3 trillion trees are at the heart of our low carbon future, say Unilever and Marks & Spencer - News | RE100 Skip to main content

3 trillion trees are at the heart of our low carbon future, say Unilever and Marks & Spencer - News

23 September 2015, 0:00 UTC 5 min read

As part of Climate Week NYC, two partners from RE100 - an ambitious global campaign led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, to engage, support and showcase influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity - Mike Barry Director of Sustainable Business Marks and Spencer and Jeff Seabright Chief Sustainability Officer Unilever who are also Co-chairs Consumer Goods Forum Sustainability Steering Group, write about their low carbon journeys in a three-part blog series. 

As we approach COP21 we must consider which interventions can make the biggest difference. We cannot expect every building block of a low carbon future to emerge perfectly hewn from Paris. We need to focus on those decisions that will make the most difference at least cost, and with greatest likelihood of successful implementation.

Action on forests is one of the single most important and beneficial steps that we can take globally to secure a low carbon future.

Forest loss is responsible for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. But it’s not just the climate impact of forest loss that should make us pause for thought. The impact on people who live in forests; the loss of biodiversity; the disruption of water supplies; the loss of flood attenuation, all mean that deforestation is simply unsustainable.

In 2010 the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) recognized that it had to help its members tackle deforestation in their supply chains. The CGF Board agreed a Resolution that committed its members to achieving zero net deforestation in key commodity supply chains by 2020.

Deforestation is a massive phenomenon that occurs on an industrial scale. It defies solving alone, whether as a country or a company, and it defies piecemeal action.

The CGF has sought to take a systematic approach to helping its members drive deforestation out of their supply chains by:

  1. Setting a focused goal – There are four key commodities where the CGF with the help of WWF decided it could make the biggest difference – palm oil, soy, paper/pulp and beef. Focus has allowed us to make substantial improvements on key parts of the deforestation issue, but not spread us too thinly in trying to tackle every supply chain and raw material. Setting a target date for delivering change (2020) has provided momentum for our work.
  2. Defining best practice – For example working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to set a common procurement standard. But also crucially not being a passive by-stander in the RSPO’s evolution, but rather positively and actively engaging with it to help toughen its standards, improve traceability and thus build its credibility.
  3. Engaging Suppliers – A strong, consistent message from palm oil users (CGF members) to palm oil producers and refiners has encouraged some of the world’s largest commodity companies to rethink their whole approach to forest management. APP, Wilmar, Golden Agri and others may not have changed their approach in the face of a lone business voice asking for change. But with companies as diverse as Unilever, P&G, Mars, Mondelez, Walmart, Sainsburys and Marks and Spencer lining up together to call for change, they recognised they had to adapt to marketplace pressure. Today 90% of globally traded palm oil now has some form of ‘no deforestation’ commitment associated with it.
  4. Creating new partnerships – Even with standards set and suppliers engaged, the forest journey is not an easy one. It needs action at a landscape level, beyond specific supply chains and forest concessions. The CGF helped create the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) to bring Governments together with business and civil society to tackle deforestation. The TFA is helping govenments put in place the funding, policy and enforcement capacity to deliver real change. It helped inspire the formation of the Banking Environment Initiative (BEI) which is seeking to ensure that producers committed to tackling deforestation are rewarded economically in preference to those who are not. And the CGF was a key player in the New York Declaration on Forests that has set the bold macro goal of cutting natural forest loss globally by half by 2020 and striving to end it by 2030.
  5. Sharing best practice – It’s easy to get caught up in the world of UN declarations and miss the granular work in the procurement ‘trenches’ where real change has to happen in thousands and thousands of different consumer products and factories. We’ve created practical networks where best practice can be developed, shared and refined.

 These five steps show how a sector can start to systemically deliver change. We don’t for a moment believe our job is complete. If anything we’re humbled by how much more needs to be done.

For example, what does ‘zero net’ deforestation really mean in practice? How do we help developing countries and their populations use their natural assets to grow in a sustainable way? How do you engage and then train 100,000s of smallholders to improve how they grow to protect forests and increase their incomes? How do we scale what we’ve learnt beyond the CGF membership to consumer goods companies in rapidly emerging markets in, for example, China and India?

 All big, tough questions that will not be easy to answer, but the five point approach outlined above provides us with a roadmap towards solving them. From global goal setting, to creating multi-stakeholder partnerships to helping the biscuit buyer understand their role in tackling deforestation, we believe we’re providing leadership at the CGF in addressing one of the world’s key low carbon challenges.

COP21 is an important opportunity to put forests at the heart of a low carbon future, and we hope our practical action offers in some small way encouragement to governments and other businesses, that change is possible.

by Mike Barry Director of Sustainable Business Marks and Spencer and Jeff Seabright Chief Sustainability Officer Unilever, Co-chairs Consumer Goods Forum Sustainability Steering Group

You can chat live to Thomas Lingard, Climate Advocacy & Sustainability Strategy Director, Unilever and Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business (Plan A), Marks & Spencer on Twitter today to discuss how they’re switching to 100% renewable power as part of the RE100 campaign. Ask questions using #RE100 at 3.30 pm BST/11.30am EST September 23.