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Opinion: A tale of corporate social responsibility

November 23, 2015  By Cindy Macdonald

When it comes to corporate social responsibility in the forest industry, Asia Pulp & Paper should be a well-known turnaround story. APP, probably the world’s largest paper manufacturer, came under fire from Greenpeace for its forest management practices in Indonesia. The company has since implemented ambitious forest conservation measures and is winning back customers and public favor.

At a recent panel discussion organized by two student associations at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ian Lifshitz of APP and Shane Moffat, forest campaigner for Greenpeace, discussed the Greenpeace/APP conflict and collaboration, as well as lessons learned.

Greenpeace runs a global campaign to ensure the ecological integrity of the Indonesian rainforest, because of its biodiversity and economic value to the country. The organization’s conflict with APP ended in late 2012, when APP announced its zero deforestation policy.


Lifshitz described a disconnect that existed between the beliefs and rhetoric of environmental groups and APP’s image of itself. He said the environmental groups presented APP as a non-sustainable company that was damaging habitat. APP, on the other hand, saw itself as operating legally and responsibly, obeying national standards, and paying attention to social and community needs. APP, at the time, was one of the largest employers in Indonesia, creating housing, schools and good-paying jobs with benefits for employees.

“So we said, “Where is the disconnect?” when attacked by ENGOs,” Lifshitz recalled.

Lifshitz said the economic impact of the ENGO campaign against APP was low, but the “reputational impact” was high.

In response, APP engaged with outside independent influencers, met with customers and critics, and began to build trust. The result was a far-reaching forest conservation policy.

In addition, “we’ve changed how we listen,” Lifshitz explained. “If there’s a breach, we investigate and report the accusation transparently on our website. We are a company willing to learn, listen and engage.”

Moffat says APP demonstrated leadership. “They made on-the-ground institutional changes and have fundamentally changed their operations.”  The former adversaries can now sit amiably together in a classroom and discuss their journey.

The campaigns caused the company to question its perception, said Lifshitz: “What legacy do we want to leave? Do we want to be perceived as the bad player?” The answer was no, we don’t.

Corporate social responsibility is about companies making decisions based on their values, explained Moffat. He feels that now, in 2015, we are seeing more companies assess their values and explore these values through their business strategies and supply chains.

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