Natural Rubber – The Next Focus for Sustainable Forestry

This article originally appeared in EY Climate Change and Sustainability Services September newsletter

The evolving definition of sustainable forestry

Sustainable forestry has remained a major topic of conversation in the sustainability world for many years. The definition of what sustainable forestry is, and which forest products should be included in this definition has been evolving since the early 1990’s, when the timber industry began receiving pressure from NGOs on deforestation. Over time, it became more widely recognized that the timber industry itself was not harmful※1 if the timber was being sourced from forests managed sustainably – but what does it mean when a forest is managed “sustainably”?

At first, deforestation was the primary concern for sustainable forestry practices. However, sustainability is not a single issue with a single solution. It was and remains a complex topic that evolves quickly, varies based on specific conditions, and requires a multi-stakeholder approach to tackle. Today, NGOs, investors, and other stakeholders expect companies dealing with forestry products to approach sustainable forestry in a more holistic way, covering a broad range of environmental, social, and governance issues. While a “zero-deforestation” commitment is considered a minimum requirement, a modern company’s definition of sustainable forestry must also include considerations beyond deforestation – such as water and soil management, peatland protection, biodiversity considerations, land rights, livelihood support, child labor, and many others.

In addition to the definition of sustainable forestry widening to cover more issues, the types of industries this definition applies to is also widening to cover more than timber, pulp, paper, and the like.

For example, in 2010, the NGO Greenpeace launched a campaign against Nestle, criticizing the company’s use of palm oil in their widely known brand, KitKat. Oil palm plantations, which provide the palm oil used to produce various foods, soaps, detergents, and many other consumer goods products, can lead to deforestation, peatland destruction, biodiversity loss, and carbon emissions when plantations are not sustainably developed or managed.

Following the campaign, Nestle committed to sourcing its palm oil more sustainably, explaining※2, “By setting critical requirements for its procurement process and checking compliance with our supplier code, Nestlé wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint.”

This commitment was the start of a cascade of commitments by other companies that handled palm oil, including Unilever, Starbucks, L’Oreal, Hershey’s, and Procter & Gamble. Today, many global companies have sustainable palm oil procurement policies and practices, and NGOs continue placing pressure on those that do not with annual rankings, scorecards※3, and campaigns.

Shifting focus to natural rubber

In more recent years, the natural rubber industry has been rapidly becoming a major focus in the context of sustainable forestry.

Although a few scattered initiatives have existed for the development of sustainable natural rubber supply chains, the issue gained greater attention in 2016, when Michelin published their Sustainable Natural Rubber Policy※4 , which included a commitment to zero-deforestation.

Since then, other industry players have been joining in on making public commitments to sustainability and sustainable natural rubber procurement, including tire manufacturers and auto makers. NGOs, like World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Global Witness, have been quite vocal about the natural rubber industry as well, some approaching companies in a collaborative way, and some attacking companies via reports and campaigns.

Below is a snapshot of major sustainability movements in the natural rubber and auto industry over the past year. These events further highlight a trend towards industry commitment and action, indicating the likelihood of other companies and organizations following suit in the coming months.

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What can companies do?

The first thing a company must consider doing when thinking about sustainability as it relates to forest or agricultural products, is understanding their own supply chain. Fully mapping at least 1st tier suppliers would be a good starting point. Then, understanding the global conditions and risks related to those supply chains and suppliers can help the company identify which risks or opportunities are most important to their business.

Engaging with stakeholders, both internally and externally can help the company decide where it stands on its most important sustainability issues, and what it aims to achieve should action be taken. From there, policy and strategy can be drafted, and management systems can be developed to implement the policy, engage with the supply chain, and mitigate those risks identified while generating value for the company.

If a company already has a policy in place for forestry related products, or for sustainable procurement in general, it could be worth considering the incorporation of key wording and taking additional measures to meet the current expectations of society. A gap assessment of current conditions and policies against best practices or stakeholder expectations can help inform the level of enhancement that needs to occur.

Trophy Hunting

Ngorongoro_Spitzmaulnashorn_edit1Recently, two endangered black rhinos became fair game for two American big game hunters. 

The two hunters paid $350,000 USD each for a permit issued by the Namibian government to hunt the animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approved their import, as trophies, to the United States.

FWS director Dan Ashe says: “United States citizens make up a disproportionately large share of foreign hunters who book trophy hunts in Africa.That gives us a powerful tool to support countries that are managing wildlife populations in a sustainable manner and incentivize others to strengthen their conservation and management programs.”

Culling has been a practice that many countries around the world use to deal with overpopulation, preventing disease, or protecting other species. In the U.S., culling is used in the beef and poultry industries as well.

According to takepart‘The agency said Namibia’s black rhino management plan—which has grown the population from 2,400 in 1995 to 4,880 by 2010—allows for the killing of five males a year. Big, old bulls like the one that has been selected for Knowlton to hunt keep younger, vibrant male rhinos from mating and growing the population, according to wildlife office.’

On the flip side: “It is the worst sort of mixed message to give a green light to American trophy hunters to kill rhinos for their heads,” Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society, said in a statement. “When the global community is working so hard to stop people from killing rhinos for their horns, we are giving a stamp of approval to a special class of privileged elite to kill these majestic animals as a head-hunting exercise.”

With a population of 4,848 and listed as “critically endangered” according to the World Wildlife Fund, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around why hunting an endangered species is acceptable if you have enough money. Granted, the money is going to conservation efforts for that very species – a notable and necessary thing. However, is this really the way we, as Americans, and as human beings, want to show our interest in conservation? If the hunter is seriously interested in conservation, and has that kind of expendable cash, should he/she not simply donate the money and leave the animal be? Are we not capable of coming up with less violent methods of wildlife management? Or better yet, taking a harder look at how humans, not wildlife, are the ones encroaching on the other’s territory?

It can also be argued trophy hunting, particularly for threatened or endangered wildlife, undermines the efforts of people on the ground, risking their lives to protect these animals – like the International Ranger Federation or any of the anti-poaching units in Africa – along with the efforts of countless people around the world who work in conservation, who donate to conservation efforts, or who use their free time to volunteer or participate in events related to conservation.

What kind of message does it send, both to our own citizens and those around the world, that for the right price, you too can shoot an endangered species?

Food Waste Infographic

It is estimated 30-40% of all food in the United States is wasted – meaning thrown in the trash and sent to landfill. This is irresponsible management of the environment, resource conservation, your wallet, and overall bad practice considering the number of people worldwide that lack nutrition. Check out this great infographic, and consider making simple changes in how you shop and eat!

Food Waste in the US