From the Editor: 5 Things I Learned on My Sustainability Sojourn to Indonesia

APP eucalyptus plantation

Reflections from Jen

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to head to Indonesia for a press trip hosted by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) to tour their mill and some of their acacia and eucalyptus plantations on the island of Sumatra, as well as a handful of their conservation efforts (both in the rainforests and within the local villages) and the plantation of one of the company’s acacia suppliers.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me first say that the trip was provided and paid for by APP. Let me further say that, though I have written about sustainability and environmental responsibility (including conducting interviews with dozens if not hundreds of experts) for many years now, I am by no means a sustainability expert, myself. I am not endorsing or validating APP’s sustainability efforts from a scientific or humanitarian aspect. What I’m sharing here – and in future notes and articles – are some personal experiences, learnings, and inspirations.

In coming weeks, I’ll publish a series of articles about what I learned in Indonesia. Today, though, I’ll share a handful of the challenges and solutions APP shared in terms of their conservation efforts:

From opposition comes opportunities: When a business like APP comes under fire from NGOs, the company may see it as an opportunity to grow. By bringing the NGO on as a “critical friend,” a company can learn from them and use those learnings as a catalyst for change. APP faced serious opposition from environmental groups about 5 years ago; by working consistently with its critics to understand the issues and then evolve its own sustainability programs, the company is seeing major customers returning and wanting to re-engage.

Initial investments lead to returns: Sustainability has become one of the biggest departments within APP, not just because the company wants to be a “good corporate citizen” but because it makes strong business sense. While sustainability programs may take significant upfront investment, APP is seeing returns in terms of ensuring a consistent supply of materials, returning customers, and increased local good will.

Sustainability can open new markets: Though companies are looking for ways to reduce or improve the sustainability of their packaging, the market for packaging is evolving, not shrinking. By investing in research and development for new product lines, APP is opening up new markets for products like sustainable food packaging.

Your own conservation efforts may not be enough: For a company like APP that needs a sustainable supply of natural resources, it clearly must focus on protecting its land. But what about the land of its neighbors? How can a company ensure conservation across larger tracts of land by getting other players involved? APP helped to develop the Belantara Foundation, a group that works with neighboring farms and villages, governments, NGOs and other major corporations to “develop a true landscape of conservation efforts.”

Policies may be necessary, but are not always easy: In 2013, APP decided it needed to put a policy into place that guaranteed the company would only source supplies of acacia and eucalyptus from suppliers that haven’t converted any additional natural forest to plantations since Feb. 1, 2013. To ensure a continuous supply of materials, then, the company needs to be vigilant in finding new and responsible suppliers, as well as researching ways to increase supply from their own existing forest.

That barely scratches the surface of the trip and doesn’t even begin to touch on the actual conservation efforts I was lucky enough to explore. Stay tuned for more specifics on APP’s sustainability efforts, including lessons learned, tactics and best practices.

Until then, have a great weekend and, as always, stay in touch.

Jennifer Hermes Nastu

jen@environmentalleader.com

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