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Are You Eating the Rainforest Without Knowing It?


By HIllary Rosner

Are you unwittingly eating or bathing in slices of rainforest in your daily routine? It’s a question that Andrew Mitchell wants you to ponder.

Mitchell, a British zoologist, heads up the Global Canopy Programme. The consortium is dedicated to advancing rainforest science and highlighting the ways that humanity relies on them.

“Consumers ‘eat’ rainforests each day -- in the form of beef-burgers, bacon and beauty products -- but without knowing it,” Mitchell wrote on the BBC’s web site Wednesday.

Last week, his group issued its first Forest Footprint Disclosure, a 60-page report describing how large corporations destroy forests through the production of palm oil, timber, soy, beef, and biofuels. The report is intended to show how our everyday purchases are leading to deforestation.

Mitchell describes it as “a global supply chain with its feet in the forests and its hands in the till.”

He'd like to turn that around by sending companies a message that they could lose money if they don’t promote sustainable practices. Consumers and other businesses will eventually look more closely at supply chains, he hopes, and stop buying products that contribute to deforestation (which leads to huge greenhouse gas emissions, species extinction, drought, and a host of other problems).

More importantly, as resources become increasingly scarce, the value of intact ecosystems will skyrocket. As Mitchell wrote:

Feeding and fueling our growing world is one of the greatest opportunities of the 21st century, but sending natural capital up in smoke and squandering ecosystems that support wealth creation in the process will, ultimately, be counterproductive. Businesses that understand this will be the rising stars of the future. Our report provides some of the first insights into who the potential winners and losers may be, and which business are setting the pace today.

The Forest Footprint Disclosure report was based on surveys sent to 217 “high profile international companies” that use or produce what the group calls “forest risk commodities.” Thirty-five companies replied, including Nike, British Airways, Unilever, and Weyerhauser. Some of those who didn't respond agreed to participate next year.

Although the report is clearly useful in encouraging corporations -- and consumers -- to think about the impacts of their purchases, it also seems to let some companies off the hook.

In the oil and gas category, the only company that participated was Neste Oil, which was then given the “best performer” label. (If you’re the only one who shows up for a race, can you really be called the winner?) Among those companies that outright refused to participate was shameless greenwasher BP.

ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and several others also didn’t bother to respond. “Neste Oil deserves commendation for its commitment to improve its sourcing of sustainable palm oil,” the report concluded. While it’s true that Neste is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry/NGO group, the company has been targeted by Greenpeace for its plans to massively scale up its palm oil production for biodiesel. By some accounts, Neste would need more than 800,000 additional acres of oil palm plantations -- an area bigger than Luxembourg.

This story originally appeared at NRDC's OnEarth magazine


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