level of operational evaluation and scrutiny. The Roadmap represents a critical first step in a long term journey towards a meeting the HCV management commitment and it will not be an easy process but we are optimistic that stakeholders will welcome this new approach." APP plans to have half a million hectares of land assessed for HCV which Loy notes, "is a significant number and should not be underestimated".
Help, not hindrance
Perhaps one of the most passionate speeches at the event in Jakarta came from the managing director of Sinarmas Forestry, Robin Mailoa. Sinarmas supplies the majority the fiber that APP converts into pulp. "Starting from the beginning we have always had to follow tough regulations, and we are really pleased to be working with the government of Indonesia to develop the pulpwood plantation industry according to the national strategy. But this has never been easy, and with the 2020 Roadmap, it will make life even harder for us pulpwood suppliers, the appeal I would like to make, from the heart, is that the Indonesian forest industry needs as much help and expertise as it can get, as we have challenges from all sides, economically, environmentally and from our communities".
Aida Greenbury, managing director of Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement at APP agrees that the company has its work cut out in the future, and that the 2020 Roadmap is no small undertaking, she says: "To achieve our sustainability aims is going to require an enormous amount of planning and work on the ground to make it happen, and we welcome the participation of important stakeholders who can help accelerate the pace of change, and ultimately we believe that APP can be a positive force on the environment, including climate change".
Problem solved or stalemate as usual
I did ask for a response from the NGOs at the event in Jakarta, where three members of Greenpeace were invited guests, but was unable to get an answer. However, Andy Tait, senior campaign advisor from Greenpeace commented: "This announcement [in Jakarta] was a wasted opportunity to demonstrate that APP is serious about change. The new commitments look remarkably similar to others that the company has failed to implement in the last ten years. They cover significantly less than half of its supply base, much of which has already been converted into plantations. The harsh reality is that they are likely to lead to little new forest protection."
As pulp and paper industry journalist, it is not my place to take sides in any disagreements or altercations, particularly between two such sensitive entities, so I shall remain firmly on the fence. Looking at the country as a whole, and then the pulp and paper industry that operates there, it appears that far from bullying into submission, its companies, businesses and communities need help and guidance - in fact it is crying out for it. For me in particular, one of the most important things I learned from the event in Jakarta is how it is possible for human beings to solve problems first, simply by talking - and how a politician like Gita Wirjawan, can be so deft at taking the politics out of politics and dealing with the problems that really matter, the people and the planet.
For the moment, the stalemate between the NGOs and APP seems to be the status quo. On my way back from Jakarta, and whilst flying over some of the land that is under such intense scrutiny, I had some other words from the Indonesian Minister of Trade ringing in my head from the event, he said: "The system we have for our forests is probably not perfect, but with the verification systems we are putting in place we will be able to say, that whatever we do from a forest products related standpoint, will be in accordance with how the world wants us to operate".