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Update on Asia Pulp & Paper (APP)

Guest post from Brendan May:

It’s now over six months since my ‘Frank and Open Letter to Asia Pulp and Paper’.

Regular readers may recall this was rather heavily tweeted around the ether and seemed to acquire a life all of its own for a couple of weeks.

It was greatly assisted on its travels by retweets from global NGOs with large followings, not to mention a certain @stephenfry.

This was never my intention (in fact I was stunned by the reaction), but I hoped it might make a change for APP to get a reality check from someone other than the traditional messengers in the form of Greenpeace, WWF and the usual suspects.

I am often asked whether it made any difference. In a word? No.

In my open letter I suggested APP abandon its absurd and inflammatory greenwashing communications strategy. The company has responded by adding a polluting feed to the usually sincere green Twitter community – @AsiaPulpPaper. Do follow it, purely for its comic value.

The APP Twitter feed’s existence mainly involves tweeting other sites’ green stories. A recent favourite: ‘What is your sustainability strategy?’, rehashing a blog that had nothing whatever to do with APP. Cue lots of messages back to APP along the lines of ‘What’s yours?’ Brilliant.

Other tweets implore people to recycle and urge people to retweet if they agree. It’s like a cross between Yoko Ono and Kafka, if such a thing is possible to imagine. Surreal, grotesque, idiotic, counter-productive. The feed follows two users, the company’s head of ‘sustainability’, and PEFC, the eco label APP likes to misuse. Hopeless drivel.

There has been no let up in the advertising (although mercifully there currently seems to be a slight lull in the campaign, no doubt due to budgetary constraints not deliberate silence). But travel the world long enough and up will pop APP, lecturing you about biodiversity (yes, really), tiger conservation (most amusing) and the like. On it goes. One wonders where they are getting the money to pay for it all. It isn’t from customers.

There has been no progress with any credible NGOs. In fact the reverse is the case. This is not surprising, but deeply disappointing. The company is not willing to embrace the serious conservation measures required to bring people back to its table. The longer this continues, the less likely any reconciliation will be. Bad news for APP, worse for rainforests.

There’s a very good summary of APP’s certification claims here if you need more information.

On the plus side, many more customers have deserted APP as a supplier. WWF has recently done some excellent work on this front and it seems the United States has become the latest country to reject APP in droves. If APP won’t improve, then this is the unfortunate consequence. You’d think they’d learn.

The circle of advisors who know as much about sustainability as I do about post Soviet Latvian pottery continue with their dismal efforts to ‘help’ APP’s reputation. I think the results speak for themselves. I do hope APP isn’t spending too much cash on all this; it really is money down the drain and might be better spent on some form of business model change.

I wish I had better news to report. Another six months, perhaps? Don’t hold your breath. If anything, things have got worse. That’s quite an achievement in itself, I suppose. In the meantime, all we can do is keep up the pressure. It usually works in the end. But time is running out for Indonesia’s forests.

1 Comment

  1. Arian Ardie

    Thanks Toby and Brendan for staying on top of this issue.

    APP needs to answer a few basic questions if it want's to claim sustainable operations.

    How much of its timber supply for its two mills in Sumatra come from Mixed Tropical Hardwood or non-plantation sources?

    Can that timber be be specifically and individually traced from stump to mill?

    Has that timber been evaluated using the HCVF (High Conservation Value Forest) tool-kit and if so is there a management plan in place to manage those values if material?

    The answers to those questions would at least be a start, but do not address the questions regarding the sustainability of the plantation operations which would center on what type of land, forest and community the plantations are situated.

    If the claim is that sustainability will be reached at some time in the future the company needs to publish a Sustainability Action Plan that is time-bound and independently verifiable. Implementation of the plan would need to be updated yearly against a GRI compliant sustainability report. The last sustainability report available on their web-site is from 2007 and does not answer these basic questions.

    Anything less is not sustainable.

    Arian Ardie

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