A new online platform developed by US-based not-for-profit Forest Trends and backed by the WWF and CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) is helping firms assess the degree to which their supply chain is contributing to global deforestation and biodiversity loss.

The resource will also enable users to track the actions taken by companies that have made public commitments to a more sustainable supply chain in terms of timber products, pulp, soy, palm oil and beef.

Currently, more than six million hectares of tropical rainforest is being lost every year, and timber and pulp products are second only to soybean production as a driver of deforestation.

“We are seeing increasing awareness of the impact on businesses of deforestation risk and recently a growing trend for commitments to combat this,” CDP’s chief executive Paul Simpson said. “We are delighted that this new initiative further underlines the need for consistent corporate disclosure to CDP on the impacts of deforestation.”

Currently, WWF and CDP data shows there are just over 300 global firms with a combined market value of nearly US$4 trillion that have committed to reducing or eliminating products from their supply chains that are associated with forest loss. At least one-third of the pledges were made in 2014, which Forest Trends said is a doubling of commitments made the previous year.

The platform aims to measure success against any stated goals in these green promises, while also enabling the wider market to gain information on which firms could be considered green suppliers or partners.

“We believe that consumers should only have sustainable choices. To accomplish this, we need to completely rethink the way products are made, from the bottom up,” Jason Clay, senior vice president of markets at WWF, said.

“Corporate supply chain commitments send an unmistakable signal: ‘If you want to work with our company, the environment must be top-of-mind.’ Large corporations have the greatest leverage to shift whole industries, which is why supply chain commitments are so critical to our evolution to a market place full of sustainable choices.”

A report based on the initial data – Supply Change: Corporations, Commodities, and Commitments that Count – was released to coincide with the platform going live.

The report showed that well over half of forest-risk commodity commitments are tracked from companies in the food and beverage industry. It also showed that corporate leadership has a multiplier effect: one commitment from a major retailer such as Marks and Spencer spurs another three commitments from their suppliers upstream.

“Last year’s spike in new commitments can be partly attributed to new institution-scale targets set by members of the Consumer Goods Forum (target: pursue “zero net deforestation” by 2020) and/or signatories of the New York Declaration on Forests (target: halve forest loss by 2020). The largest number of new commitments addresses ecosystem degradation from palm oil production, and saw a 171 per cent increase over commitments made in 2013. Palm oil commitments consistently dominate in this and related research partly due to the Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil’s member progress reporting requirement and intense civil society attention to the sector,” the report stated.

The data also showed that at least 85 per cent of companies that have made commitments to a more sustainable supply chain rely on third-party commodity certifications to identify commitment-compliant suppliers.

The role of civil society in driving change is highlighted, with the activities of NGOs, consumer groups, activist groups and industry associations all having an impact on the level of corporate commitment and action.

Founder and chief executive of Forest Trends Michael Jenkins said transparency through public disclosure was a valuable that allowed the world to gauge the corporate community’s progress in eradicating deforestation from key agricultural inputs.

“These new relationships that underlie Supply Change harness the strength of our complementary skills to provide investors and other decision-makers with free access to information that will accelerate the transition to a zero-deforestation economy,” he said.

  • The report and data platform, including profiles of individual companies, can be accessed here

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