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Behavior Change
APP on Slow Progress of Zero Deforestation Policy:
'We Must Have the Courage to Continually Improve'

On Wednesday, the two-year anniversary of the launch of Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP) Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), an unprecedented initiative aimed at defining a new standard and business model for achieving a deforestation-free paper supply chain, Rainforest Alliance (RA) released the results of its evaluation to gauge the paper giant’s progress on its commitments.

On Wednesday, the two-year anniversary of the launch of Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP) Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), an unprecedented initiative aimed at defining a new standard and business model for achieving a deforestation-free paper supply chain, Rainforest Alliance (RA) released the results of its evaluation to gauge the paper giant’s progress on its commitments.

RA evaluated APP’s efforts to implement the FCP for the period between its announcement in February 2013 and August 2014, and found what the NGO is calling “moderate progress” on the company’s goals to preserve High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. The investigation involved over eight months of field observation and interviews at concessions in Indonesia, Sumatra and Borneo, and concluded that, though many building blocks have been laid, there are significant gaps in implementation.

“The proof is in the pudding: Commitments are great, CEO support is critical — but how do you ensure your commitments are fulfilled? To their credit, they’ve engaged international and national NGOs, but they have a lot to do on the ground,” RA’s SVP of Forestry, Richard Donovan, said in a webinar on Wednesday.

Shortly after launching the FCP in 2013, APP approached Rainforest Alliance to conduct an independent evaluation of its progress to meet the four commitments outlined in the Policy. RA’s evaluation found that while natural forest clearance by APP suppliers has stopped completely and the company has successfully eliminated its use of mixed tropical hardwood and given some of the leftover stock to communities for local construction, third-party non-compliance remains a big issue — forest encroachment, illegal logging, mining and wildfires all threaten the FCP efforts.

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“We’re pleased that the Rainforest Alliance has recognized the progress we are making. We believe today’s report shows that our efforts to achieve Zero Deforestation are on the right track,” Aida Greenbury, APP’s managing director of sustainability, said in a statement. “However, our FCP implementation measures are not carved in stone. We must have the courage to continually improve them as we learn lessons from implementation. The report has highlighted a number of areas which require additional focus. Its findings, along with feedback from other stakeholders, have been used to inform our FCP implementation plan for 2015 and beyond, which we are introducing today.”

APP has implemented plans for threat-mapping up to 5 million hectares and is moving to increase awareness in communities to monitor forests. During Wednesday’s webinar, Greenbury noted that the third-party issues highlighted are endemic to Indonesia, related to poor governance and poverty in the region, and it will take time and collaboration to come up with long-term solutions.

“We believe that an evaluation like this puts a global spotlight on the issues currently at play in Indonesia’s forests,” Greenbury said in a subsequent blog post. “Since 2013, we have been calling for other stakeholders to support us with our Zero Deforestation Policy because forest continues to be lost due to factors that, despite our efforts, we cannot completely control. Our hope is that this evaluation will raise awareness of forestry issues in Indonesia and prompt others, including government, NGOs and the private sector to collaborate more closely to help tackle the issues across the landscape.”

Despite challenges around third-party encroachment, RA found that APP successfully implemented a system for managing its suppliers and their certification process, completed assessments of all of its suppliers and even eliminated one for FCP non-compliance. However, Donovan urged APP to take more ownership of national forest clearance and give supplier concessions more support to address third-party issues.

“We have to walk the talk, which is very difficult,” Greenbury admitted during the webinar. “I thought protecting the forest would end with turning off the chainsaw, but there’s a lot more to it. Somebody’s got to implement these protections — the government is not going to do it. It’s dirty work and yes, we’re scrutinized, but it’s important.”

To date, there are still no formal protected areas or rare, threatened, endangered species protection targets, but APP is working on directly addressing the Indonesian government to clarify those and climate-related reforestation targets.

Another of APP’s goals is to address conflict resolution and grievance protocols in communities. RA found that those in question wanted more consistent, regular communication and typically felt out of the loop. RA also found that APP’s scope was too narrow and the company should expand focus from new developments to major activities in the community such as road expansions or large harvests.

Deforestation’s role in climate change and ecosystem disruption — and industry’s role in deforestation – has become a key element of the sustainability conversation in recent years. So when the results of RA’s evaluation were revealed, other NGOs were quick to weigh in — including Greenpeace, which worked with APP and The Forest Trust to co-develop the FCP:

“APP’s Forest Conservation Policy has been a game changer in the fight to rid the world’s paper supply of rainforest destruction. Based on the Rainforest Alliance’s report, we believe APP is on track to deliver on its Conservation Policy, with some tough but important areas to prioritize,” said Rolf Skar, Forest Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA. “APP’s progress against its zero deforestation policy stands in marked contrast to APRIL, its only major competitor in Indonesia, whose suppliers’ bulldozers are set to continue destroying forest and peatland until 2020.

“Moving forward, APP needs to address the ongoing deforestation and logging documented inside its supplier concessions by other parties, and double down its efforts to resolve the hundreds of outstanding complaints from local communities related to land rights conflicts.”

Less magnanimous was Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which last month released the results of its own field survey into APP’s progress that found little evidence that APP was taking sufficient action to resolve land conflict issues.

“There’s still a long way to go before we see satisfactory change on the ground for communities and forests affected by APP’s 30-year legacy of adverse social and environmental practices,” RAN’s Lafcadio Cortesi said in a statement. “To say that there has been ‘moderate progress,’ as Rainforest Alliance has stated in several sections of the evaluation, is to ignore the fact that hundreds of land and social conflicts, as well as significant loss of natural forests, continue in APP’s land bank. It’s simply too soon to tell the extent to which APP will follow through on its social responsibility commitments.

“Despite APP’s response to the Rainforest Alliance evaluation in the form of an ‘Action Plan,’ RAN’s conclusion is that it’s still too soon to resume business with APP. APP needs to implement its FCP policy, the new Action Plan and address the findings and gaps found in the evaluation and joint NGO report in a way that demonstrates satisfactory and verifiable positive progress on the ground.”