Human activity is changing the world’s climate for the worse. The naysayers sound increasingly strident, isolated and ridiculous. It is unclear whether they are either driven by ego or by some darker short-term commercial considerations. The scientific proof on climate change continues to build, with the negative impacts ramping up. Governments and global businesses are making long-term plans based on average temperature rises of between 2-4 C degrees over the next 50-100 years.
All is not lost. Governments, global businesses are making commitments to ameliorate their negative impacts on climate change. Deforestation is recognised as one of the major contributors to global warming. There are a variety of initiatives aimed at slowing deforestation. For instance, there is the New York Declaration on Forests, signed on the 23rd of September, 2014 – where governments, companies, civil society and indigenous organisations have endorsed “a global timeline to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020, and [will] strive to end it by 2030″. There is the Consumer Goods Forum, a global alliance of 400 companies with combined sales of three trillion dollars, created to achieve net zero deforestation supply chains by 2020.
Government can regulate – when they have regulatory capacity. But the world’s natural forests are often growing in areas where there is very limited or no regulatory capacity. Governments in such circumstances have a limited role.
The controlling reach of big global businesses can be long and large. The influence of the demand chain (the pre-cursor and mirror image of any supply chain) can be both massive and positive in terms of preventing deforestation.
Let’s assume these internationally–known brands operate near the consumer end of the supply chain – are in business-to-consumer or business-to-business relationships with their customers. CEOs of international enterprises, as the conventions above shows, are prepared to commit their business to serious and positive targets. It’s not selfless. It adds to their brand value. Although at the very top of their organisations – the bosses may have little time to study the detail of how they are progressing against these aspirational targets – interestingly legal counsels are getting more involved, as are major shareholders and those responsible for managing reputational risk take a serious interest.
It’s the buyers in these organisations that make the demand chain beat to the tune of the brand. It’s the Commercial Director and the hard-nosed buyers that have the real immediate in-your-face commercial clout to make practises change – all the way up the supply chain via the tiers of suppliers, to the raw material source.
So if the objective is for the international brands (signed up to the NY Declaration on Forest and the Consumer Goods Forum) to prevent further destruction of the world’s forest and moderate the impacts of climate warming, it’s the buyers within these organisations that need to be educated and have their individual buying performance monitored in a transparent manner. The positive ‘no-deforestation’ beat of the demand chain will show if these initiatives have life or not.