PM.Haze Report Details APRIL’s Sustainability Efforts

In October 2014, the Singapore-based social activist group People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze) toured facilities operated by April Group in Riau Province, Indonesia, as part of an investigation into APRIL’s environmental practices. PM.Haze’s report, issued in February 2015, detailed what members observed on the tour, as well as commendations and recommendations for further action on APRIL’s part.

APRIL has received criticism that it does not adequately control fires on its plantation lands. One of the divisions within the $15 billion RGE Group, the company produces wood pulp, paper, and forestry products on concession lands in Riau. Its paper mill in Kerinci, Riau, produces more than 7 percent of the total world pulp output.

In recent years, agricultural fires on village lands and within the concessions of several companies in Indonesia have generated haze conditions that have affected air quality in Singapore and Malaysia. Late in 2014, Indonesia became the final nation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

APRIL recently launched its APRIL Dialog website in order to respond to questions from the public in a direct and timely manner. The company practices a zero-burn policy and has accepted the creation of an independent Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which issues regular reports on its progress toward increased sustainability.

The PM.Haze report praised APRIL’s willingness to participate in discussion with interested non-governmental organizations and commended its corporate social responsibility programs that focus on improving quality of life for the people who live near its concessions. Among additional efforts, the group also praised the company’s APRIL Dialog project, its fire-management policies, and its commitment to preservation of the peat forest core on the Kampar Peninsula. RGE Group founder and CEO Sukanto Tanoto, among Indonesia’s most successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists, has conveyed his commitment to effective and long-lasting environmental protection policies and social responsibility programs.

PM.Haze also focused on ways in which APRIL could improve. These include publicizing concession maps of APRIL’s and its suppliers’ lands, and clearly indicating areas set aside for conservation and the benefit of communities. The group also advised APRIL to immediately begin to use 100 percent plantation fiber, and to assist its suppliers in engaging more constructively with the public.

In addition, PM.Haze noted that APRIL should continue to rely on stakeholder, researcher, and NGO input as it moves forward to take on a leading role as a model of sustainable practices in its industry.

Law Professor Strives to Understand Singapore’s Haze Problem

Simon Tay is a professor of international law at the National University of Singapore, the founder of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), and a former three-term Nominated Member of the Singapore Parliament. In addition, he serves as a powerful voice on topics affecting the quality of life for all Singapore’s people. In November 2014, Tay authored a piece for The Straits Times, one of Singapore’s leading newspapers, on his “personal journey” through the environmental issues surrounding the haze problem plaguing his country and the greater region.

In the article, Tay discussed the complex nature of the problem. Recurrent clouds of smoky haze originating largely from forest fires in Indonesia have crossed the Strait of Malacca for decades, blanketing Singapore and Malaysia. The elderly and young children are particularly vulnerable to the respiratory conditions and other health problems associated with this type of pollution.

The rapid boom in natural resources-based manufacturing taking place within Indonesia’s developing economy is the ultimate cause of the haze, which sometimes comes from fires that ignite on plantation lands owned by large corporations. In other instances, small farmers, without a direct affiliation with a corporate partner, may set fires on their own or company-owned lands through lack of education about the environmental impact, or deliberately as the cheapest means of clearing lands for cultivation.

Attributing the fires to specific sources has proven difficult, even for experts, because of unclear demarcation of land boundaries on current maps, as well as the limited technological means for verifying details about the causes of the fires.

Tay has long maintained a deep concern about the transnational haze problem. When it came most prominently to his attention, in the late 1990s, the Indonesian government was in a deep political and economic crisis, with little ability to fight the raging fires that the United Nations had declared a global disaster situation. In the years since then, new national and international laws have attempted to bring order to the problem, with varying degrees of success.

SIIA/NUS guests in Kerinci with Anderson Tanoto and APRIL’s fire management team
SIIA/NUS guests in Kerinci with Anderson Tanoto and APRIL’s fire management team

On a recent trip to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Tay spent time with Anderson Tanoto, who represented the RGE Group of manufacturing companies founded by his father, Sukanto Tanoto. Tay wrote of his tour of lands under cultivation by APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Limited), the RGE company dedicated to producing wood pulp products, and by Asian Agri, another RGE firm devoted to palm oil production for a global market. Tay was impressed with APRIL’s and Asian Agri’s focus on containing and fighting fires in a systematic manner, and with the companies’ commitment to sustainable practices. As Anderson Tanoto pointed out, it makes good business sense for a natural resources-based company to keep environmental stewardship foremost in its planning. Without careful oversight of wildfires and other hazardous conditions, APRIL and companies like it would lose the very raw materials they depend on for their livelihoods.

