What are the greatest drivers of deforestation? The answer may be surprising.
Commercial agriculture is responsible for over 70 percent of forest destruction in tropical and sub-tropical countries, and of the many types of agricultural commodities, those most strongly linked to deforestation are palm oil, soy, timber & pulp, and cattle. These “big four” commodities end up in products that are found in virtually all consumer goods, from hamburgers and clothing to furniture and paper products, as well as in less obvious places like animal feed and packaging materials.
These commodities pass through vast global supply chains that involve multiple actors and span from a cattle ranch in Brazil or palm plantation in Indonesia all the way to your local grocery store. And when these supply chains include products that drive deforestation in tropical forest countries, they also fuel numerous legal, environmental, and social impacts – including greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, species loss, food insecurity, health risks, and armed conflict over resource use.
There is an amplifying drumbeat of corporate stakeholders – from investors to non-profit organizations to consumers, calling for a deeper understanding of the effect individual companies’ actions have on forests. Recognizing the growing urgency to systematically address these issues, hundreds of private sector companies have stepped forward in recent years to publicly commit to reducing and/or eliminating commodity-related deforestation throughout the supply chain.
Promising to shift from “business as usual” to a more sustainable system that keeps tropical forests intact is one thing, but delivering on those promises requires a profound transformation of our collective approach to agricultural production and commodity supply chains and markets more broadly. Therefore, in 2015, Forest Trends introduced its Supply Change initiative to increase transparency around company commitments to reducing commodity-related deforestation. Supply Change synthesizes data from already available sources on the characteristics of those commitments and also tracks companies’ progress towards achieving them – or lack thereof. As a result, Supply Change enables stakeholders – investors, businesses, governments, non-profits, and consumers – to make more informed decisions that support or hold companies accountable.
The Supply-Change.org information portal lists company profiles with detailed information about their deforestation commitments. In addition, Supply Change products include analytical reports that shine light on global trends and challenges, original articles and blogs, webinars and events, and a monthly newsletter (subscribe here).
As our research shows, there’s much more work to be done, but the good news is that change is happening.
Of course, even the most leading companies with robust commitments won’t end deforestation if they are undermined by an unsupportive global corporate procurement market and detrimental behavior in producer countries such as illegality, corruption, and weak protection policies. For that reason, our work on supply chains is intrinsically tied to our work on legality and governance.