Sustainability

Questioning Supply Chains

Posted: November 6, 2011 by

Just months after a Greenpeace campaign targeting its practices, Mattel—the world’s largest toy maker—says it will stop sourcing paper and packaging from the Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) group. Greenpeace had identified APP as one of the largest contributors to ongoing rainforest destruction and habitat loss in Indonesia.

What made the Greenpeace rainforest campaign targeting Mattel (and other APP customers) so successful? One, developments in technology allowed investigators to identify specific pulps used in a package. Two, greater awareness made consumers more active in communicating their concerns. Three, the ease and speed with which these concerns can be vocalized has increased exponentially in today’s wired world. (More than 200,000 emails were sent to Mattel through Greenpeace’s campaign on the first day). In short, exposing the weak link in the company’s supply chain had become much easier.

Another company whose pulp sourcing was called into question by the Greenpeace campaign was Lego. The Danish toymaker handled the situation even more quickly: It announced a change to its sourcing criteria the very same month the campaign was launched (July 2011).

Lego stated it would not only continue its pre-existing packaging material reduction plan, but it would try to use only recycled materials. When recycled is not an option, Lego said it would use FSC-certified fibers to help assure better oversight of its pulp supply chain.

This was an important step, as a plan to deal with its pulp and packaging needs was an apparent missing link in the company’s aim to develop a forward-looking and more sustainable supply chain. Lego’s goals published prior to the Greenpeace campaign included using 100% renewable energy as part of its path to full fossil energy independence by 2020, as well as aggressive zero-waste goals along the whole of their value chain.

Forests’ role in design
Due to economic pressures, many countries are choosing to respond to immediate market opportunities offered by demand for rainforest products—including package materials—instead of waiting to work with a more sustainable action plan. Indonesia has increased clearing of rainforest lands to meet demand for palm oil plantations and to harvest wood for pulp and paper, Over the past 50 years, nearly 40 percent of the forests have been cleared in this country alone.

The combination of increases in carbon-
producing efforts globally (burning fossil fuels, for example) and decreases in key carbon sequestering mechanisms in key areas (such as old-growth forests) is at the core of our current climate problem and is the eco-designers’ challenge.

The real takeaway here is not just about focusing on your impact on the rainforest, but about building into your corporate culture the tools and the time to allow for a review of suppliers going all the way back to the point of extraction when possible—accounting for true costs. Creating a supply chain with greater integrity helps assure that all materials that go into creating your end product don’t carry hidden surprises. PD

Wendy Jedlicka, CPP, is principal of Jedlicka Design Ltd. (www.jedlicka.com), a founding faculty member of Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Sustainable Design Program (www.mcad.edu/sustainable), and contributing editor of the book Packaging Sustainability (PackagingSustainability.info).

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