A sustainability tour with Asia Pulp and Paper

In 2013, Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the largest paper producers in the world, released its Sustainability Roadmap Vision 2020, a comprehensive strategy structured around 10 key touchpoints for sustainably managing its sprawling operations. These included fibre sourcing, reforestation, conservation and biodiversity, community empowerment and human rights. That roadmap will conclude in about a year or so and the company is currently working on Vision 2030, which will be released next year and will build on the lessons and achievements of its current efforts. In November 2018, APP brought some editors to Indonesia to have a close up look at some of the programs inherent in Vision 2020. Here’s my travelogue from that trip.

Day 1

I arrive wearily in Jakarta at 5 am, after 23 hours of flying via Vancouver and Hong Kong. It’s Sunday morning and the road in front of our hotel is closed for a weekly street fair and market.  I inhale a couple of pots of very strong and very good local coffee and spend a couple of hours strolling and delighting in the local colour.

Day 2: Briefing at APP offices

Central to the Sustainable Roadmap is APP’s forest conservation policy. Our tour will focus on these efforts, which APP calls its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP). It’s built around four components: protecting natural forests, managing peatland, social improvements of local communities, and managing the global supply chain. After the overview, we fly off to Pekanbaru, a city of more than one million in Riau Province of Sumatra, for a first-hand look at the programs.

Day 3: Conservation and fire prevention

APP pulpwood suppliers manage concessions, or leased land, from the Indonesian government of 2.6 million hectares. Of this, the company can use up to 70% for plantations to grow trees that feed its mills – but 10% of the land must be designated for conservation programs, and 20% for community use and development. Our first stop is a 173 hectare protected area outside the city of Perawang that the company manages and which it has turned into a centre for ecology, biology and botany education in conjunction with universities and national forestry departments. Home to a huge variety of animals and flora, it’s also home to six elephants that APP adopted in 1998.

A critical component of forest management is fire prevention. Fire is a traditional way of clearing forests in order to plant more lucrative crops like palm oil plantations. But as the climate becomes drier, fires are more difficult to contain. APP has banned slash-and-burn practices across its supply chain and has had a zero burn policy in place since 1996. But fires also happen by accident. Over the last three years, APP has invested $120 million (USD) to not only prevent fires, but to respond quickly if one does break out. Several fire towers like the one pictured, help with early detection. The view at the top, over the tree line, is of a beautiful expanse of vivid green stretching in all directions.

Community development

The Integrated Forestry and Farming system program was launched in 2015 to help communities find alternative livelihoods that reduce the risk of forest fires, illegal logging and encroachment. Since September of 2018, 236 villages have participated in the program with almost 16,000 families benefiting from it. APP has earmarked $10 million for community development to 2020, and works with the local offices under the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as local NGOs to teach villagers how to increase yields and fund local initiatives through micro loans.

Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper Perawang Mill and the supply chain

This massive mill sprawling over 2,400 hectares is the largest of APP’s nine mills in Indonesia, with a staff of 7,000. It operates four pulp and paper lines and nine paper machines, one of which produces one 32-foot-wide roll of paper, weighing in at 50 tonnes, every hour. Most of the paper produced here is writing, copier and coated papers. Located just outside Perawang, on the Siak River, the mill has its own port and jetties, and generates 50% of its power via renewable biofuel from waste products from the pulping process. Some of that energy is diverted for local community use.

APP mills receive their wood from 38 suppliers in five provinces in Indonesia. More than 38 suppliers feed the mill. All are PEFC-certified, audited, and stringent monitoring ensures that no mixed hardwood or natural forest wood enter the production process. Continuous improvement processes guarantee that 85% of the wood that arrives here goes straight to the woodchipper rather than sit around in holding yards. Nearby, research labs and a nursery work to increase the yield of trees. For example, acacia and eucalyptus are the two trees used for plantations. But thanks to yield-boosting research, once a tree is cut down, a new one will grow from the stump. One stump can be used to yield, on average, up to three trees – each of which takes up to five years to mature. The goal is to have all wood processed by APP’s mills to come from plantations.

Day four: Flyover Sumatra to the Giam Siak Kecil – Bukit Batu Biosphere Reserve

This 705,000-hectare peat swamp forest, a biosphere reserve on the eastern side of Sumatra, is a co-managed initiative to blend environmental conservation and sustainable development. It’s managed by UNESCO, Asia Pulp and Paper, various Indonesian government agencies. Just 120 miles north of the equator, this huge swatch of land blends research, training and educational programs with sustainable development – including community programs and plantations. Peat lands are important to the ecosystem here as they hold high levels of CO2 which, if disturbed, could be released into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. One effort to support the protection and better management of peat in APP’s suppliers’ areas is by building canal blocks along the perimeter to protect natural forests bordering the plantations. More than 5,000 such perimeter canal blocks exist here to manage water levels.

My trip is over. We fly back to Jakarta and hop on the long flights home the next day.