Environmental campaigns have gained much momentum in Hong Kong over the past few years. Public awareness of responsible consumption is growing, but knowledge about what makes a consumer product sustainable remains low. In the case of paper, widespread misconception has it that responsible paper consumption is just a simple matter of recycling.
To address this knowledge gap, the Environmental Management Association of Hong Kong hosted a Sustainable Timber and Paper Forum at the University of Hong Kong. I was fortunate to attend this forum in April 2014, along with guest speaker, Aniela Maria, Deputy Director for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement of APP. Other guest speakers at the forum were Robert Gibson, Adjunct Professor and Sustainability Facilitator at City University of Hong Kong; and Gloria Chang, Campaign Manager at Greenpeace Hong Kong. The forum was chaired by Billy Hau, Principle Lecturer of the School of Biological Sciences, HKU.
Robert made a strong case that the issue of sustainable paper is not just about using more recycled paper, but also about taking care that the new fiber in paper comes from forests that are certified as being sustainably managed. The fundamental reason for doing this, he argued, is that deforestation results in environmental damage, with long-lasting and severe implications. Landscape fragmentation, habitat destruction and land degradation leads to climate change and species extinction, which are not only difficult to manage, but also almost impossible to reverse. Paper that is certified as coming from sustainably managed forests is usually slightly more expensive, as the cost of managing forests in this way is higher, but this is a small price for users to pay to prevent deforestation.
Despite the known impact of deforestation, forests continue to disappear around the world. Currently, forest area of the size of a football field is lost every one-to-two seconds. In addition, according to a UNEP and Interpol joint report, 30% of the timber traded globally – valued at USD 30-100 billion per year – have been logged illegally. With only 9% of the world’s forests certified, consumers and businesses have to make a conscious effort to choose certified paper and timber in order to minimize the environmental, financial and reputational risks caused by deforestation.
Against this backdrop, the critical role that APP plays in forest conservation cannot be clearer. Paper consumption is rising, and recycled wood fiber has only a limited number of life cycles. As demand for paper grows, well-managed, certified plantations are the ultimate solution for ensuring the long-term supply of pulpwood for paper manufacturing. Large pulp and paper companies such as APP have a responsibility to ensure that paper is produced sustainably, so that customers have the option to use paper without contributing unknowingly to irreversible environmental damages.
Aniela showed in her presentation that integrated sustainable forest management is complex and challenging, involving the input and alignment of multiple stakeholders. APP alone is just one organization among many. Commitment across the forestry sector will be crucial to the sustainable development of the pulp and paper industry. “We see our Forest Conservation Policy as part of a much wider shift towards better global stewardship of forest resources. Success in the long-term will require commitment from many more of Indonesia’s forestry stakeholders,” said Aniela.