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1 Sep 2016


We know smoking kills, yet the lungs of the world continue to smoke

If you smoke 40 a day, there’s a plethora of tools, treatments and techniques freely available to help you quit.  Despite wide-spread recognition that smoking is harmful, self-help solutions for one of the world’s most prolific smokers are still sadly lacking.  Indonesia went on its most prolific smoking binge last year, with forest fires burning some 2.6m hectares of land in a five-month period.  An estimated 500,000 people suffered respiratory problems as a result.  That’s just the damage that was immediately measurable to health.  These continuing fires have implications way beyond national borders that we can’t even see yet -  last year’s Indonesian forest fires generated emissions each day exceeding the average daily emissions from all US economic activity.

Saying you’ll stop and doing so are two different things

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) convenes its World Conservation Congress in Hawaii this week to help shape the direction of conservation and sustainable development.  Dominating many conversations at the congress will be IUCN’s rallying call to restore millions of hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands. At the same time, Indonesia’s forest fires will likely be entering their annual peak again. 

There will no doubt be encouraging announcements from governments and financial institutions supporting the IUCN’s restorative call yet experience tells us that commitment doesn’t always lead to action. Like smokers who can often talk themselves into quitting - finding the motivation to see it through requires much more than an initial commitment.  As the theme of IUCN’s congress points out – the planet is at a crossroads - what we need now is to act, and businesses role in moving from commitment to action is key.

The poisoning of our business environment

To prevent permanent damage to the world’s lungs, we must find ways to scale up the tools we have by approaching our forests with an innovative and collaborative mindset.  We must do this not only to keep the world’s forest standing but to restore what has been lost.  Business has a crucial role to play in the bottom-up and top-down solutions that are urgently needed to do that.  We can’t ignore that widespread forest fires continue to be set in Indonesia (and elsewhere) in order to clear land as a result of market demand for commodities.  Yet deforestation is increasingly an economic threat to business.  A reduction of natural capital results in a threat to security of supply.  This needs to be reversed quickly.

What can business do?

One way people are encouraged to quit smoking is by demonstrating that it not only damages health but that it’s also extremely damaging to wealth.  Part of the toolkit needed surely then must be to demonstrate the clear business case for keeping forests standing.  Business must show that; there is global demand for sustainable forestry products; sustainable forestry increases economic development and; gatekeeping governments that want to benefit from sustained forestry trade must fiercely protect and restore their forest assets.

What’s needed is an innovative and collaborative mindset  

At Kingfisher we’ve been grappling for some time with how we might help lead responsible business to achieve just that. Our collaboration with ISEAL Alliance, IDH, Tetra Pak, IKEA, Precious Wood and SCA on the VIA Initiative, sees us working collaboratively with science, academia and civil society to show the value FSC certification (as a proxy for sustainably managed forests) brings both to business and forests.   Impacts-based communication is not the only missing piece of the puzzle though.  That’s why, earlier this year, we started a collaboration with the RSPB and their BirdLife international partner, Burung Indonesia, to support Indonesia’s first ever Ecosystem Restoration Concession.   This, we believe, can bridge the disconnect between the retail world and forests struggling to make restoration a viable option. 

Commercial viability as a force for good

As a company it’s vital that we find ways to take our restorative forestry ambitions beyond philanthropy by also addressing the commercial needs of our business to make them truly sustainable.  To find the solutions we need, we must demonstrate that making forests commercially viable will be a force for good.  Sustainable forestry provides some of the long-term financial incentives forest managers and communities on-the-ground need to restore and keep our forests standing.

Kingfisher has had some early successes involving its business to restore degraded forests in Spain. We wanted, however, to understand how we can start to scale that and do so in a country of significant importance to the timber trade that is, at the same time, facing severe pressure on its forests ... Indonesia. 

Restoration in focus – Hutan Harapan

Our collaboration in Indonesia is, in essence, an R&D exercise.  It is designed to help us understand how the future commercial needs of our business may help to serve the immediate needs of forest landscape restoration and vice versa.  Kingfisher was approached specifically to become a strategic commercial partner.  The project sees action being taken on the ground and will lead to the restoration and protection of areas of over-logged tropical forest, known as Hutan Harapan on the island of Sumatra, covering ~100,000 hectares.  The focus is on reforestation, preventing forest fires, developing sustainable forest businesses and helping the livelihoods of indigenous communities through sustainable forest management.

It’s early days right now and we don’t have all the answers but by taking action at forest floor level, through this unique collaboration we are actively looking for them.  The fact the Indonesian Government has now granted 14 Ecosystem Restoration Concessions covering over 500,000 ha, of which Hutan Harapan was the first, must be seen as a welcome sign that it is open to finding solutions.  We urgently need to encourage and scale these types of innovative collaborations with; government creating the framework for restoration; NGO’s applying the know-how and safe-guards; and business supporting long-term financial stability, by creating and giving access to markets.  The alternative is not an attractive option for business - a continuing attrition of Earth’s healthy ecosystems means the loss of the natural capital we rely on to make our business models deliver.

Forest restoration – an investment not a cost

We need to prove and indeed celebrate models that; avoid doing bad (deforestation); sustain what we have (certification & conservation); and go that step further (restoration).  We need to prove that the restoration of landscapes is not a cost but an investment. A handful of leading peers have made some good progress.  Coca Cola is investing in watershed restoration around the world in an effort to safely return to communities and nature an amount of water equal to what they use, thereby securing global reserves of a key resource for them. The Body Shop’s new Bio-Bridges programme aims to regenerate and reconnect 75 million square metres of damaged forests to help grow and preserve more wood than they use in their packaging.

If we are successful we will move from a model where nature is, at best, treated as a commodity, to a model where nature is fully accounted for and is considered as an asset to be treasured by commercial organisations.

The world’s largest ashtray is preventable

Our rainforests are the lungs of the world on which we all depend yet right now we’re tolerating them as a 40 a day smoker.  In 2015 the world watched as fire raged across the 5,000km length of Indonesia.  Unless we want it and its irreplaceable tropical forests to become the world’s largest ashtray - we must find ways to stop these amazing ecosystems from going up in smoke and motivate large scale restoration.  The IUCN congress in Hawaii is an opportunity to make that happen.  Up to 8,000 delegates from around the world are expected to attend and announce new forest restoration commitments.  Market incentives for forest landscape restoration will play a part in helping those governments deliver on their promises.

The time to act is now

Over the years business and civil society have, together, created an effective toolkit of interventions that enable people to a) quit smoking (avoided deforestation), b) look after their lungs (FSC certification) and c) reverse the lung damage done (forest landscape restoration).  Scaling-up these solutions can only be achieved by a global commitment from governments, followed by pragmatic on-the-ground implementation – an area that businesses should excel in. The time is now! Let’s do this, together.


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