Does progress mean it’s time to allow APP in from the cold?

Hannah Jordan
Monday, March 24, 2014

Just over a year on from Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP) announcement of the implementation of its forest conservation policy (FCP), which centres on a moratorium on all natural forest clearance activities in Indonesia, organisations that had previously turned their backs on the company are starting to take notice.

The first to go public was global stationery brand Staples, which at the beginning of March announced that five years after cutting its ties with APP, due to deforestation activities, it had rekindled its relationship with the organisation. It has agreed to sell to the US market two paper products manufactured by APP and produced at APP’s Indah Kiat Pulp & Paper (IKPP) mill in Indonesia.

Additional products from IKPP and other APP-owned mills may follow as APP’s FCP and sustainability promises are implemented, according to Staples’ vice-president of environmental affairs Mark Buckley. 

“The volume of product we are sourcing from APP represents a very small percentage of our paper sold in the US,” he explains. “The decision to re-engage with APP was made after a careful review of its sustainability commitments and detailed conversations over many months with a variety of stakeholders.” 

Buckley says that Staples will be monitoring APP’s progress through independent observers such as Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace while maintaining direct discussions with APP and The Forest Trust.

APP’s managing director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement Aida Greenbury welcomes Staples’ show of confidence and said its scrutiny and support adds “significant value” to the organisation’s zero-deforestation commitment. 

“Since about six months after we announced our policy in February 2013 there has been a wave of customers contacting us again and we have been discussing with them due diligence options that need to be put in place,” she explains. 

Greenbury, who has just returned from the UK where she met with government climate change officials to inform them on APP’s FCP progress, says the FCP is not just about sustainable forestry, but is a “radical commitment” to stop deforestation in a country where it is still rampant. 

“We want that sort of commitment to be recognised and rewarded by the market,” she states. “With customers coming back to us it is reassurance that we are on the right path. We are not just interested in the dollar value of what they are ordering, but we want them to fully support the implementation of our policy as well.”

Too soon?

But the move from Staples has been met with criticism from some environmental NGOs that have accused it of “jumping the gun”. 

Campaigners from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) staged a demonstration outside a branch of Staples on its announcement that it had re-engaged with APP and the environmental group’s Asia director Lafcadio Cortesi said in a statement that although he was optimistic about APP fully implementing its FCP, at the moment “it is simply too early to tell, and too early to buy”. 

He stated: “APP is still in the early stages of implementing the environmental and social commitments in its FCP and though an auditor has been agreed on, there has been no independent verification of APP’s performance in implementing it. 

“Furthermore, APP has yet to develop credible plans for addressing key gaps in the FCP; for example, on restoring some of the extensive landscapes it has devastated,” he adds.

Cortesi says in RAN’s experience companies are more motivated to stick to their commitments if the reward comes after, not before, they are implemented and independently verified.

Greenbury defies the critics however, saying that it would be pure stupidity for APP, having come so far on its FCP pledges, to back-track. 

“Some are saying it is too soon,” she says. “Why is it too soon? It’s a long-term commitment. Should we only be rewarded at the end of the policy implementation? If so then there may be no forest left in Sumatra because supporting our zero-deforestation policy invites others to do the same, but if they don’t see that wave of support they will continue their activities too because they’ll think ‘why bother’.” 

At a special event held last month to mark the anniversary of the launch of APP’s FCP, Greenbury called for greater support not just from customers but also NGOs, the Indonesian government and banks, arguing that without further backing the implementation wouldn’t gain traction as quickly as hoped.

But she said more customers were coming forward and that APP was in talks with some global organisations about the potential for re-engagement. Among them is environmental NGO the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which cut ties with APP in October 2007, largely due to its conversion activities involving the clearing of native forest to make way for plantations. 

This month, FSC International held a board meeting in Lisbon to discuss its position on APP’s progress with an announcement expected in the last week of March.

However, the organisation’s director of quality assurance Stefan Salvador, who attended the meeting, says a change of position is unlikely to be made in the near future. 

