For a while now I’ve been watching closely as Sinar Mas’s pulp and paper arm, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has cranked up its PR machine to start spouting out more and more nonsense, trying to bamboozle their customers (and others) about the reality of their operations in Indonesia. In the second half of 2010 it came thick and fast, and the signs are that this year is going to be no different. Clearly they have a lot of money to throw at this.
The latest example appeared this week in the Ecologist of all places. APP’s sustainability director, Aida Greenbury, was given a free run to wax lyrical about how the NGOs have it all wrong and to talk about how APP really is a responsible company, implementing best practice in the Indonesian forest sector. It’s a fairly nauseating article in some parts, clearly steered (or is that written?) by current APP PR spin-meisters Cohn and Wolfe, designed to distract from the reality of Sinar Mas forestry operations and to focus attention on a few projects that APP is throwing money at to try and improve its reputation.
There is a lot that could be pulled apart in this article, but among all the hot air the bit they don’t really want you to pay any attention to is buried down in paragraph 15 or so. The key lines are:
"...around 85 per cent of APP’s pulpwood consumption comes from our own Sustainable Wood Plantations (which are replanted every six or seven years), with the remainder coming from legally-sourced mixed wood residues. In five years, we are aiming for 100 per cent being sourced from our own plantations."
This is fascinating stuff. Leaving aside the questionable 85 per cent figure for now (APPs own figures should rarely be taken at face value) and the bit about legality (please tell us who verified that this timber from forest conversion is indeed "legally-sourced"?), the most interesting part is the bit about moving only to plantation timber.
For the uninitiated, the mixed wood residues being referred to is not very clever PR speak for ‘rainforest destruction’ - in other words, it's timber that comes from deforestation in Sumatra, from areas including those mapped as deep peat areas and habitat for species such as the Sumatran tiger. In other words, exactly the sort of thing APP is trying to convince us it isn't responsible for. See the results of clearance by one of APP's suppliers in the image above.
So what they're actually saying here is that they are set for at least five more years of rainforest destruction in Indonesia. I say "at least" because it’s not like we haven’t been here before. Back in 2004, APP claimed it would rely only on plantation timber by 2007. They missed that deadline, so they had another go in 2007, this time claiming that by the end of 2009 they would be finished trashing forests (see our report, Pulping the Planet, for more details).
So, is it going to be third time lucky? Well, even if it was, the question is whether any responsible company buying paper products is seriously going to accept that it’s fine to keep liquidating the carbon and biodiversity-rich forests and peatlands of Indonesia, just for throwaway paper products for another five years?
Aida, you seem to have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. Oops.