“Forest 500” index reveals deforestation heroes and villains

Chinese companies score low on forest protection measures, while consumer goods giants are leading the way

Forest cleared for agriculture in Acre, Brazil (Pic: CIFOR/Kate Evans)

Forest cleared for agriculture in Acre, Brazil
(Pic: CIFOR/Kate Evans)

By Megan Darby

Only a handful of companies, investors and governments are acting to halt slashing and burning of rainforests, despite growing awareness of the problem.

That is the picture revealed by the Forest 500, an index of key players in supply chains that drive more than half of tropical deforestation: soya, palm oil, beef, leather, timber, pulp and paper.

While some consumer brands are making good on promises to phase out deforestation, they are outnumbered by firms with no forest policies at all.

“Our goal with the Forest 500 is to provide precise and actionable information to measure the progress of society to achieve zero deforestation,” said Mario Rautner of the Global Canopy Programme, which compiled the index. “There was good news and bad news.”

The GCP scrutinised the policies and performance of 250 companies, 150 investors, 50 governments and 50 other “powerbrokers”.

Members of the Consumer Goods Forum, an industry association that is aiming for net zero deforestation by 2020, scored 80% higher than average among companies.

Mixed messages

Danone, Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Kao Corp achieved the maximum five out of five, as did HSBC bank on the investor side.

None of the 30 Chinese companies listed, on the other hand, score more than one. These include the country’s biggest supermarket group and the state construction engineering firm.

Pizza chain Dominoes and clothing retailer Gap were among the western brands showing little in the way of strategy to protect forests.

For national governments, the scores are less wide-ranging. Colombia, Brazil and Peru lead the pack with four out of five, while the lowest-ranked Madagascar, Nigeria and Angola get two points each.

Deforestation and land degradation is estimated to be behind 10-15% of greenhouse gas emissions, making a substantial contribution to climate change.

At a summit hosted by Ban Ki-moon last September, 27 countries committed to halve natural forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030.

“There is no other climate change strategy in the short term which would be as effective as preventing deforestation,” said Rautner. “There is this emerging consensus that we really have to tackle these problems by 2020.”

With “good momentum” behind efforts to manage forests more sustainably, he added “it is not as daunting perhaps for companies and investors” to follow.

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