Several dozen companies that endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests at 2014’s United Nations Climate Summit are taking concrete steps to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chains, according to a new report from Supply Change – a project convened by Washington D.C.-based non-profit Forest Trends.
Firm Commitments: Tracking Company Endorsers of the New York Declaration on Forests looks at public sustainability disclosures from 41 of the Declaration’s endorser companies, which include Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), The Kellogg Company, Danone, Unilever, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, Barclays, Nestlé and Cargill. Together with another 139 governments, financial institutions, indigenous community networks and civil society organizations, these companies have formally endorsed the Declaration’s goals to halve natural forest loss by 2020 and end it completely by 2030. Buy-in from the private sector is considered especially critical to the Declaration’s ambitions because the endorser companies are deeply dependent on the “big four” commodities responsible for most agriculture-driven deforestation – palm oil, soy, cattle, and timber and pulp.
Fast-forward one year, and slightly more than half of the companies examined have publicly disclosed progress toward their supply chain goals – including Cargill, which just last week released a new Policy on Forests; and APP, which last month announced the retirement of roughly 7,000 hectares (~17,300 acres) of commercial plantation areas to protect threatened carbon-rich peatlands — the first time that plantations on tropical peatland have been retired for conservation purposes worldwide.
“The New York Declaration on Forests is a great example of how innovative, market-based approaches can combine the resources of the public and private sectors to fight forest loss,” said Forest Trends president and CEO Michael Jenkins. “This Supply Change report highlights areas where the Declaration’s endorsers can improve their reporting – in the process of demonstrating to consumers that they ‘walk the walk’ on sustainability. But as we approach the most important climate negotiations in history, these findings also reinforce that the private sector has a crucial role to play in the battle against climate change.”
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Compared to non-endorsing companies tracked by Supply Change, the report finds that endorsers were 60 percent more likely to explicitly commit to zero or zero net deforestation. In the absence of a globally accepted framework to implement or verify achievement of this ultimate goal, endorsers took other concrete steps to procure certified commodities or “map” their supply chains. They were also more likely than non-endorsers to explicitly commit to protect human rights, comply with all local and national laws, and avoid expansion into peatlands.
Endorsers were more likely to have palm oil in their supply chains and also more likely to make a corresponding pledge – 94 percent have publicly committed to reduce deforestation risk tied to palm oil. However, the report also points out areas where endorsing companies’ performance has lagged. In two of the remaining “big four” commodity areas – soy and cattle – only 41 percent and 50 percent of endorsers active in those commodities have publicly committed to change, respectively. Availability of a well-established standard appears to be a significant factor in companies’ willingness to adopt and act on a commodity commitment. For example, while the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certifies 20 percent of global palm oil production (and consumer goods companies recently banded together to push RSPO for stricter standards), existing certifications for soy and cattle have yet to catch on.
Commenting on Firm Commitments, The Climate Group CEO Mark Kenber said, “To promote sustainable business practices on a global scale, we need visionary leadership from companies that operate around the world. Eliminating deforestation and promoting sustainable supply chains – especially among companies that wield such great influence – is an important step in building momentum toward a low-carbon future."