FSC is greenwashing Brazil’s monoculture tree plantations: Part 2

Last week, journalist Fred Pearce investigated Ryman’s claims of “carbon neutral” office paper in his “Greenwash” column in The Guardian. It turns out that the raw material for Ryman’s paper comes from Suzano’s monoculture eucalyptus plantations in Brazil. Suzano’s FSC-Certified monoculture eucalyptus plantations, that is.

Of course, as FSC’s Alison Kriscenski pointed out to Pearce, “FSC certification is not a guarantee that a forest is carbon neutral, and people should not use it to claim that.” But that apparently doesn’t stop Suzano from making precisely that claim.

Rainforest Alliance, the certifying body responsible for certifying Suzano, seems to be delighted with Suzano’s monocultures. In May 2009, Rainforest Alliance invited Suzano to New York to receive an award in recognition of “its leadership in FSC-certified forestry products in Brazil and for its social and environmental responsibility policies when manufacturing pulp and paper”. Surely this is a conflict of interest? As is the fact that Suzano funded FSC’s Global Paper Forum, which aims to find “Market opportunities for FSC-labelled paper”.

Andy Tait, biodiversity campaign manager at Greenpeace sums up what’s wrong with all this: “There is a really obvious way to promote sustainability in the paper sector and that is to use recycled paper.”

Here’s Fred Pearce’s article:

Greenwash: Ryman’s carbon-neutral claims are paper thin

By Fred Pearce, The Guardian, 6 August 2009

Industry insiders acknowledge that the stationer’s claims about carbon-neutral paper are complex at best

A beaming, clean-cut family with curly haired son sitting on dad’s shoulders stares wistfully into the distance from the middle of a corn field. “An initiative for the future,” reads the uplifting message on the packaging.

“All carbon emissions generated throughout the production and transportation of Report Carbon Neutral to Europe are offset with the restoration of the Atlantic coastal rainforest.”

This is Britain’s first “carbon neutral” office paper from high-street stationers Ryman. The Report Carbon Neutral brand won top prize at the Stationery and Office Products awards in April.

Ryman’s paper sounds green enough. The shop buys from a British paper marketer called A1 Paper that in turns buys from Brazilian paper giant Suzano. The paper hasn’t been recycled, but the trees it is made from are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which was set up 15 years ago to recognise wood and paper produced without trashing forests.

Ryman says carbon emissions from manufacture and shipping the paper from Brazil are offset by planting trees in Brazil. And it boasts of an “independent” carbon audit to prove everything is above board. The company is promoting the paper as part of a strategy to turn its 240 UK stores carbon neutral by next March.

But. There must be a but. Industry insiders acknowledge that claims about carbon-neutral paper are complex at best and environmentalists in Australia and the US have recently debunked the whole idea.

The certified forests where the paper originates turn out to be rather controversial. Suzano, one of the world’s ten largest paper and pulp companies, makes the paper from its 300,000 hectares of monoculture eucalyptus plantations, many of them in Piaui on the edge of Amazon, and Bahia on land that once formed part of the threatened Atlantic coastal rainforest.

Yes, most of those production forests are FSC-certified. But Brazilian green groups like the Piaui Environment Network and the Alerts Against the Green Desert Network claim the huge plantations trash the land, pollute rivers and displace poor peasant farmers from the land. They are “absolutely against the mission and meaning of the FSC,” they said in a letter to the FSC in 2006, also signed by Christian Aid in Britain. By certifying the eucalyptus plantations the FSC “greenwashes a social and environmental tragedy”, according to the Alerts Against the Green Desert Network.

The FSC’s Alison Kriscenski agrees that certifying big plantations is controversial. “It divides our members, but the consensus is that plantations are essential to supplying demand for paper, so we want to have a positive impact by applying rules for granting certification.” Suzano’s plantations were certified by a local non-profit organisation called Imaflora. But she agreed there is no thorough research yet into whether certification had improved things in Brazil.

The FSC looks bedevilled by conflicts of interest. Last year’s FSC Global Paper Forum was sponsored by none other than Suzano. Months later, the environment group Rainforest Alliance, one of the founders of the FSC, gave Suzano an award at a gala dinner for its social and environmental responsibility. Kriscenski insisted that the FSC has rules to make sure that its relationships with sponsors are not corrupting.

But she also pointed out that “FSC certification is not a guarantee that a forest is carbon neutral, and people should not use it to claim that.” Odd that. Suzano, a major sponsor of the organisation, seems to be making precisely that claim when selling its “carbon neutral” paper from FSC forests. Although a close reading shows it restricts the claim to “production and transportation”.

What about the other claim: that emissions from the paper’s manufacture and transport are all offset? According to Paul Edwards at Sun Paper and Board, Suzano’s UK subsidiary, the offsets do not include emissions from transportation or warehousing after the paper arrives at British docks.

And even the Brazil end is questionable. Ryman say its “independent audit” is done by “the Green Initiative” or Iniciativa Verde. What it doesn’t mention is that this is the same organisation that has the contract with Suzano to plant the trees that offset the company’s emissions. It can’t be independent, then. Edwards says the Green Initiative is a non-profit body, but even so, this is still a business arrangement.

The Green Initiative is offsetting the carbon emissions by planting native trees (6.1 trees per tonne of Report Carbon Neutral paper) “on degraded riparian land” in Sao Paulo state. Good. But it only promises to maintain the site for two years. Even though the trees will take an estimated 37 years to absorb the promised amount of carbon.

What happens after the Green Initiative walks away? Edwards says the trees are on land protected by state law, but Brazil’s forests are notoriously lawless. It is hard to be confident that the trees will stay in place long enough to soak up the CO2 and make Ryman’s paper carbon neutral.

Perhaps I am being over-critical about a well-intended green initiative by a company big enough to make a real difference. Perhaps all those Brazilian NGOs are too. And Christian Aid. But we do have to hold people to account for their claims. Especially when, back on the high streets of Britain, Ryman is charging 80p more for this stuff than for its ordinary office paper.



  1. The Green Initiative is a Brazilian non-profit independent NGO that develops and implements carbon compensation projects through native forest restoration under the Carbon Free Program.

    In Fred Pearce’s articles about the Carbon Neutral Paper, there are some concept misunderstandings, which we are available to clarify.

    Among the issues, The Green Initiative does not audit the GHG compensation projects; they have absolutely no relation with the productive Forest certified by FSC; the referred compensation project is related to the product only, not to the company´s operations.

    Concerning the maintenance of the planted sites, The Green Initiative offers intensive support and assistance for two years; after that, there is no longer need for human interference, but it is important to highlight that the institution offers permanent monitoring after the breeding period, so the young forests are preserved and the law is assured, following the state of science recommendation.

    For further enquire, please visit http://www.iniciativaverde.org.br/eng

  2. Iniciativa Verde:

    What a weak comment, makes me believe even more what FSC watch is saying…and you do not even decline the relationship with Suzanto…

    “so the young forests are preserved and the law is assured, following the state of science recommendation.”

    hahahaha, wishful thinking….and what a funny phrase

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