Southern California environment news and trends

Pressure on Asia Pulp & Paper yielding corporate responsibility, new strategies on rainforest policy [UPDATED]

[author's note: see comments for an apparent dispute between Nat Geo & GP over what, if anything, they've discussed. Following...]

It's not spring yet, but corporate responsibility, and maybe some new savvy about rainforest politics, has been blooming all over.

National Geographic makes books in addition to magazines; they're the latest paper consumer to respond to a years-long joint campaign by several environmental groups to pressure retailers and other companies to end their paper-buying relationship with the Asia Pulp and Paper group of companies. [UPDATE: This may be wrong. See below for my explanation.] The World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace have been increasing the profile of their separate-but-related pushes in the last six months or so. WWF released a report entitled Don't Flush Tiger Forests: Toilet Paper, U.S. Supermarkets and the Destruction of Indonesia’s Last Tiger Habitat.

Greenpeace, you might remember, raised questions a year ago about Mattel's packaging after tests revealed mixed tropical hardwoods in cardboard around Barbie products. (Asia Pulp and Paper disputed the test results, but El Segundo-based Mattel updated its sourcing policies to exclude APP anyway.) And now Greenpeace has released an investigation and a video a year in the making that it says shows more evidence of rainforest abuse by Asia Pulp and Paper:

All this is on top of…well, basically, a pile of toilet paper. In the last couple of months, more than a dozen grocers have decided not to carry toilet tissue (that's what the squeamish call it, I think) processed by a controversial company long associated with Asia Pulp and Paper. Oasis Brands is a U.S.-based distributor of Paseo, Livi and other branded products. The World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and others consider Oasis closely related to Asia Pulp and Paper, and have been pressing companies in various industries to end their relationships with APP. It appears they've successfully lit a fire under the Kroger company, parent to Ralph's here in Southern California. In addition, Harris Teeter (the Teet! if you live in Virginia and the DC area), Food Lion, SUPERVALU, Kmart, BI-LO, Brookshire Grocery Company, Food Lion, and Weis Markets have signed on to stop signing off on purchases from Oasis.

Naturally, WWF is in heaven. “Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between tigers and toilet paper,” said Linda Kramme, a WWF forest expert. “We’re asking retailers, wholesalers and consumers not to buy Paseo or Livi products until APP stops clearing rain forests in Sumatra.” For its part, Greenpeace says it's continuing to investigate Asia Pulp & Paper's operations and find ways to connect its paper to customer companies. Not just National Geographic, but also Xerox, Barnes & Noble, Acer and Walmart. 

Asia Pulp & Paper is strenuously objecting to Greenpeace's latest investigation and video, denying illegal activity. But I wonder if its response about the supermarket controversy, via spokeswoman Aida Greenbury, was somewhat more muted than, say, the one APP gave KPCC when we asked about Mattel and packaging last year. “We commit to transparently reporting on our program in implementing these actions. We embrace sustainability as an important value in all aspects of our operations and supply chainm," she said in a statement. "We recognize the need to ensure that all our supply chain partners act in accordance with our sustainability values and we are taking steps to ensure this is the case.  We welcome inputs from all stakeholders, including customers and all responsible NGOs such as WWF to focus on solutions for sustainable paper products,” Greenbury concluded. 

Separately, Oasis Paper, the U.S. distributors of the controversial tissue, has now said it will cut ties with APP and "branded retail tissue products will be made from FSC-certified base paper sourced domestically." That's interesting for two reasons. First, it's a flip flop: the CEO of Oasis initially responded by saying that "[c]alls to action against Indonesian products, especially without verified claims, are unconstructive." Second, until recently, APP was the company's primary supplier, and the only named supplier on its website. Oasis is privately held. Activists including Rolf Skar, a San Francisco based campaigner with Greenpeace, argue the circumstances suggest that Oasis and APP have a very close relationship. Well, until now. "It's almost like APP is breaking up with itself," says Skar.

Together, these campaigns and their results suggest that companies perceive a growing ethos about rainforest protection among consumers. Which means they're either embracing those values, or trying to look like they do. Either way, the non-governmental organizations campaigning about these issues perceive that as a victory.

[UPDATE, 4:00 PM: So, something's most likely changing at National Geographic, but it may or may not be due to a campaign by Greenpeace. Check out National Geographic's fact sheet about its sustainable business practices, among other things. It pre-existed the Greenpeace campaign. However, National Geographic has not offered an explanation for its achievement in the Sinar Mas Print Awards; a book about birding very clearly has National Geographic on the cover, and the Sinar Mas Print Award website very clearly says books must be printed on Sinar Mas paper to qualify for the awards. That's just part of the evidence Greenpeace relied on for its assertions about Nat Geo, and the book award from Sinar Mas came in 2010. If National Geographic is now saying it will not source from APP, that IS a change, and one made since the Greenpeace campaign started. I suspect what's happening is that National Geographic is tightening up its supply chains, and I know this is getting murky quick. But I think my original thesis holds up, which is that companies with presences in the US are increasingly sensitive to the optics around rainforest policies, at a minimum, and sometimes the policies themselves.]

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