 

APRIL Partners with Community on Zero Burning

Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (RAPP), a constituent company of Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), was proud to award a recent community development grant of 100 million Indonesian rupiah to a local village successful in reducing fires on its lands. RAPP and APRIL are responsible for a large share of the production of wood pulp and paper products on the global market, and are part of the RGE Group founded by Indonesian-born entrepreneur Sukanto Tanoto. Because of Mr. Tanoto’s focus on following best practices in corporate citizenship and environmental stewardship, his executive teams place the welfare of local communities at the heart of their business operations. The grant to the village of Teluk Meranti in October 2014 rewarded that community for its efforts to implement RAPP’s zero-burning policy on its lands.

Teluk Meranti, part of the Pelalawan regency in Riau Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is one of four village communities participating in RAPP’s pilot project, which is held during the summer dry season. Village chief H. Hasan, upon accepting the award from Pelalawan’s regent, described how his community would use the funds to improve local infrastructure. Other villages in the project include Pulau Muda, Sering, and Teluk Binjai.

RAPP Village Incentive Award

Fires in Riau’s villages, both on and outside of pulp- and paper-producing lands, often start as part of traditional community waste management practices. RAPP and APRIL have devoted extensive recent efforts to educating rural communities about the dangers associated with such fires, which can burn out of control and produce haze that reaches across the Strait of Malacca to Singapore.

The first reports received from the pilot project indicate that it has achieved overall success in reducing such potentially devastating fires. The program has gained extensive local government support, including that of the Pelalawan police department, as well as government entities dealing with environmental concerns, disaster response, and forestry.

APRIL – Cooperating to Solve Southeast Asia’s Haze Problem

In August 2014, the government of Singapore passed a new law in an attempt to combat the problem of industrial smoke and haze spreading over a span of borders. The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act sets a legally actionable threshold relative to the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). Singapore’s media outlets have reported on the widespread appearance of haze that has often seemed to emanate from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the location of a number of palm oil, wood pulp, fiber, and paper manufacturing companies that farm the land through concessions.

haze

The new law sets government fines to be levied against companies that pollute at $100,000 daily, capped at $2 million. The cap, which was previously set at $300,000, was raised after public debate on the issue. To be held in violation, a company needs to show that it contributed to a PSI of 101 or greater over a 24-hour period. And individual citizens and other companies may also file suit against polluters, with no limit yet established for damages.

As the first legislation passed in Singapore to attempt to cope with a longstanding problem, the measure attempts to move manufacturers toward greater accountability for adhering to sustainable and environmentally sound practices. However, the law may prove extremely difficult to enforce, since it aims to penalize actions committed within the borders of another sovereign nation.

Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) and its subsidiary Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (RAPP), part of the RGE Group of companies under the direction of founder and CEO Sukanto Tanoto, take their responsibility to foster sustainable development seriously. The pulp and paper companies operate a large concession in Sumatra’s Riau Province, and APRIL is among the world’s leading producers in that market segment. As an entrepreneur, it is important to be responsible and accountable to the stakeholders of your business – in particular, playing your role as environmental and social steward. It is only through these continuous effort that a business is able to maintain competitiveness and be sustainable in the changing needs of the world.

Due to Mr. Tanoto’s strong focus on sustainability and responsiveness to local communities, APRIL is committed to efforts to provide increased operational transparency. The company, which has held to a “zero-burn” policy since 1994, has consistently sought innovative ways of leading in sustainable forestry practices. The company has directed $1.5 million to a program of fire management, infrastructure, and training, and it maintains a rapid-response team of more than 600 personnel. In addition, it offers a “fire tracker” feature as part of its APRIL Dialog website, which is designed to provide up-to-date communications with the public regarding any detected fires.

As a company whose profits rely on a steady supply of wood and forest products, APRIL has no financial interest in setting fires on its own lands. Its historical evidence shows that fires that have encroached on its property have originated either outside its concession borders or among the residents of its set-aside community lands, who often find burning to be an inexpensive means of clearing smallholder lands.