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Will Greenpeace and APP ever see eye-to-eye?

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Will Greenpeace and APP ever see eye-to-eye?

August 16, 2011 - 02:50
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SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 16, 2011 (RISI) -In early June, six Greenpeace climbers rappelled off Mattel's HQ in Los Angeles dressed as angry ‘Ken' dolls in Turquoise dinner jackets. They hung two giant banners from the building that read, in bright pink letters, "Barbie: It's over. I don't date girls that are into deforestation". Within hours the campaign had gathered international media coverage and once again put a powerful spotlight on the eventual target of Greenpeace's campaign, Asia Pulp and Paper.

You are entirely within your rights to dismiss this as a stunt, to say that this is a cheap trick designed to grab attention and ruffle feathers within the paper industry. Well, our answer would be this: Before those climbers strapped on their harnesses and donned their colorful outfits, our research team in Indonesia had been working tirelessly to uncover the evidence that shows APP destroying rainforests and tiger habitat rather than developing plantations on better land.

Our team visited plantations, studied satellite imagery and tested products in the US, Asia and across Europe. We set up an entirely transparent website, allowing anyone to look into this evidence and counter the facts within it, including APP themselves. Of course, no one did, and especially not Asia's most notorious rainforest destroyers. They insisted that despite the clear evidence, their overall contribution to Indonesia's economy was worth the sacrifice. Right, and that's why they spend more on one flashy PR film than a plantation worker receives in a year.

Before planning any public campaigns, Greenpeace often works behind the scenes to help companies take better environmental and sustainable actions

Since that day in June Mattel has learned a lot about its supply chain, and its executives have come to understand that failing to develop and implement a strong policy on deforestation exposes your company to significant unknown risk. A wide range of companies like Kimberly-Clark, Hewlett-Packard and Staples have already done so because, well, it's easier to cut risky wood products out of your supply chain than deal with angry consumers and a global media storm that you cannot control.

Right now Greenpeace is encouraging toy companies to do the same, because - and this is a central point we'd like to make - our organization is not trying to shut this industry down. Far from it. We want a growing, successful and profitable paper industry as much as you do. We just also want to protect the world's last remaining rainforests before they're lost forever.

Over the past few years Greenpeace campaigns have improved the supply chains of companies that have used products linked to deforestation. From Unilever to Nestle, McDonalds to Mattel, the process is often pretty similar. The Corporate Responsibility Director talks to his or her procurement people, and realize that something is very wrong. They have no idea where the paper (or palm oil, or soy) comes from beyond their immediate suppliers. It was a risk they'd failed to quantify up until that point, but now it's a serious headache for all concerned.

But then, once they've decided to get a grip of the problem, the solution appears pretty quickly. By setting tough but practical standards for their suppliers, agreeing to enforce them, and setting timelines for implementation, a policy begins to take shape. Add in a dollop of corporate leadership on the issues - public statements, industry advocacy work, media interviews - and the people involved begin to feel pretty good. It's remarkable how many previously hostile executives have testified to the beneficial effect of this kind of action on company morale and, by extension, staff retention and productivity.

There's still some way to go, but some progress towards effective paper policies at all of these companies is now being made. What Mattel, Disney, Hasbro and Lego have discovered is that modern, front-facing companies ignore the environmental impact of their paper supply chain at their peril, but that fixing the problem is not as hard as they feared. Greenpeace, and other environmental groups, are prepared to be practical and will forgive genuine mistakes and teething problems in the early stages. Once the willingness is there, we're happy to help.

Greenpeace is willing to work with companies to correct poor procurement processes and take risky wood out of their supply chain.

Of course we rely on the stick as well as the carrot. Greenpeace remains ready to point out that it's not only brand risk that is at stake here, but also big issues with compliance and legality. In the United States the Lacey Act represents a major (and under-considered) threat to companies operating in the paper sector, potentially leaving them open to costly and damaging lawsuits at any time. Time and again the evidence shows that companies are failing to ask questions of their suppliers and, when they do, being satisfied with weak assurances and glossy green brochures. The danger is that next time it might not just be an activist knocking on the window, but federal law enforcement as well.

After a long and grueling campaign against APP's sister company - a palm oil giant called Golden Agri Resources (GAR) - a deal was reached. While not perfect, the agreement puts most intact rainforest off-limits and restricts palm plantations to the plentiful lands already deforested. And guess what? GAR remains profitable. It still supplies palm oil to the global market. And it no longer has to deal with the constant uncertainty, stress and risk of a hostile campaign from the world's largest environmental groups.

APP can do the same, but right now it remains stuck in a business model that pretends the global challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and indigenous rights simply don't exist. If they put half as much effort into reforming their company as they do into expensive TV commercials they'd be there in no time. The only thing that will get them over the finish line, though, is you. So forward this to your brand managers and tell them how easy it is to play nice.

Rolf Skar serves as a senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace and has worked on forest conservations efforts for more than ten years. Comments made in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of RISI, Inc., its parent company or sponsors.