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No-Deforestation and the need for brave steps: “no net-deforestation could make a come-back”

Duncan Pollard, in a follow up post to this earlier one, reflects on corporate no-deforestation commitments below:

“It would be a brave company to abandon its no deforestation commitment any time soon.

But maybe we are inching our way there. There were some persuasive arguments made by Chris Wille on Toby Webb’s blog recently, and I agree with them mostly. Where I diverge from Chris is when he asserts that no deforestation pledges dumb down sustainability.

Pollard: “no net-deforestation could make a come-back”

There are two reasons why “no-deforestation” has become an important rallying cry. Firstly, deep rooted complex issues such as deforestation need targeted approaches to deal with them.

Certification standards with their focus on activities and process have proven unable to deliver. Secondly communicating progress on sustainability topics needs to be more targeted these days. “Lower environmental impact” and “sustainable” don’t really resonate with consumers.

They want to know that the food they eat, and the personal care products they use are free of deforestation, child labour or labour rights abuses.

No-deforestation passes the consumer test then, but for the rest of us trying to deliver it, it’s increasingly unclear what it stands for. It’s become politicized and conflated with other topics such as human rights and climate change.

I was one of those back in 2010 that advocated for “no net-deforestation” as the ambition that society should aim for, but conservation trumped sustainability and no net-deforestation became discredited.

Yet no net-deforestation could make a come-back for the reasons that Chris Wille points out. We need an approach that better recognises the needs of communities and smallholders. And as Oxfam wrote in their report last year:

“Companies need to look beyond the focus on forest conservation and ensure that the rights of local communities are protected. In fact, the long-term effectiveness of efforts to curb deforestation depends on being able to build socially inclusive models that strengthen people’s rights and livelihoods.”

John Nelson went even further in an excellent blog post last year which highlighted the need to put “people first, forests second”.

It’s time to recognize that in this complex world we need to tackle many topics, and that means we need to make tradeoffs, and avoid unintended consequences.

The question we therefore need to consider is: Should no-deforestation be the objective we are tackling, or rather should it be a consequence of solving other problems? Answer that and we may just find our way forward to taking those brave steps forward.”

Duncan Pollard is AVP, Stakeholders Engagement in Sustainability Nestlé S.A.


On the point about local communities, land and livelihoods, this post from Oxfam last week may be of interest: “PepsiCo is moving from policy to practice”

Innovation Forum will host a two day debate forum on this exact area on November 6-7 in London. Email me if you want more details: Tobias DOT Webb AT or see and sign up for updates on the right hand side.

Before that, we’re doing something similar in Washington, D.C. on April 18-19: How business can tackle deforestation – 18-19 April 2018 – Washington DC

View the earlier posts and comments in the debate:

Further comment on progress around zero deforestation targets, by Deborah Lapidus at Mighty Earth

Good examples of supply chain risk that make the business case, and more deforestation debate

The debate continues about zero deforestation approaches: “Zero DF pledges dumb down sustainability and CSR”

(See comments section for Chris Wille’s comments)

Are responsible investors taking palm oil more seriously in 2018?

And here’s the original post that sparked the debate above (well, most of it)

1000 days to go…the six most difficult questions for consumer brands around ‘zero’ deforestation palm oil by 2020

Here’s a discussion and debate-based Webinar coming up: “Sustainable agriculture: innovation to feed future generations” with Ashley Allen, climate and land senior manager, Mars and Dr Kevin Kephart, head of industry relations, Indigo Ag. Sign up at:

And here’s a really compelling info graphic below from TNC, (which is my browser homepage) to help remind me of where to focus:

Our forthcoming events