Articles, posts and podcasts about sustainable supply chains, mostly


Indigenous/community rights a good example of where green meets social

Social drivers to protect – or cut down forest – are vital to grasp
(photo taken by the author, January 2014, Sumatra, Indonesia)

Traditionally, in the CSR field, social and environmental issues were handled by different sets of executives.

One group of more science-based folk worked on environment, whilst another, more community and philanthropy-oriented executives took on social issues, and what their company might do about them.

Today, some execs tasked with complex global sustainability challenges might look nostalgically back on those simpler days.

(But they were much duller days too)

Global corporate sustainability footprint issues such as tackling and preventing deforestation are now rapidly colliding with human rights, agricultural/raw material sourcing, corruption, and institutional and government capacity (or lack thereof).

This article from demonstrates this well.

It’s about how when communities have secure rights to their land, deforestation rates are much lower.

Pretty obvious, you might say, but the link between social (their rights) and environmental (carbon/deforestation) has not always been made clearly enough.

I know for a fact that many companies committed to preventing land clearance or conversion have nowhere near enough social expertise available to effectively tackle the human complexities of making their policies and targets actually happen.

General Mills, Cargill, Smucker, and P&G have all recently announced various serious commitments to supply chain sustainability. Looking at the response of campaigners such as Rainforest Action Network to just one recent announcement, (Cargill), you can see how tough it’s going to be, yet also how essential for the companies to get right.

Making clear links between environmental goals and social causes and solutions will be key.

Community engagement with rubber tappers in Sumatra, Indonesia
(photo taken by the author, January 2014)

The article, based on findings from a World Resources Institute and the Rights and Resources Initiative points out that:

“Deforestation and carbon emission rates are being reduced dramatically in areas managed by indigenous peoples and local communities with fully protected legal rights to forests.”

“…an estimated 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon stock are held in 513 million hectares of government-recognised community forests — equivalent to 29 times the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the world.”

“Using high-resolution mapping data, the study found that the deforestation rate in protected indigenous community forests in the Brazilian Amazon was less than one per cent from 2000 to 2012, compared with seven per cent outside these areas. The deforestation rate outside indigenous community forests produced 27 times more carbon dioxide emissions in the same period.”

“The study noted that when indigenous communities have no or weak legal rights, the forests they live in tend to be more vulnerable to destruction and become a high source of carbon dioxide emissions.”

“In Indonesia, out of 42 million hectares of community forests, only one million hectares are legally recognised by the government. Oil palm concessions now cover 59 per cent of community forests in West Kalimantan. While Indonesia boasts the sixth highest above-ground biomass in the world, it has become the world’s second largest carbon emitter mainly because of extensive deforestation.”

The link to the full WRI Report is here. Well worth a read.

WRI boss Andrew Steer notes that: “Our report finds that existing legal rights for community forests in the Brazilian Amazon and other areas could prevent 27 million hectares (66 million acres) of deforestation by 2050. That translates to 12 billion tonnes of avoided carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to three years’ worth of carbon-dioxide emissions from all Latin American and Caribbean countries.”

Those are some big numbers.

Companies who wish to demonstrate that they want to tackle global footprint issues in forestry, agriculture and carbon, to name a few, are going to need to publicly recognise the need to tackle the issues of social and environmental together. Teams will need to be designed, built and resourced.

We’ll be exploring how to make this work, here.

Whilst a few companies are starting to do the above, many others are still in denial, still focusing on energy efficiency, waste reduction, community and philanthropy work.

The example above clearly demonstrates that environmental is social.

It shows that when companies make 2020 or 2015 commitments around one issue, such as sustainable sourcing, they’ll need to be thinking hard about the others that govern the success of those. They need to consider the resources that need to be allocated to meet their targets.

To meet some of these, they’ll need to be thinking a little more holistically about how deforestation, human rights, corruption, and institutional and government capacity fit together. Then they’ll need to work out what they can do to tackle these issues, as an industry. The Consumer Goods Forum and WBCSD are good examples of where companies are coming together in this way, slowly. Other more niche groups such as the Palm Oil Innovation Group are starting to try and show the way for some companies.

Not easy.

CSR used to be fairly simple. Real (more) sustainable business is a lot less so.

Here are a few relevant events packed with leading brands and NGOs coming together to talk about all this:

How business can tackle deforestation
Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends (sponsored by Robertsbridge
28th-29th October, 2014, London. More details here.

How to effectively engage stakeholders in frontier markets (emerging markets)
An exclusive two-day executive training workshop, certified by the CSR Training Institute
30-31 October, 2014, London. More details here.

Business and human rights
How to get beyond policy, manage risk and build relationships
10 November, 2014, London. More details here.