LONDON, March 25, 2013 (RISI) - PPI interviewed Andy Tait, senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace, and an environmental activist heavily involved in the highly visible media campaign against Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) over recent years. Tait was also instrumental in the behind -the -scenes talks that have now seen the dramatic turnaround of APP's procurement policy, which has recently resulted a complete halt to obtaining pulpwood from natural forest clearance in Indonesia.
Andy Tait: When APP made it clear that commitments were on the table which would end its involvement in deforestation, backed by a monitoring process to demonstrate delivery, things changed fairly rapidly. This led to our decision to suspend the campaign to give the company time and space to implement its commitments. In one sense the changes are dramatic, but it's important to keep things in perspective. A great deal of rainforest has been lost over many years and these are commitments that should have come a long time ago.PPI: So what changed so dramatically for Greenpeace to call a ceasefire on APP?
Was there one particular event/occurrence that tipped the balance?
Inevitably there's a range of factors at play. These include the impact of the campaigns we and other NGOs ran, the fact that some senior staff in APP were advocating for change internally and the assessment by the company that it now has a sufficiently large land area to meet its needs.
The next steps depend on delivery of these commitments and how APP goes about resolving the many issues created by its expansion up to this point.
There must have been a lot of dialogue before the dramatic move to "turn the machines off", but can you explain what action APP took that made so much difference?
Greenpeace has been in fairly regular, informal contact with senior staff at APP, led by our office in Indonesia, for around a year. Other NGOs have also had some interaction with the company over that same period. We've repeatedly pointed to the type of actions the company should take, such as switching off the machines across it's whole supply chain, making stronger commitments to deal with social conflict and the responsible management of peatlands, choosing more credible partners to support delivery of this work and by turning off the extremely unhelpful public relations.
How did the dialogue actually start?
Dialogue started slowly, with the first face to face meeting taking place in January 2012. This came about largely because of APP's sister company in the Sinar Mas Group, Golden Agri Resources, which operates in the palm oil sector. GAR made forest conservation commitments in 2011 following a Greenpeace campaign and senior staff there suggested that an informal meeting with APP could be useful.
Inevitably there was mutual suspicion at first. There has been quite a war of words over the years and on our side there was still a real frustration over APP's earlier commitments that didn't stand scrutiny, combined with repeated attempts to publicly communicate their way out of the problem. Around the time of that first dialogue came rumours that APP plans to construct a new pulp mill, so concerns about that also influenced our thinking. However, as with other campaigns we have run, things started to change once dialogue started and once more serious commitments were forthcoming.
Could it be said that Greenpeace is now working 'with' APP or is it a case of simply a close monitoring situation?
There's no formal agreement with APP and we aren't working directly with them. We have provided our feedback on their new policy and we also plan to monitor how it is implemented. We have done the same with many companies who have announced new policies and conservation commitments. Our advice to APP now is that changing its reputation can only come with time and clear evidence of delivery. There are no short cuts. Our advice to former customers is wait and see, it's far too soon to re-engage commercially at this time.
How is Greenpeace monitoring the ongoing situation?
Greenpeace uses satellite analysis and field visits for monitoring and we talk regularly with local partners on the ground in different areas where APP operates. We will also participate in some of the monitoring that is being organised by The Forest Trust (TFT).
We're planning to participate in some of the monitoring of APP operations by TFT, along with other NGOs. We also talk regularly to local partner NGOs regarding the steps APP needs to take to address the range of social and environmental issues the company faces.
Is there any signed declarations between Greenpeace and APP?
No. We do not believe it appropriate to sign any declaration. This is APP's policy and it's one that we think has been needed for a long time. Our view is that if it is implemented properly it could make a real difference on deforestation issues in Indonesia. However it's important to note that initial mapping analysis indicates that a majority of the forest has already gone from the areas that supply APP - so the company is going to have to work hard both to conserve what is left and to address issues such as forest and peatland restoration.
How long do you think it will take before APP is clearly seen as 'one of the good guys' in the pulp & paper industry?
We're talking here about a reputation for poor practice and broken commitments that goes back a decade. Making new commitments can't address that alone. It is going to take months before strong evidence starts to come through that things are changing on the ground. It will take years for the company to rebuild its reputation internationally. We are still at the stage where many are rightly asking whether APP can ever be one of the good guys going forward, not when that might happen.
How confident are you that this particular deforestation issue has been solved once and for all?
The implementation of APP's commitments will make some difference in the forests of Indonesia, but that doesn't mean the deforestation issue is solved. Questions remain about how APP will protect areas that remain and how to address the issue of forest and peatland restoration in areas that have been cleared up to now.
Then there is the pulp and paper company APRIL which continues to rely on extensive rainforest clearance to meet its fiber needs. This further damages the reputation of Indonesia's pulp sector and will also impact on the reputation of the pulp industry more broadly.
We have noticed that Greenpeace has already started the beginnings of a campaign against APRIL, what does the company have to do to get Greenpeace to come to the table?
APRIL will have to announce an end to rainforest clearance to stop the campaigns against them. Instead the company is releasing sustainability statements that attempt to justify current practice. There is a rather strong sense of déjà vu reading through those statements.
Do you think there is another big battle ahead, or do you think it will be solved quickly and quietly?
Only APRIL can really answer if this will be quick or if a big battle lies ahead and I'm not sure that we do ‘quietly' very well! APRIL should certainly expect that further campaign pressure is going to arrive if it doesn't act quickly.
This is obviously a success story for both parties, but certainly a win on the part of Greenpeace. What would you put that success down to?
To be honest we don't categorize this as a clear success. It's more complicated, not least given the heavy costs to Indonesia's forests over many years. That said I think there are two key factors at play overall.
First is the campaign we and other NGOs ran that was clearly impacting APP in some key markets. The second is that APP had reached the point where on the business side this change was seen as more achievable -for example that the company has enough land and therefore does not need to keep clearing forests.
What is your feeling about the importance of social media in the success of this particular campaign?
Social media is changing the face of environmental and other campaigning, that is clear. We used it repeatedly to put pressure on APP's customers - with some considerable successes. In a few cases companies suspended contracts with APP after simply being named in videos posted on youtube and a few tweets and facebook posts onto their sites. Social media also gave us a short cut, publicly, to reach key staff at APP long before there was formal contact with the company.
How important was paper, actually print on paper, in the success of this campaign?
Well, the whole thing was about paper one way or another, but our main use of paper is for printed campaign materials - reports, leaflets etc, the importance of which varies a lot from country to country. We also spent a lot of time trawling through the details of APP's promotional and other printed materials and what we found there was an important part of the success of this campaign.
What is you feeling on the pulp and paper industry in general?
I think the reputation of the industry has been consistently undermined by the Indonesia deforestation ‘issue' in recent years which unfortunately means that some of the genuinely positive work being done on sustainability has been lost. That must deeply frustrating for many in the industry who are trying to seriously address their environmental impacts.
However I think the response from campaigns like ‘Two Sides' which simply brush over some key negative impacts of this industry does little to help its reputation overall and needs rethinking.