Sustainable Forestry: Can We Get It Right?

June 25, 2018 EcoVadis EN



Producing forestry and agriculture products for export, e.g. into global supply chains, is an attractive means for many developing nations to create economic growth. Done responsibly, this can succeed. However, the current state of deforestation shows there is much work to be done to achieve a healthy balance.


Given its direct adverse consequences such as the extinction of species, climate change, soil erosion and drought, deforestation is considered a severe environmental phenomenon. It is estimated that about 12 percent of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions are generated from deforestation and forest degradation. In Malawi, deforestation for human settlement and agricultural land has triggered soil erosion with direct impact on lake Malawi’s fish supply, which showed a 90 percent decline over the last 20 years. Scientists have predicted that by 2050, deforestation could reduce rainfall across the Amazon by 21 percent during dry seasons and 12 percent during wet seasons.


What We’ve Been Doing Wrong


Soybean and palm oil cultivation along with timber production and cattle rearing are major contributors to deforestation; and these economic commodities have been getting a lot of attention recently.


Deforestation for palm oil plantations in Indonesia averages to about 300,000 hectares (about half the size of Delaware) each year. Currently, palm plantations cover more than 27 million hectares of the earth’s surface with palm oil production representing the highest volume of all vegetable oils (rising from 15.2 million tons in 1995 to 62.6 million tons in 2015). There has also been a marked increase in palm oil production in other parts of the world, namely South and Central America (3.4 million tons), Thailand (1.8 million tons) and Western Africa (2.4 million tons). Immense areas of tropical forest have been cleared and converted into pastures to cater for the large-scale expansion of cattle herd into the Amazon. From 1993 to 2013, over 300,000 km2 of forest was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon.


The global beef industry, which has faced mounting criticism due to the greenhouse gas footprint (about 9 percent of total global GHG emissions), is the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, with the figures at one point ranging from 65 to 70 percent of all deforestation in the area. Similarly, high demand for wood and wood products has incited tropical countries to destroy their forests and produce cheap timber and pulp, which has also significantly contributed to deforestation. Illegal logging is difficult to track but is estimated to account for about 40 percent of all logging in the tropics.


If current deforestation levels continue, the world’s rainforests may completely vanish in as little as 100 years, according to National Geographic, and this will have a disastrous effect on our world if we don’t act.


Corporate Commitments to Zero Deforestation and Responsible Sourcing


An increasing number of major multinational companies are committing to tackle deforestation issues in their supply chains in a view to enhancing environmental and social impacts through responsible sourcing. Some of them have been engaged in certification schemes and procurement standards which are a key strategy for them to eliminate deforestation from their supply chain:


  • The REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), mechanism developed by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, goes beyond simple deforestation and forest degradation to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks;
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) plays a key role in devising accreditation standards to prevent illegal logging. More than 40 million acres of forests, representing approximately 10 percent of the world’s working forests, are FSC-certified;


  • The strict ProTerra Sustainability Certification ensures that certified soy is kept segregated from sources of GM soy throughout the supply chain and also pursues high conservation standards with respect to primary forest maintenance. GM-free soy cultivation is also promoted by the Donau Soya Standard which states that “…no new agricultural land shall be developed if this would result in the loss of forest or moors.”;


  • The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), which comprises of leading palm oil producers and International NGOs, agreed on the urge for environmental responsibility to set up standards for responsible palm oil, with the aim of breaking the link between palm oil and deforestation;


  • The Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) has been set up to protect the environment by reducing green gas emissions and certification to this scheme is mandatory to all palm oil producers operating in Indonesia;


  • The Brazilian Forest Code defines the agreement (Ministério Público Federal Terms of Adjustment of Conduct or MPF-TAC) to avoid illegal deforestation by minimal reserve areas on properties that must remain forested. Similarly, the “G4 zero-deforestation Amazon Cattle Agreement” in the state of Pará in Brazil prohibits any forest clearing, even if it is within the legal limit;


  • The Round Table Responsible Soy (RTRS) compels producers to assess their operations to prevent any impact on native forests, wetlands or riverbanks. Restoration of deforested areas in private properties is an obligation set by the Brazilian Forest Code, which also promotes land use for productive activities and conservation of native vegetation.


Companies are acting as they are in the firing line of non-governmental organizations and are directly involved in risking the reputation of the company if it is associated to deforestation. Zero-deforestation pledges have reached an impressive scale: The New York Declaration on Forests was endorsed by 36 national governments, 53 companies and 54 civil-society organizations and the Consumer Goods Forum represents 400 companies across 70 countries. It remains to be seen whether companies can meet their pledges and monitor their progress.


International Cooperation and Major Leaps Forward


In spite of the growing global awareness on the urgency to curb deforestation, it remains that the world is today caught in the continued need to feed a rising population with increasing demand for land, meat, oil, wood and timber. Fortunately, the collaboration of different countries and the involvement of producers, consumers and individuals altogether is taking a leap forward, with several initiatives being developed and enforced:


  • Prohibition of trade: Member companies of the National Association of Cereal Exporters (ANEC) and the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (ABIOVE) are able to cooperate with the Brazilian government to control soy financing and trade from the Amazon biome. The Lacey Act originating from the US had for prime mission to stop illegal wildlife trade, then expanded to preventing illegally sourced wood. In Europe, the EU Timber Regulation has led to the implementation of a due diligence system for monitoring paper, pulp, plywood inside and outside Europe by prohibiting operators from placing illegally-sourced wood products on the European market;


  • Monitoring of deforestation by governments: The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) aims at encompassing all Malaysian plantation companies by 2019 for certification in maintaining good agricultural practices while the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) in Brazil targets to map and register all rural properties in view of monitoring the compliance with natural conservation requirements;



  • Consumer responsibility to purchase legally sound product with respect to environment protection: Small meatpacking companies in the state of Pará in Brazil signed the MPF-TAC agreement in 2009 to stop purchasing from properties that carry out illegal deforestation, while Brazil’s largest meatpacking companies signed the “G4 zero-deforestation Amazon Cattle Agreement” following pressure downstream from retailers concerned about the notoriety of being linked to deforestation.


Engagement by the government  in zero deforestation can safeguard the progress towards sustainable forestry and help create long-lasting impacs. Collaboration between the public and private sectors on zero-deforestation targets is set to improve the production of forest-risk goods.


Naushad Toolsee, CSR Analyst at EcoVadis


Read more about how SDG goals related to preserving natural resources map to the EcoVadis methodology for assessing environmental performance.


About the Author

EcoVadis EN

EcoVadis is a purpose-driven company whose mission is to provide the world's most trusted business sustainability ratings. Businesses of all sizes rely on EcoVadis’ expert intelligence and evidence-based ratings to manage risk and compliance, drive decarbonization, and improve the sustainability performance of their business and value chain. Its AI-powered risk mapping, actionable scorecards, benchmarks, carbon action tools, and insights guide a resilience and improvement journey for environmental, social and ethical practices across 200 industry categories and 175 countries.

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