“We have to be very cautious and the critical question for us is deciding at what point we consider APP is demonstrating full commitment,” he explains, adding: “They violated our policy in the past and there is a timeline before which we consider that to be no longer an issue. 

“With the first anniversary of the FCP it is clear that implementation is not as far advanced as we had hoped for, such as some of the environmental and social assessments that aren’t ready yet,” Salvador says.

Echoing the FSC’s stance, following a meeting this month, is pan-European print body Intergraf, which concluded that caution on re-engagement should be exercised until the results of further audits are released, but said balance must be found.

“If suppliers are overly penalised for historical performance it can become both a disincentive to continual improvement and anti-competitive. Equally if you do not have in place rigorous monitoring the price to your brand can be devastating.”

Greenbury accepts the scepticism but remains positive: “The support will come sooner rather than later.  Climate change is an issue that has to be tackled on a global scale and everyone knows that.”

Opinion: Re-engaging with APP must be based on FCP progress

Zulfahmi, Forest campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia

zulfahmi-greenpeaceGreenpeace’s people-powered campaign pushed APP, once a chief driver of deforestation in Indonesia, to clean up its rainforest practices. Having followed APP’s progress over the past year, we are pleased to see that APP has continued to raise its ambitions and increase its openness to independent scrutiny. This is important for people and companies around the world who demanded that APP end its role in rainforest destruction, and also to reassure customers that APP is changing for good.

Over the past few years, many leading global brands suspended contracts with APP as a result of public pressure from Greenpeace and other NGOs. The global office supplier Staples was one of those companies that cut its contract with APP.

Greenpeace understands that Staples’ re-engagement with APP last year required APP’s acceptance of a number of conditions and is dependent upon APP’s continued and verified progress on its forest conservation commitments.

Greenpeace’s position is clear: regardless of timing, if companies re-engage with APP it must be conditional on continued delivery of APP’s forest conservation commitment, one part of which can be the audit conducted by the Rainforest Alliance. 

There are still challenges to overcome, including how APP will develop an integrated management plan in peat areas and deal with ongoing forest fires. Our view is that the extra layer of scrutiny that responsible buyers bring is crucial in ensuring the longer-term delivery of APP’s commitments.

APP’s progress is increasing the pressure on other forest destroyers, such as the APRIL/RGE group, now the biggest driver of deforestation for pulp in Indonesia, to clean up their acts. APRIL/RGE recently announced a policy that will allow it to continue to destroy forest for up to six more years. This is unacceptable. Companies such as APRIL must follow APP’s lead and introduce strong, durable forest conservation polices. 

Reader reaction: Should paper buyers re-engage with APP or is it too soon?

dave-broadway-cfhDave Broadway, managing director, CFH

“So APP has decided to ‘stop deforestation’. One assumes it has cleared enough forest that its plantations now service its markets. I don’t think this deserves any support. When it announces that its plantations will be managed sustainably, that it will encourage the reintroduction of wildlife, that it will cease clear-cutting and try to put right some of the damage it has done, then firms should consider re-engaging. Until then, any company that deals with them is complicit in the destruction that has been wrought.”

richard-owers-pureprintRichard Owers, director, Pureprint Group

“APP has been slow to develop a genuinely responsible approach to their business, but WWF, which has people on the ground in the areas of greatest concern and are in regular contact with APP, are indicating that there are signs of a shift towards better practice. We are therefore cautiously optimistic that APP is contributing more positively towards sustainability than before. This must be good news and we thank WWF and others for their work. EUTR is now the safety net for all our paper purchasing as all our direct suppliers are based in Europe.”

david-timoni-windlesDavid Timoni, production and Operations Manager, Windles Group

“As an environmentally responsible production house, we would exercise caution prior to engaging with any paper supplier. While we are always open-minded and prepared to give a business a second chance, we would want to firstly see a long period of consistent problem-free trading. Our market dictates unique paper products with a short lead-time. We are requested to provide accredited papers and often asked for details as the sustainability of materials is being more heavily scrutinised again.”


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