Indonesian firm working on getting certification back
Indonesian company linked to last year's haze spending millions to get back environmentally-friendly certification
It has been six months since its Green Label certification was suspended - because the company was linked to the haze that blanketed Singapore last year - but Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is still reeling from the repercussions.
Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company said it lost "millions" of dollars in sales as a result of the suspension.
The ongoing suspension means its products, such as popular tissue brands Paseo and Jolly, remain absent from the shelves of major supermarkets here.
Products with the Green Label, which is issued by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), are considered environmentally friendly and APP is making getting the certification reinstated a priority.
APP's vice-president of corporate affairs in Singapore, Mr Jose Raymond, told The New Paper: "(Getting the certification reinstated is) at the top of our agenda and we're working with SEC. We will leave it in its hands."
Last September, the National Environment Agency (NEA) issued APP a notice under Section 10 of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.
It demanded APP provide information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, after large-scale forest fires erupted on land that was under the company's purview. (See other report.)
NEA also issued notices under Section 9 of the Act to six other firms based in Indonesia.
The next month, SEC suspended APP's Green Label, prompting supermarkets such as FairPrice and Sheng Siong to take APP products off their shelves.
Spokesmen for both supermarkets said they currently do not stock APP products.
Mr Raymond told TNP: "The haze episode of 2015 showed that APP needs to do a lot more on the ground to tackle the fires."
To that end, APP invested US$20 million (S$27.4 million) in a multifaceted fire prevention and suppression programme, which included getting fire management experts to train 400 of its staff and suppliers.
APP also signed a memorandum of understanding with seven villages near its concessions in South Sumatra province.
Under the memorandum, APP committed itself to spending an additional US$10 million over five years on a variety of programmes to give villagers a reason not to clear land by burning down forests for illegal logging.
Indonesian environmental activist and independent journalist, Mr Taufik Wijaya, applauded APP for investing in farming communities.
"The money that it has pledged so far must be focused on improving the socio-economic status of the villages," he said.
For Mr Zenzi Suhadi, a campaign manager for Indonesian environmental group Walhi, the effectiveness of the programmes has yet to be determined.
"The success of APP's programmes will be seen only when the dry season truly comes around, in May to August," he said.
In Singapore, grassroots group People's Movement to Stop Hazewas "glad" to see APP investing in community engagement programmes.
But the group's strategic development and research director, Mr Chris Cheng, said "such efforts should have started years ago when it was accused by many NGOs for its community exploitation and burning within concessions".
Professor Ang Peng Hwa, an adviser for the group, told TNP: "Quite clearly, what had been spent was not enough."
In 2013, APP and its suppliers spent US$4 million on fire detection and response, and on training for firefighters to fight fires on its concessions, according toits website.
Responding to the scepticism, Mr Raymond said: "What happened in 2015 was unprecedented, that's why APP has invested a lot more money in fire suppression and fire prevention this year."
The company is one of the handful in Indonesia that made maps of its concessions, as well as those of its suppliers, available online for public scrutiny.
It is according to the World Resources Institute, which runs the Global Forest Watch, an online forest monitoring and fire alert system that provides detailed maps and analysis of forest fires around the world.
Additionally, in March, the Forest Stewardship Council announced that it is in talks with APP to reinstate the council's certification for the company.
The council, a global NGO promoting responsible fire management, terminated APP's certification in October 2007, citing "publicly available information" that showed APP was involved in destructive forestry practice.
The World Wide Fund for Nature considers the council's certification as being the best in ensuring environmentally responsible forest management.
So what would the end game be for Mr Raymond?
"It should be blue skies for all of us, right? That is Asean's end game as well," he said.
What happened in 2015 was unprecedented, that's why APP has invested a lot more money in fire suppression and fire prevention this year.
- Mr Jose Raymond, vice-president of corporate affairs for Asia Pulp and Paper in Singapore
NOTICES SERVED TO SEVEN COMPANIES
The National Environment Agency in 2015 served seven companies notices under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.
Six of those companies, all of which are based in Indonesia, were served under Section 9 of the Act.
The section requested them to take immediate measures to stop the fires that caused the haze.
Asia Pulp and Paper was served under Section 10 of the Act, which asked for information on one of its subsidiaries here.
The company was also asked to share the steps its Indonesian suppliers took to put out the fires in its concessions.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said in a speech at the 3rd Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources on April 12 that Singapore will use the Act to address the commercial roots of the trans-boundary haze.
"Companies practising unsustainable production that affects us with haze must know that ... they will have to face the consequences sooner or later," he said.
He is keen to change public's negative sentiment of APP
WORK: Asia Pulp and Paper employees Jose Raymond (standing) and Kavickumar Muruganathan were both formerly with the Singapore Environment Council. TNP PHOTO: AZIM AZMAN
Mr Jose Raymond, 44, is tasked with improving his company's reputation.
He works for Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), the largest pulp and paper firm in Indonesia that has some 2.6 million ha of land concessions under it.
Last year, APP was one of the seven companies that were served notices by the National Environment Agency during the period of haze. (See report above.)
APP products, such as tissue brands Paseo and Jolly, were pulled from supermarket shelves here after the company's Green Label certification was suspended by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC).
It was an unusual twist - from 2011 to last year, Mr Raymond was the chief executive officer of SEC.
He is now vice-president of corporate affairs in Singapore for APP and his days are spent reaching out to everyone, from the media and the Government to the buying public and the company's shareholders.
Mr Raymond hopes to change the negative general sentiment the public has of APP.
"That's the challenge we have right now," he said.
"We needed to manage and improve on whatever negativity and perception the public has about APP.
"We have got a lot more aggressiveness reaching out to the media about what we have done," he said.
The goal is to let everyone know that APP is serious about tackling the haze.
In a bid to regain its Green Label, APP announced last month that it had hired SEC's former head of eco-certification, Mr Kavickumar Muruganathan.
He is APP's new manager of sustainability and stakeholder engagement.
So what does it mean for APP?
"It just means that we are trying a lot harder to prevent a repeat of 2015," said Mr Raymond.
We have got a lot more aggressiveness reaching out to the media about what we have done.
- Mr Jose Raymond, vice-president of corporate affairs in Singapore for APP