Greenpeace: Asia Pulp and Paper's PR is greenwash, their sustainability claims a joke

Sumatran forest

Destroying Sumatran rainforest to make way for APP pulpwood plantations. Photo: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Greenpeace

Tesco, Adidas and others have already cut ties with the controversial paper and packaging supplier. In a scathing response to recent APP claims that it is greening itself, Ian Duff urges others to follow suit - until APP adopts sustainable practices

Sinar Mas’s Asia Pulp and Paper is Indonesia’s most notorious forest destroyer. In January, they had a shameless and risible piece of greenwash published in The Ecologist. This was doubtless the latest effort by APP’s PR agency Cohn and Wolf to ‘re-position’ a toxic brand that has seen major global corporates including Tesco, Adidas and many others cut their ties with the paper and packaging supplier.

But sloppy PR tosh obviously doesn’t excuse or hide APP’s total lack of regard for Indonesian rainforest and the habitats and communities that these forests support. And, in fact, this PR flim-flam was unable to cover a thinly veiled admission that APP will continue their destruction of Indonesia’s forests.

APP admitted that by 2015 100 per cent of its pulpwood consumption would be met by its own plantations and it would no longer rely on ‘mixed wood residues’ to fill supply shortfalls.

The mixed wood residues being referred to here is not very clever PR speak for ‘rainforest destruction’. In other words, it is 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. This is exactly the sort of destruction that APP claimed it is not responsible for. You can see the results of clearance by one of APP's suppliers in the image - above,right. 

So customers of APP should note that they have set a course 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).

PR trickery

So what about their other claim of supporting conservation work? Coincidently APP supports a project connected to each of its ongoing headaches – orangutans, tigers, social unrest, and carbon rich peatland. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that these projects are simply ‘get out of jail cards’ whipped out of a back pocket every time their destructive operations are brought into question. This PR trickery cannot absolve APP from the recent and ongoing trashing of forests and peatlands.

For example APP supports the 'Senepis Sumatran Tiger Sanctuary' whilst simultaneously clearing areas mapped as tiger habitat in Sumatra. You can see for yourself just how much APP cares for the Sumatran tiger from the photo - above - taken on a flyover of one APP’s suppliers operating in mapped tiger habitat in the Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape - yet it has the cheek to argue that it’s fighting to save the Sumatran tiger from extinction.

On another front APP is hoping that its new carbon reserve in Kampar, Sumatra will quell the outrage over the massive quantity of emissions released by APP suppliers each year through the clearance and drainage of carbon rich peatland forest. These suppliers cut gigantic drainage systems to lower the water table to make the soil suitable for plantations leaving the peat to dry out and release greenhouse gas emissions. By the Indonesian government’s own calculations peatland is responsible for almost 40 per cent of the country’s total emissions, emissions that are driven by the likes of Sinar Mas/APP. 

So let’s be absolutely clear. APP is practising business as usual, its operations are not sustainable and it’s trying to cover its tracks by throwing money at a handful of small projects to distract attention from its operations.

The answer to APP’s troubles lies not in PR spin but in implementing sustainability policies which rule out continued natural forest clearance. Impossible you say? Not so - APP’s sister palm oil company last week publicly announced new policies to stop expansion into forest areas. If these policies are implemented it is a huge step forward, one that APP urgently needs to learn from. Compare and contrast that with APP’s re-branding exercise it calls ‘Beyond Compliance’.

APP’s PR work is a poor example of old school greenwash. But their sustainability claims are beyond a joke.

Ian Duff is a Greenpeace forests campaigner

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