Is the Consumer Goods Forum turning collective commitment into action?

A guest post by Ignacio Gavilan. Also published here.

As director of environmental sustainability at The Consumer Goods Forum, I get asked a lot about where our members are with regards to implementation, especially around our resolution to achieve zero-net deforestation by 2020.

It was, therefore, with great interest that a number of third-party organisations have published reports this last week on deforestation commitments.

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Ignacio Gavilan

The first, from Supply Change and Forest Trends, tracks progress on 579 public commitments from companies around the world who have pledged to remove forest destruction from their supply chains.

A second report was published by the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

In their report, they look specifically at assessing progress by our members towards achieving deforestation-free supply chains and assessing the steps being made towards collective zero deforestation targets. It also compares how our members are doing against those who are not.

A third report was then published earlier this week by WWF.

Their research reviews the public policies and performance of our manufacturer and retailer members regarding the sustainability of their sourcing of priority soft commodities.

The report goes beyond the four commodities we are focusing on, but gives detailed data on whether our members have made public commitments and how are they performing against the commitments.

Needless to say, they all make for an interesting read. And, while I’m not going to analyse the findings in great detail here, three things did stick out.

Progress

It’s difficult to track progress. It doesn’t necessarily mean companies are not doing something, but it does raise the question of what are they doing. The Supply Change team noted that “disclosure on progress toward commitments is insufficient as public information on progress is only available for one in three commitments”.

The team also notes that “of companies active in palm, 61% have adopted pledges, compared with only 15% in cattle and 19% in soy”.

The GCP and CDP report also notes the difficulties. It states that “14 of the 55 CGF members assessed in the Forest 500 have already made valuable progress towards internalising the CGF commitment” and that “a larger number of CGF members than non-members are acknowledging deforestation-related risks in their supply chains”.

It also supports data on the increased action on palm oil with “particularly strong progress on commodity-specific policies [being] made by CGF members in relation to their palm oil supply chains”.

The WWF research also suggests that there is not enough public information out there to track progress completely. However, they do note that “some CGF member companies – notably those that are members of the CGF Sustainability Committee – have demonstrated strong leadership, endorsing the resolution of the CGF Board and making individual commitments”.

And so, it is clear progress is being made. All three reports agree that “change is happening”, but more needs to be done. Our members still have four years to continue working on the 2020 commitment, but the available data suggests it’s going to be a challenge, which brings me to my next point.

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Transparency

Transparency is the cornerstone to any good commitment. As the Supply Change report correctly points out, “Transparency around commitments provides valuable knowledge to those who are working diligently to raise awareness of corporate deforestation risks. Transparency also provides the data that shows what works for those companies proactive enough to commit to reducing deforestation and its related impacts”. As an organisation built on knowledge and best-practice sharing, this is very important to us.

Unfortunately, the WWF suggests that lack of transparency is a problem. They note that only 42% of our members publish sustainability reports and that “32% [of those members who report] do not disclose details of their sourcing policies”. It’s easy to see why this is a problem.

However, the GCP and CDP report also highlights this important area. They note that “CGF members are reporting more on their progress towards fulfilling their commitments on deforestation than non-members, with nearly half of the members requested to disclose by CDP’s forests program responding”.

It’s nice to see that our members are leading the way here, but it is also clear that not enough members are doing their part. “These results show that, while CGF members are leading across all key steps in the process towards implementation, there are still significant gaps to be addressed”.

Collaboration

Without the willingness of our retailer and manufacturer members to collaborate on (non-competitive) issues, the CGF wouldn’t exist.

There is acknowledgement in the reports about the role the CGF is playing and its leading approach to issues like deforestation. “And the ambition of [our] commitment to deforestation-free supply chains has helped catalyse pledges and supporting action by other companies, financial institutions and governments”.

We helped co-found the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 with the US Government, we’ve worked on the Global Compact with the Banking Environment Initiative, and our members are constantly working together to produce tools like our Sustainable Sourcing Guidelines for soy, palm oil and pulp & paper to help companies get to where they need to be.

The multi-sectoral approach is also key. As noted in the WWF research, “CGF companies are just one important stakeholder with influence on global commodity markets, and emphasises the need for all stakeholders – including governments – to strive for more sustainable production of soft commodities”.

Our members are definitely not afraid to collaborate and it is through this willingness that I remain confident that our retailer and manufacturer members will step up.

What does it all mean?

In short, we have a lot of work to do. I am happy to see reports like these. They serve as reminders that we shouldn’t get caught up in our own little bubbles, and they also show that, as an organisation, the CGF is driving positive change. This change may not always be the quickest, but it is taking place nonetheless.

It’s good that the three reports note that the CGF is moving the ball forward and that together we are “bringing the bright light of transparency into a previously opaque part of the global economy – and helping to remove deforestation from the products we use every day”.

My job now is to continue working with those who are leading, while focusing on those who are slower on the uptake.

Ignacio Gavilan is environmental sustainability director at The Consumer Goods Forum

 

Recent analysis from Innovation Forum:

‘No deforestation’ delivery continues to lag commitments
While companies are making the right noises on deforestation, actual achievements remain off the necessary pace

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