Jakarta. Since Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited, or APRIL, a leading pulp and paper manufacturer, adopted a sustainable forest management policy in 2014, its stakeholder advisory committee has played an important role in advising and monitoring the implementation of the company's commitment across the social, environmental and governance spheres, as well as engaging regularly with nongovernmental organizations to listen to their views.
The committee, which by its constitution is independent of the company and comprised of national and international experts on forestry, social issues and business, meets three times a year. It also appoints an assurance provider to evaluate APRIL's sustainable policy implementation.
In its 2018 report, the stakeholder advisory committee reviewed the full four years of APRIL's efforts in responsible fiber supply, landscape-level conservation and restoration of natural forest, reduction of forest fires, transparency and supplier compliance with the sustainable forest management policy.
The committee is chaired by Joseph Lawson, a leading sustainable forestry expert and co-author of the "Guide to Sustainable Procurement of Forest Fiber and Forest Products."
Lawson's career paralleled the emergence of sustainability as a social, political and eventually a business platform.
After initially working on regulatory compliance, he moved on to chair several committees that revised and improved standards, which brought him into contact with big brands at the consumer-facing end of the supply chain.
"My experience was that we had moved from a political license to operate, to gaining a social license. Certification was, to me, a great advancement because it embraced every aspect of sustainability," Lawson said.
He explained that the business was required to consider input from outside stakeholders, including environmental organizations and NGOs.
"Frankly, some of the most significant changes to forestry practices were, in large part, influenced by campaigning NGOs," Lawson said.
He soon became involved in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. His role in the council also evolved into him leading the World Resources Institute's efforts in creating the sustainable procurement guide.
It was while working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Europe that he became familiar with APRIL. Following his retirement from the Mead Corporation in the United States, he was asked to consider developing and chairing an external stakeholder advisory initiative for the company.
"I was hesitant at first. But eventually I became convinced that APRIL was sincere in addressing my concerns, which included ensuring the independence of the committee and a solid commitment from senior management," he said.
The company and the committee had a lot of challenges to overcome, but in the four years APRIL and the stakeholder advisory committee have worked together, transparency has improved, the harvesting of tropical hardwood has ended and restoration on work the Kampar Peninsula is ongoing. APRIL's Fire-Free Village Program has since made tremendous strides and reduced fires significantly by tackling the cause, not the symptom.
"In my view, the primary hurdle to implementing sustainable solutions to most natural resource issues in Indonesia is poverty alleviation. Unless poverty can be alleviated, implementing improved sustainability practices will be difficult, if not impossible. The challenge is not only improving programs that companies like APRIL have in place, but also to make improving community livelihoods a priority for all companies operating in Indonesia," Lawson said.
He believes opportunities clearly exist to place Indonesia firmly as a global leader in forest product manufacturing. He points to the disparity, for example, between forest product mills in the United States and Indonesia, stressing that where those in the United Sates are largely very old, require huge amounts of capital investment and have a comparatively costly workforce, the newer mills in Indonesia are state of the art.
Lawson says "with this growing global presence, comes environmental and social responsibility. APRIL is under pressure to both improve its sustainability practices and improve transparency. I'm confident this will happen. APRIL's management appears to be committed and, frankly, external stakeholders will demand it."