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Supply Chain
Driving Responsible Forestry at Scale:
An Interview with P&G Forester Chris Reeves

As a purchaser of wood pulp for its Bounty and Charmin brands, Procter & Gamble has an influence on driving responsible forest practices for its suppliers. But P&G needs help driving scale — more companies must make good on responsible sourcing commitments to meet the needs of the market, as well as a fragile natural world.

When a tree is harvested, it’s divvied up to multiple customers specializing in various wood products. The bulk of a large tree will likely be utilized for lumber, while the wood too small for lumber — called pulpwood — is often used for paper and cardboard products.

It’s essential to garner support from a critical mass of companies in the forestry space to drive economies of scale for sustainable timber production. As a major purchaser of wood pulp for its Bounty and Charmin brands, Procter & Gamble has an influence on driving responsible forest practices for its suppliers.

But P&G needs some help driving scale.

Sustainable Brands® sat down with P&G’s Director of Scientific Communications and Certified Forester®, Chris Reeves, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of navigating responsible timber harvesting in a complex forestry landscape, and how more companies must make good on ambitious responsible sourcing commitments to meet the needs of the market, as well as a fragile natural world.

What are the common pain points for responsible forest management for multi-stakeholders?

Reeves: Most of the land in the United States is owned by small landowners; but they’re not in the business of forestry. Accessing qualified foresters and management plans is usually the biggest hurdle out there. Then, throw on top of that certifications — where someone has to come and audit the management plan and audit the forest. It’s an added cost that some owners don’t want to pay at a small scale.

P&G can ask for timber to be certified; but if we’re only taking a small amount of wood, like 25 percent, of the harvested timber, it’s very difficult to convince landowners to jump through the audits and do the paperwork. But we still have responsibility, even if we’re just a small portion, to make sure the forest is responsibly managed.

Do Bounty and Charmin users have an interest in responsible sourcing? How do you communicate the value of sustainability efforts?

Reeves: We are starting to get direct consumer calls and emails asking direct and follow-up questions; and we also get questions from our stakeholders, including investors and non-governmental environmental organizations.

For most of our consumers, they just want to know that issues like regrowing harvested trees and preventing deforestation are being addressed. But for those with more detailed questions who want to dig into the weeds, they can go to our environmental, social, and governance website, where we transparently report every year on our timber sourcing.

What can companies and NGOs do to help make certification schemes such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) more accessible?

Reeves: Get involved. All of the certifications out there have open-comment periods about what goes into their standards. Simply showing up at meetings and providing feedback for how standards can be strengthened or made more efficient is the main method to show support.

Another way is to set lofty ambitions yourself. Set a goal for yourself to work toward and be realistic that it may take time to meet these goals. Additionally, just continue to promote the certifications that are the best out there, with FSC being considered the gold standard.

P&G and others are also starting to make some investments in problem areas. The Southeastern US is our biggest remaining non-FSC-certified area, so we’re supporting small landowners there by paying to make it easier for them to get certified. We’re supporting what we call group certificates — which is a collection of landowners banding together to drive down the costs of certification and drive economies of scale. By helping these causes directly, we’re helping to make certifications more accessible to small landowners.

What is the next frontier when it comes to sustainable forestry?

Reeves: COP15 shows there’s a lot of momentum toward biodiversity being the next frontier. But when you go into a larger global scale — or, in P&G’s case, you source from all around the world — it’s very difficult to determine the impact on biodiversity in the area being managed. Developing biodiversity methodologies and frameworks in the next year or two will really help out with this as the industry figures out how to credibly measure biodiversity. It isn’t clear how to account for overall biodiversity impacts when the climates and wildlife can be so varied in different parts of the world. Our sourcing includes hot, fast-growing plantations in Brazil and cold, slow-growing boreal forests in Canada.

Another one I’ll point to is the continued development of remote-sensing and satellite-imagery technology. The costs for these have gone way down in the last couple of years, as well as the capabilities of machine learning to detect changes in satellite imagery and remote-sensing data. P&G is doing a lot of pilot testing and satellite monitoring on landscapes to determine impacts and help us identify potential risks. We’ve been doing this with palm oil for several years; but pulp monitoring is new.

Speaking of biodiversity, what role do plantations have in biodiversity impacts — and how far does industry need to go to make this a reality?

Reeves: It’s not an either/or between plantations and natural forests, because they both play their parts and support one another. You can have areas that are identified as monoculture or plantations, or other areas that are more like a natural forest. Many times, plantations are established on degraded lands — allowing more space for the more natural forests to be replanted and restored simultaneously.

Before you do any kind of forest development or restoration, you have to do a larger landscape assessment to determine where’s the best place for plantations in restoring degraded land and where to restore natural forests to have the greatest impact on biodiversity with limited resources.

How can companies collectively demonstrate a commitment to sustainable forestry and scale positive impact?

Reeves: Have a commitment in place to source only FSC material when it’s available. Also be open to partnerships — we don’t view this as a competitive space; because as the cliche goes, the rising tide lifts all boats. We don’t see it as a bad thing when pulp companies demand more FSC timber, making more FSC lumber available for building materials. Companies coming together will help your own commitments, as well as impact others outside your supply chain.

How can companies protect against allegations of greenwashing in efforts toward sustainable forestry?

Reeves: Just be open with your processes and have your own commitments to avoid and prevent deforestation. If you’re in the forestry industry, there’s no incentive for you to have deforestation — if the trees are gone, you can’t make products. So, having a responsible forestry mindset from the beginning ensures that 1) there is a sustainable harvest that protects and respects animals, plants and people; and 2) you follow up with restoration and regrowth immediately afterward.

We have a resource sourcing policy with all of our measurements and locations. In it, we define what responsible forestry means to P&G. If something in our supply chain doesn’t meet or exceed our policy, we launch our forest-grievance process — which is publicly available. It kicks off an investigation to see if the source is in our supply chain; then we work with our suppliers to find out what the problem is. If it’s confirmed that something violated our policy, it results in remediation and/or actions ranging from temporary purchase suspension to volume reduction — or termination, if the action is egregious.