Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) - good or bad? Rolf Skar of Greenpeace is replying to Ian Lifshitz

Last month we interviewed here Ian Lifshitz, Sustainability & Public Outreach Manager at Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world that has also long been a target of green groups for its logging practices.

Ian presented in the interview APP's point of view regarding the company's activities and the accusations against it. One of the issues discussed in the interview was a Greenpeace report "How Sinar Mas is pulping the planet", where Greenpeace claimed that APP "is destroying Indonesia’s rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands."

Following the interview, we got a request from Rolf Skar,
Senior Campaigner at Greenpeace, to respond to the interview and we happily agreed, as we want to use this blog as a platform to promote a better understanding of the issues discussed and hopefully contribute to the creation of solutions.

Hello Rolf. What were your thoughts after reading the
interview with Ian Lifshitz?

My first reaction was that the interview demonstrates just how out of touch APP remains. Our evidence, based on Ministry of Forestry data, satellite imagery analysis, aerial surveillance and on the ground documentation shows how APP continues to clear natural forests and peatlands. The evidence is simply overwhelming. This is a company that fails to meet even its own sustainability targets to stop using natural forest fiber for its products.

The apparent APP preference for rhetoric over substantive change has led every NGO that has tried to engage with the company to conclude that the company is not serious about sustainability. An example is when the auditing organization Rainforest Alliance broke off relations in 2008, concluding that “we do not wish to be used by APP again in order to mislead the public and the consumers.”

I was also not surprised to see Ian mention his role as a spokesperson to “educate North American audiences about the balanced approach developing countries…need to take between social and economic priorities.” I hope Ian will recognize that though Greenpeace campaigns have tremendous impact in North America and Europe, our campaign to protect Indonesian rainforests is guided and led by our Indonesian staff – people who know very well the complicated economic, social and environmental realities of their native land.

Ian Lifshitz described your report on APP's operations in Indonesia "unequivocally inaccurate and deliberately misleading" - what is your response?

I would like Ian to show evidence that Greenpeace is “unequivocally inaccurate.” His main claim seems to be about the expansion issue, for which the source of our evidences was an internal Sinar Mas Group presentation, by the APP pulpwood supplier Sinarmas Forestry. It was presented as an “area development project for supporting mill license capacity” in 2007. The project was sponsored by Aida Greenbury’s boss and head of APP, Teguh Ganda Widjaja, and his brother, head of Sinarmas Forestry, Muktar Widjaja.

I assume Ian was not party to this plan, and encourage him to take a look at the excerpts form this presentation included in our recent report, Empires of Destruction.

It appears like Ian is not the only one raising questions about your report. APP reported last month to its shareholders that the (yet unreleased) audit of the international accounting and auditing firm Mazars found that "the facts contained in the APP report were accurate and, therefore, the allegations made by the environmental NGOs were indeed baseless, inaccurate and without validity." - What's your reply to Mazars' findings?

The first thing to note is that the quote you referenced is from APP. It is their interpretation of the Mazars report, not what Mazars concluded. Given the liberties APP takes with the facts, this is an important distinction.

Second, it should be noted that Mazars essentially audited whether a specific APP report met generally accepted standards for CSR reporting – things like whether the claims were properly footnoted or referenced. Mazars made no attempt to assess the accuracy of our specific claims against APP.

Mazars is not in a position to audit APP mills or concession areas to make judgements about sustainability. This is not its area of expertise. Further, a number of the “key facts” they highlight are not referenced and therefore cannot be evaluated. APP’s attempt to use this audit to justify their activities will, frankly, not convince any stakeholder with even a basic understanding of sustainability.

Did you try in the past to communicate with APP?

Greenpeace has written to APP on a number of occasions and has typically received long, puzzling responses from Aida Greenbury, the APP sustainability and stakeholder engagement director. Instead of a meaningful response, we have consistently received rhetoric designed to justify their business as usual approach. It is difficult to engage with a company that refuses to acknowledge it has a problem.

Greenpeace activists unfurl a giant banner “APP-Stop destroying Tiger Forests” to expose ongoing forest destruction by pulp giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). The banner was deployed in an area of active clearing by PT. Tebo Multi Agro (TMA), an affiliate of APP, on the southern part of the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape. © Greenpeace / Ardiles Rante

What are the demands of Greenpeace from APP? What are the steps that Greenpeace would like APP to take to meet these demands?

To be clear, our campaign is about stopping deforestation, not opposing APP. Greenpeace is asking that APP pulpwood supplier, Sinar Mas Forestry, immediately halt further clearance of natural forest and peatland in Indonesia. We will continue to encourage responsible companies to stop all business with APP until the company takes this action.

A wide range of international companies including Nestlé, Kraft and Unilever, are in the process of implementing global sustainability policies that will exclude APP products unless it makes substantial improvement to its fiber supplies. Many others, like Kimberly-Clark, have never purchased from APP and have reaffirmed commitments to keep APP out of their supply chains.

Greenpeace is well known in its ability to transform activism and campaigns against companies into collaboration and joint work with these companies - is this the case here as well?

We have an informal motto that we have “no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.” This allows us to work with companies that are doing the right thing, regardless of histories. The fact that we do not accept corporate or government contributions allows us to stay independent, flexible and fair.

From the Canadian Boreal forest to the Amazon, Greenpeace has a long history of working collaboratively with companies we had previously butted heads with. We are open to this with APP as well, but we will need to see a genuine commitment to change that has to date not been evidenced.

APP will have to realize that business as usual is no longer an option for industry leaders. As long as to APP fails demonstrate basic criteria – like fulfilling its own sustainability commitments, or agreements reached with NGOs – it will be difficult to move forward. This is not just something Greenpeace has experienced. Back in 2008, the last major corporate who tried to engage with APP – office giant Staples – gave up, concluding that APP was a “great peril” to the their brand. I am not sure what it will take for APP to decide it is time to move forward. Until that day, Greenpeace campaigning will intensify pressure on the company and its customers.

If you would have sat with Ian to the same table - what would you like to tell him?

I don’t want to sound severe, but Ian is either being very badly misled by his employers, or is simply not interested, for any number of reasons, in sustainability. If it is the former, I would invite him, and senior management at APP, to come to the field with Greenpeace to see for themselves the reality of APP business practices. If it is the latter, I would most likely not have a productive conversation with him; we would continue talking past each other, and the status quo would continue. When APP is genuinely ready to talk, Greenpeace will be too.

I would like to thank Rolf for taking the time to reply my questions and I would also invite you all to add your comments, questions and any other feedback you have on this issue.

The interview with Ian Lifshitz is available at

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!