Some thoughts after our recent deforestation conference

As some readers will recall, we held a conference on deforestation last week in London.
Here’s a few thoughts that came out of it as a result. Thanks to Richard Donovan from the Rainforest Alliance for nuancing some of this. 
  1.  An incredible amount of progress has been made since 2010.
  2. There are three kinds of companies in the space: Those who have yet to do anything beyond the law, those who belong to RSPO only, and a third, much smaller group who are going way beyond RSPO and other standards to drive innovation.
  3. Some companies are rushing out announcement with no idea of how they will achieve them or how to handle transparency, how they will actually meet commitments, etc.
  4. Others have developed in-depth partnerships with NGOs, but are not finding implementation at all easy.  The leaders are going into it knowing it won’t be.
  5. Conservative companies struggle with this due to the age old attitude of “we only talk about what we know how to do”.
  6. Social issues are becoming far more obvious barriers to change than in the past.
  7. Governance and accountability, along with social issues, is now top of the agenda.  
  8. Industry groups, such as the Consumer Goods Forum and the World Economic Forum, are starting to push for more B2B collaboration beyond just RSPO-style compliance.
  9. Increasingly, it’s not just about confusing terminology such as HCV and HCS, but about “landscape management” and “smallholder engagement”.
  10. The Tropical Forest Alliance represents a significant opportunity for companies to engage governments and NGOs on better governance issues. The TFA 2020 initiative has company, NGO & government partners. 
  11. The “China and India will buy all the bad wood products/palm oil” argument is disputed by some working with the suppliers at source. But others see it as a key problem yet to be substantively addressed.  
  12. Certification, whilst limited in its ability to drive systemic change, is part of the mix, but by no means the whole story.  
  13. Legal enforcement of recently enacted laws in the EU and USA have a very long way to go. 
  14. Enforcement is extremely complicated given the difficulty of proving product provenance.
  15. The dynamics around procurement policies and deforestation have engendered both dialogue and action in ways we could not have predicted. This has sharpened the focus on deforestation as a part of sustainable or responsible purchasing programs, but the challenges for such efforts are how to ensure systemic platforms that ensure continuity, and how to handle transparency. 

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