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Cottonsoft taking extra measures to reassure consumers of sustainability

Last week I had the opportunity to hear firsthand how our affiliate, APP, plans to roll out its 2020 Sustainability Roadmap and I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Operating in New Zealand, Cottonsoft has always been acutely aware of the critical importance of open and transparent operations and has made a clear commitment to sustainable pulp and paper practices.

When APP announced its Roadmap last month Cottonsoft welcomed the move, however, it was not until hearing Aida Greenbury, APP’s Managing Director for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, speak at a Solaris Paper hosted sustainability roundtable in Sydney this week that the significance of what the company is committed to doing really sank in.

The roundtable saw speakers from the United Nations Global Compact, certification experts and representatives from the food and grocery sector join APP to discuss how suppliers, retailers and consumers need to work together to achieve sustainable supply and procurement of paper in Australia.

Those present were able to hear firsthand from APP on the recent public commitments the company had made, including the launch of the APP 2020 Roadmap.

The Roadmap covers not only important issues such as its commitment to protecting High Conservation Value Forests, but also improvements in water management in line with the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, a reduction of carbon emissions, improved Human Rights and Employee Welfare, community engagement and conflict resolution.

The acknowledgement by APP that sustainability is more than the impact on the environment was supported by panel member Matthew Tukaki, the Australian representative of the United Nations Global Compact, who gave the audience some context of what sustainability means for business following his return from Rio+20.

He said that in order to have an effective environmental policy you needed to have social and economic policies in place as well. As a direct employer of almost a hundred thousand people in Indonesia, APP has been acutely aware of this and has ensured that social rights and protection play a critical part in the company’s sustainability roadmap.

During the presentation Aida referred to APP as ‘a new kid on the block’ (you can see her make the same reference here while speaking to ABC and to Australian Financial Review).

She was referring to the fact that many of APP’s competitors have been operating in the pulp and paper industry for over 100 years while APP have only been operating for a fraction of that time.

Despite this, Aida argued the company was now taking a leadership position, using the lessons of the past from traditional pulp and paper sectors in Northern Europe and North America, along with new technologies and the benefits the pulp and paper industry enjoys by operating in the Asia region. This, Aida argued, is in contrast to others making commitments that on the surface appear impressive but upon closer inspection reveal they lack substantive details. This is creating a climate of uncertainty among procurers, retailers and customers who are trying to find evidence of a product’s sustainability credentials.

Her views were echoed by Katherine Rich, CEO of the NZ Food and Grocery Council, who urged retailers to take an ‘evidence based approach’ to sustainable procurement and to ensure they are not swayed by claims for or against a particular product. Instead she called for the retailers in the room to work with their suppliers to find out as much information as possible before judging a particular product’s sustainability credentials.

For example, when it comes to its HCVF commitments, APP has set a clear timeline for the company and its suppliers to meet certain milestones, with regular reporting to track progress. In comparison, others are continuing to make bold commitments but with vague timelines on when these will be achieved.

The roundtable showed that sustainable procurement of paper products is not a simple decision of one supplier, country or brand over another. For procurers, said Kayt Watts, former head of the Australian Forestry Standard, the complexity of forestry certification means time needed to be taken to fully understand what the various certification schemes mean for the products they procure.

To help the audience Kayt took everyone through the predominant certification programs, PEFC and FSC, explaining the similarities and differences between the two schemes. Kayt warned that because of the complexity of certification, governments, retailers and consumers might be tempted to choose just one certification. She urged attendees to avoid having an exclusive procurement policy as this would have a negative impact on the growth of sustainable certified forests around the world.

This was echoed by Aida Greenbury who believed that Governments have an important role in setting an example to procurers by having a fair procurement policy that isn’t exclusive to one region or another.

The message from all the panellists was clear. To be a truly responsible pulp and paper supplier a company needs to have a clear roadmap with specific commitments, timings and reporting to ensure these goals are met and retailers, procurers and customers need to gather as much information as possible before making a buying decision. Only then can civil society, retailers and consumers be sure the products they purchase really are as sustainable as the packaging makes out.

I’m excited by what I heard at the roundtable and I know the audience was too. It shows APP is serious about its sustainable credentials and that it is prepared to publicly share its sustainability commitments with a clear timetable for doing so.

Not bad for a new kid on the block!

*Aida Greenbury was speaking at a Solaris Paper hosted roundtable entitled Responsible Procurement Policy of Paper. Other speakers included Matthew Tukaki, Australian Representative of the United Nations Global Compact, Katherine Rich, CEO of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council and Kayt Watts former CEO of the Australian Forestry Standard.

Tags: 2020 Roadmap, APP, Asia Pulp & Paper, Asia Pulp and Paper, forest certification, FSC, High Conservation Value Forest, PEFC, Solaris Paper, sustainability, UN Global Compact.