APRIL Sustainable Forest Management Policy (SFMP) – Six Months After
In January, APRIL announced a Sustainable Forest Management Policy to conserve, protect and revitalize Indonesia’s forest resources. Since then, we’ve been working hard to implement the policy. We’ve had successes. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve also attracted a lot of attention – not all of it positive. So, six months in, we thought it would be good to assess where we are with the APRIL policy.
The executive summary looks like this: solid commitment from the top to the bottom of our company, transparent oversight of our implementation, some uncertainty among stakeholders. That last item is one we must continue to address. To be effective, the policy must be credible; and right now, for some audiences, the jury is still out.
Challenges to our policy have been expressed principally by environmental watchdog Greenpeace. Their campaigners say the APRIL policy doesn’t go far enough in protecting Indonesian forests. Whether we agree with Greenpeace or not (and often, we do not), we acknowledge their environmental passion. We also welcome their scrutiny.
APRIL has been diligent in seeking outside counsel regarding its policy. We deliberated with forestry experts in developing the policy. We commissioned an independent Stakeholder Advisory Committee to oversee implementation – forestry experts bringing many different perspectives. External auditors will soon report on our compliance.
Add environmental NGOs – including Greenpeace – to this list of external influencers. APRIL has met with many of them. Their views helped shape the policy. They inform the way it is implemented. We continue to engage with these stakeholders for three reasons:1) to improve their comprehension of the policy;2) accelerate its implementation;and 3) find partners who’ll help us make Indonesian forestry sustainable.
As we look back on six months under the Sustainable Forest Management Policy, here’s our assessment of the issues stakeholders want to discuss:
Policy scope: Critics complain that the APRIL policy doesn’t apply to other pulp and paper companies operated by RGE – our corporate parent. We thought we had addressed that concern. We stated that we would engage with those companies to adopt the policy. But it’s clear we haven’t done enough – the concern persists. So we’ve taken additional steps. We are getting approval from the other companies to identify where they source wood for pulp and paper production. We’ve also arranged for their executives to meet face-to-face with Greenpeace.
Deforestation: APRIL is not a deforester. We conserve High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) and restore and revitalize degraded land. Our concessions cover less than 1% of Indonesia’s forests. And we only operate on half of that land area. The rest is designated for conservation, community use or infrastructure. We plant 150 million trees a year, conserve 250,000 hectares of forest and restore another 40,000 hectares. We have one remaining plantation under development that covers just 0.001% of Indonesia’s forests. This is all done under license from the government of Indonesia. Governments have the right to sustainably develop resources for the good of their people. Indonesian policy sets aside 10 million hectares of secondary forest for plantation forestry. The objective is to drive exports, develop the economy and create jobs. We’re contributing sustainably to that objective by supporting 90,000 jobs.
2019 deadline: APRIL gets two-thirds of the wood for its pulp and paper mill from renewable plantations – but not yet all of it. That’s because we take a slow, painstaking approach to plantation development. We don’t establish plantations until we assess the landscape and set aside HCVF for conservation. That has delayed us in achieving plantation self-sufficiency. We’ll get there by 2019 when the last of our plantations mature. But in the meantime, we must augment our wood supply. The supplemental source is wood from short-term suppliers harvesting in non-HCVF areas. Critics don’t like this. They want us to immediately stop sourcing from these suppliers. The fact is, we’d like to stop, too; and we will, as fast as we can. Far better to source from our own reliable, sustainably managed plantations. We’re working hard to accelerate the target date for plantation self-sufficiency. But until the supply gap is closed, we must work sustainably toward the 2019 deadline.
Support for APRIL’s policy: There’s no getting around this issue. We were wrong. When APRIL announced its Sustainable Forest Management Policy, it claimed support from influential sources including WWF and the government of Norway. The fact is, both organizations issued statements welcoming the policy (“cautiously welcomed” in the case of WWF). But in our exuberance, we interpreted a welcome as endorsement. We will work hard to get endorsements from key stakeholders.
Forest clearing photos: Pictures are making the rounds of harvesting at an APRIL concession on the Sumatran island of Pulau Padang. We confirm it: Those pictures show APRIL harvesting trees to establish a plantation. That’s part of our job. The government zoned the land for plantation production forest. It licensed us to develop the plantation. But here’s our guarantee: the land in those photos is not designated as HCV forest. It is intended for production through plantation development.
High Carbon Stock (HCS): This is a relatively new concept. It calls for assessing the amount of carbon stored in forest areas and protecting areas with exceptionally large amounts of HCS. The problem is, accepted thresholds for determining HCS haven’t been developed. What’s more, HCS doesn’t factor in community or biodiversity considerations. APRIL in June agreed to join a public-private sector project to identify HCS standards. We will implement the standards when they’re ready for industry adoption. It has been suggested that APRIL should halt plantation development until those standards are accepted. It’s a well-intended idea, but misguided on three counts: 1) it slows the responsible development of resources for the benefit of Indonesia’s people; 2) it exacerbates APRIL’s supply gap issue and threatens to extend the 2019 deadline we hope to accelerate; 3) APRIL already has widely accepted HCVF guidelines in place that protect the forest by addressing community concerns, biodiversity and carbon stock.
Managing peatland: Unmanaged peatland is prone to degradation and at risk for fires. We understand the concern. We also know that managing peatland depends on managing water levels. We’ve implemented technology to manage the water table in our peatland concessions. To make sure that peatland is managed properly, the Ministry of Forestry has established a working group to measure, report and verify the implementation of our ‘ecohydro’ technology. It has proven that the area is relatively free from fire and that subsidence of the land is under control.
Stakeholder Advisory Committee: This has been a key strength of the Sustainable Forest Management Policy. The Committee of independent forest and social development experts oversees policy implementation. It provides transparency for our activities – keeping us honest, ensuring policy compliance. The Committee’s advice improves our performance. So we’ll rely on the group even more. We’ll seek their help in assessing the views of stakeholders. We’ll take their guidance and recommendations in developing plans of action.
Six months in, we’re making progress on the implementation of our policy. A moratorium is in place for APRIL and suppliers in any areas of land not yet assessed for HCV. Restoration work is going ahead at our Restorasi Ekosistem Riau concession – 20,000 hectares; and another 20,000 hectares has been identified for restoration on Pulau Padang. We’re on track to complete plantation establishment by the end of this year and we’re doing everything we can to meet or better the 2019 deadline to source 100% from plantations. We’ve also upped the ante on fire management with more resources and innovative community incentives to prevent fires being started.
We’ve met face-to-face with stakeholders to describe our sustainability journey. We’ve asked them to help us improve performance. Most are willing. A few are reluctant. We’ll continue the outreach because we seek the same outcome: responsible forest development that sustainably meets the needs of Indonesia, our customers and all those who care about the environment.
So here’s our conclusion after six months of operation under the Sustainable Forest Management Policy: We’re making progress, we’re open-minded about new initiatives and we’re aware that we’re not perfect. There’s a lot more work to be done. We’ll continue to report as we advance.