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Stakeholder engagement and sustainable forestry at International Paper

Q&A with Sofie Beckham, Manager Forest Stewardship and Sustainability at International Paper

1) Many of our readers won’t know your latest targets and objectives relating to sustainable forestry, can you give us an overview?

First and foremost, as the largest procurer of fiber in the world, IP supports close to 30 million acres of productive forestland globally by sourcing our fiber responsibly. We are deeply committed to sustaining working forests through our own procurement systems, through forest certification, and by collaborating with environmental organizations who share our goals with respect to sustainable forestry. In 2014, approximately 33% of our total fiber purchases globally were certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), or a national forest certification scheme such as the North American Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

2) Unlike many firms reliant on emerging market fibre with all the problems that comes with, you source a lot from N American forests. What are the main issues you deal with in sustainable sourcing of fibre in N America?

Our challenge and our opportunity in North America is supporting small forestland owners to keep their forests ‘working’ in order to maintain the social, environmental and economic benefits that healthy forests can provide. More than 90% of our fiber comes from privately owned forests in the US- many of those in the US Southeast- and those forests owners maintain their forestland for many different reasons. IP aims to support forestland owners to manage their forests for the long term, recognizing that they have many options when it comes to the future of their forests. In 2012, we began facilitating group FSC certification for landowners in the southeast United States. This initiative has enabled a group of small, non-industrial landowners to certify their collective holdings under a single FSC certificate- an opportunity that may not have otherwise been realized, because many of the participants are small, private landowners, and securing an individual certification for their property is not a financially viable option.

3) All large forestry based businesses have been criticised by campaigning NGOs in the past. What have you learned about open dialogue and ways of maintaining that in the last five/ten years?

For decades, IP owned forestland and could show forest stewardship through our investments in on-the-ground forest best practices. Today we don’t own land and depend deeply on the relationships we have with our suppliers. To address concerns from the ENGO community, we have built relationships that allow for practical solutions developed in collaboration. We’ve sought, and will continue to seek, common ground on tough issues that matter for different stakeholders. Our participation in the WWF Global Forest and Trade Network and our work with organizations including the Dogwood Alliance in the US Southeast have helped raise our awareness about the importance of an open dialogue as a platform for exploring different viewpoints. Collaborating with stakeholders is key to being able to advance sustainability in the forest product sector and to credibly talk about what we are doing.

4) Most companies say there is a big gap between their work and what larger investors ask about when it comes to sustainability. Does that reflect your experience?

Our investors primarily ask about business performance and how that impacts current and future financial results. Our discussions largely focus on our free cash flow generation, earnings runway, and capital allocation strategy. While we don’t discuss sustainability at a granular level, I believe it is understood via our company messaging that our commitment to sustainability is part of who we are.

5) What will you be discussing at our forum in DC in April and what do you hope to get out of the event?

I am looking forward to exploring the changing landscape of corporate commitments to zero deforestation policies, how those are being implemented, and whether we have the right tools to achieve the intentions behind the commitments. We all know that forest and supply chain certification are a part of the forest sustainability solution, but do those multiple attribute systems deliver on the zero deforestation goals? I look forward to being an engaged participant in the energy and momentum on this topic with other conference attendees who all have a stake in this important issue.

Sofie will be speaking at the How Business Can Tackle Deforestation conference in Washington, D.C. on 14th-15th April 2015. Check out the agenda here 

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