Chain of Thought

Sustainability goes beyond Greenpeace

You’ve probably received your share of chain letters. You know, those e-mails warning of dire consequences if you don’t spread the letter’s message to ten acquaintances. Usually those missives aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. But if you’ve been on the receiving end of a supply chain letter, you know that the consequences of ignoring it are potentially devastating.

Customers in Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP’s) supply chain were among the recipients of just such a message, sent by Greenpeace, the politically powerful group of environmental activists. One of this group’s causes is the protection of forests from pulp and paper companies that clear-cut miles of trees for the manufacture of packaging and paper. APP, the third largest paper company in the world, was high on the Greenpeace enemies list when it came to clearcutting.  This vociferous group of activists knew the best way to get its message across to APP was through its supply chain—on the customer-facing side.

The recipients of their message included giants like Mattel, Staples and Walmart—all of which are staunch public supporters of environmental causes. This turned out to be a very successful chain letter—as delivered by the mainstream media.

APP got it. It just announced that starting this month it will only accept wood grown on plantations—not in forests. Last year this company stopped cutting forest on its own land. Now APP expects its 20 wood suppliers to match that commitment. Of particular concern were the forests of Indonesia, which were particularly rich sources of raw material for APP suppliers.

Greenpeace likes the direction in which APP is heading. Here’s how Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace's Forest Campaign in Indonesia, was quoted:

"We commend APP for making this commitment to end deforestation. If APP fully implements its new policies it will mark a dramatic change in direction, after years of deforestation in Indonesia."

That doesn’t mean APP is off the Greenpeace watch list. Environmentalists trust corporations as far as they can throw off their own political baggage. But APP is going beyond the Greenpeace message and setting its own pace for business sustainability. Earlier this month it sent out its own chain letter—otherwise known as a press release. It reintroduced the “Vision 2020” Sustainability Roadmap the company published in June 2012.

Initially this Roadmap charted a course for establishing High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) principles throughout its supply chain and ending natural forest clearance by 2015. With Greenpeace’s encouragement, and that of other politically and partner-powered parties, that deadline was moved up a couple years—to now.

I spoke with Ian Lifshitz, APP sustainability director for North America, a few days after the release of his company's announcement. He acknowledged that even his own self-professed green friends give him a hard time about how his company pursues sustainability.

“I have friends who despite what I do for a living, yell at me and throw me their iPad, saying ‘look how good we are, we’re green by using iPads.’ But if you think about it, they’re on iPad number four; so where’s one, two and three? In a landfill. At least my paper is recyclable or biodegradable.”

He also wants to send you the message that environmental sustainability is not just about paper. It’s people too.

“When you look at countries like Indonesia, where we largely operate, there’s so much value that paper brings to that economy and its natural resources—especially job creation. We employ 70,000 people directly in Indonesia. Take us out of the mix and you create a huge employment gap in a country that already has 35 million people living below poverty. You have countries trying to develop their natural resources similar to the way the U.S. and Canada did years ago, and do it sustainably. They’re actually doing it smartly, setting aside parts of their forest that won’t be touched.”

So maybe there’s an environmentalist case to be made for sourcing paper made from crops with overseas roots—especially if you serve global markets. But however you source your raw materials, use an opportunity-based rationale—not one colored by Greenpeace. I’ll conclude with what Jim Tompkins, CEO of Tompkins International, tells clients of his supply chain consulting firm:

“It is very important to fully understand from whom you are sourcing and that you are comfortable with the environmental and human rights issues of those companies. A company’s carbon footprint should be measured from the beginning of the supply chain all the way to the ultimate consumer. That means minimizing transportation distances and using efficient transportation modes. Not doing so will erase all the other values a firm creates.”

Now that you’ve received this message, share it with ten others in your supply chain. Don’t worry about a non-compliance-curse. Only good could come from it.

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