Following the Sustainable Paper Trail: Private Sector Key to Reducing Deforestation in Indonesia

"A country that has the unique reputation of Indonesia, when it stands up and takes a leadership role for what is right and moral in the world, it elevates itself and distinguishes itself." -- Al Gore, January 9, 2011(1) 

On June 8, the environmental group Greenpeace stepped up their decade-long effort to make companies eliminate ties to rainforest destruction, launching an international campaign against Mattel, Inc., the world's largest toy company, for their use of paper packagaing made from wood taken from Indonesia's rainforests.

They focused on Mattel's popular Barbie doll, unfurling a massive banner across the face of the building of the company's headquarters in El Segundo, California, showing a frowning Ken saying, "Barbie: it's over. I don't date girls that are into deforestation." "Barbie's dirty secret is that her packaging is made from the rain forests of Indonesia," said Greenpeace senior forest campaigner Rolf Skar. "Mattel has shown no due diligence. It buys paper without asking where it's coming from."(2) 


The plan worked. A day after Greenpeace's guerrilla tactic, Mattel responded on their Facebook page: "Today Mattel launched an investigation into deforestation allegations. While Mattel does not contract directly with (APP parent company) Sinar Mas/APP, we have directed our packaging suppliers to stop sourcing pulp from them as we investigate the allegations."(3)

On June 10, the toy giant followed up with an announcement that it is "developing a sustainable procurement policy for all of Mattel's product lines, which will address the important issue of deforestation. The policy will include requirements for packaging suppliers to commit to sustainable forestry management practices. In addition to addressing current concerns about packaging sourcing, Mattel's policy will also cover other wood-based products in its toy lines, such as paper, books and accessories."(4)

Though 10 Greenpeace activists were arrested in the theatrical, media-savvy campaign, it was a huge success for the environment—and also for Mattel's corporate social responsibility strategy. Their quick and postive response displays the company's commitment not only to sustainable best-practices, but also to their willingness to adapt to increasing consumer awareness of environmental issues.


ut while this represents a major victory, Mattel is still only a tiny link in the chain of Indonesia's deforestation. A report released last month by Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI), an independent forest monitoring group based in Bogor, Java, found that 5.2 million hectares of the nation's forest area—the third largest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo—has been destroyed through deforestation, and continues at the rapid rate of 1.5 million hectares per year.(5)

The study, which compared data from 2000 with 2009 Landsat images provided by NASA, calculated that over the ten-year period, Indonesia's forest area was reduced from 103 million hectares to 88 million hectares. "Indonesia's annual deforestation rate of 1.5 million ha puts it second only to Brazil in terms of annual forest loss over the period," according to the conservation website "But Indonesia's deforestation rate as a percentage of total forest was more than three times higher than Brazil." Global Forest Watch notes a troubling statistic that puts the issue into stark perspective: "Forty percent of the forests existing in 1950 were cleared in the following 50 years."(6)

The loss of rainforest depletes major environmental services, most notably the storage of carbon dioxide, making Indonesia one of the world's major contributors to anthropogenic climate change. Additionally, the loss of rainforest also means the loss of critical habitat for countless species, including several endangered species, such as tigers, leopards, elephants and orangutans.


In April, Indonesia became the latest addition to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a CEO-led coalition advocating sustainable development that counts over 35 countries as members. For conservationists, CSR-oriented businesses and socially reponsible investors, it was welcome news. "The launch of the Indonesian Business Council for Sustainable Development (IBCSD) is seen as a step toward promoting more sustainable business operations in a country many view as deeply in need of a stronger commitment to environmental preservation," said Sara Schonhardt of

"The need for a careful balance between development and environmental stewardship is increasingly obvious, as is the need to involve the private sector in attaining that balance," said Suryo Sulisto, chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), at B4E Global Summit in Jakarta in April. Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged to cut 26 percent to 41 percent in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. In a speech in Jakarta in January, former US vice president and leading environmentalist Al Gore called on business, government and civil society to carry out the pledge and praised Yudhoyono for taking "a stand that no other leader of any developing nation has been willing to take when he stood and said 'we will act." (9)










8. Ibid. 

9. Ibid., 1.

image: Logging in Kalimantan, Indonesia, July 2007 (credit: Ryan Woo/Center for International Forestry Research, Flickr Creative Commons)