Big Business: New Driver in Efforts to Stop Deforestation?

February 20, 2014

triangle land conservanct

Unilever, a multinational company that owns brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Dove, and Hellman’s mayonnaise, has emerged as a global leader in arresting deforestation.

As an industry giant, “Unilever alone purchases about 3 percent of the total global palm oil output,” writes Tiffany Stecker in an article posted by Scientific American. As such, their decision to source “100 percent of its palm oil from certified sustainable sources” can have a major impact on the day to day operations of palm oil plantations on the ground. By refusing to purchase palm oil processed from plantations that clear sensitive biodiversity areas or with non-sustainable methods, Unilever is decreasing the incentive for plantation owners to cut rainforest.

Such decisions have major ramifications. In Southeast Asia, the primary locus for palm oil plantations, the global demand for palm oil has caused substantial deforestation: “Growers have been accused of clearing native forests, removing habitat of endangered species and violating the rights of forest dwellers.”

Unilever’s influence goes beyond their suppliers. In a recent announcement, Wilmar, a palm oil trader, agreed “to adopt a no-deforestation policy, which prohibits its suppliers from establishing plantations on lands with large amounts of carbon – like peat soils – or lands with a high conservation value.” There is no doubt that Unilever played a major part in Wilmar’s ultimate decision.

Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman is a leader in industry sustainability, and will hopefully be one of the many CEOs keeping track of the sources of their products and demanding better practices. In addition to Unilever, Coca-Cola has teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund in key conservation initiatives to protect freshwater rivers and streams, and Dow Chemical is in the midst of a multi-year partnership with the Nature Conservancy to create living laboratories “to implement and refine models that support corporate decision-making related to the value and resources nature provides.”

If large companies, like Cargill, Sime Darby, Wal-Mart, and others focused their efforts on sustainable sourcing, deforestation rates across the globe could be slowed and critical biodiversity hotspots protected.

Here in the Triangle, TLC is working to acquire land and protect water and forests for local wildlife and local people. Some of these great places are large tracts of land that provide significant stream buffers and wildlife habitat, while others are small jewels that preserve unique natural areas. We applaud companies that strive to be more sustainable and we look forward to working towards the same goals in the future!

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