Jim Efstathiou Jr.
Asia Pulp & Paper is trying to reassure customers that it uses no illegally logged trees in its paper mills after Greenpeace International accused it of destroying the habitat of the endangered Sumatran tiger.
Asia Pulp, a unit of the Sinar Mas Group, is going directly to its customers to counter “misleading or simply untrue” claims from the environmental group, according to Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability for the company.
In a May report, Greenpeace said the company was clearing natural rainforests to supply its mills and logging in areas considered among the last refuges for the Sumatran tiger, which is protected under international conservation programs.
“In general terms, we understand why customers are concerned about some of the allegations,” Greenbury said. “That’s why we have a duty to explain to customers the real facts in this and other cases.”
Asia Pulp has been the target of environmental groups for more than a decade. In a 2001 report, Friends of the Earth said Indah Kiat Pulp & Paper, an Asia Pulp unit that operates pulp and paper mills, got 75 percent of its timber from clearing rainforest.
More than 60 companies have broken supply contracts or ruled out buying Asia Pulp products, according to Greenpeace.
“A certain degree of customer churn is normal in any business, and APP is no exception,” Greenbury said.
In May, Greenpeace supporters hung a sign on Yum! Brands’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, accusing it of buying paper products from Asia Pulp made with rainforest wood for KFC chicken buckets.
Independent tests on food boxes purchased at stores in Indonesia, Britain and China in the past two years found fibers from tropical hardwood trees, said Rolf Skar, forest campaign director for Greenpeace.
“Whenever you see significant amounts of mixed tropical hardwoods, that means that rainforest have been chewed up and torn apart,” Skar said.
The presence of mixed tropical hardwood fibers “says nothing about whether the product is sustainable or not,” Asia Pulp claimed in a May 23 statement. Rainforest wood fiber can come from degraded, logged-over or burned-out forest areas, the company said.
“The mixed hardwood fibers that we are harvesting are legal and not of high conservation value,” Greenbury said.
The company insisted that it was in compliance with Indonesian laws and regulations and that an independent report confirmed that no protected tree species were entering the supply chain. The government cleared Asia Pulp of that charge, the company said.
“From the moment the accusations were published, we produced a number of updates for customers,” Greenbury said.
Logging forests in Indonesia threatens the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, according to WWF’s website.
Asia Pulp said last month that beginning on June 1, it would suspend clearing natural forests in areas where it held government licenses to produce pulpwood to take “account of critical issues raised in our dialogue” with nongovernmental organizations.
Asia Pulp units have equity stakes in six companies that hold pulpwood plantation concession licenses in Indonesia. By 2015, Asia Pulp said it would have the capacity to “be wholly reliant” on raw materials from plantations.
“It’s a long learning experience,” Greenbury said. “We wouldn’t be where we are right now if the NGO community didn’t let us know where we can improve ourselves.”