6 Companies Doing the Most to Stop Deforestation

Tree trunks after cutting down trees in a forest

Neil Beckerman / Getty Images

In an eco-twist on the Forbes 500, the UK-based think tank Global Canopy Programme has launched the Forest 500, a ranking of how effectively companies and organizations are working to stop global deforestation. Stopping deforestation has been identified as one of the cheapest and most effective means of fighting our current climate change trajectory. However, the issue is made complicated by a number of factors, such as the global demand for tropical products as well as illegal activities.

So, who’s doing the most to stop it? While well-intentioned consumers may seek to avoid products like palm oil and beef, the product chains that tie our food, paper and clothes to tropical forests are decidedly tangled.

That’s where Forest 500 steps in. The rankings look at companies, jurisdictions (countries and other economic regions like the E.U.), investors and other power brokers. To assess companies, the rankings take into account a number of factors, including reporting and transparency, operations, commodity policies, and overall forest policy.

A total of 250 companies were ranked, with just six companies scoring the maximum number of points for responsibly sourced forest products. In other words, the majority of companies aren’t making the grade, but a few leaders have emerged. With the exception of Reckitt Benckiser, all of the companies listed below are signatories of the New York Declaration on Forests, which aims to eliminate deforestation from the production of agricultural products by 2020, and stop all forms of deforestation by 2030.

The top scoring companies are listed below, in alphabetical order.

1. Groupe Danone

Risky commodities in this company’s supply chain include soy used as animal feed, pulp for its packaging and palm oil as an ingredient. However, the company got high marks for its commodity policies and operations.

2. Kao Corp.

Headquartered in Japan, this manufacturer owns John Frieda Hair Care, Molton Brown, Merries diapers and a number of other home and personal care brands. Wood pulp and palm oil are the two commodities in Kao Corp.’s product chain most closely associated with deforestation, but Forest 500 gives them high marks for their commodity policies, reporting and transparency. They got the highest score, five out of five, for their overall forest policy.

3. Nestlé S.A.

Nestlé may be best known for its chocolate, but it used 400,000 metric tons of palm oil and palm oil derivatives in its products in 2012-2013. Back in 2010, the company committed to sourcing palm oil better. Forest 500 gave Nestlé high marks for its transparency, reporting and overall forest policy.

4. Procter & Gamble Co.

Another personal care giant, Procter & Gamble uses large amounts of palm oil and wood pulp in its products. The company has made public commitments to sourcing both sustainably, with verification from third party sources. Procter & Gamble scored four out of five on its overall forest policies, but earned the highest marks for commodity policies, operations, reporting and transparency.

5. Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC

The owner of brands like Gaviscon, Clearasil, Veet and Lysol, Reckitt Benckiser is another company that’s concerned about the sourcing of palm oil and pulp. The company got the highest marks in all four of the Forest 500 assessment categories: overall forest policy, commodity policies, operations, reporting and transparency. Although Reckitt Benckiser did not sign the New York Declaration on forests, it is a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, which has committed to achieving net zero deforestation by 2020.

6. Unilever PLC

Unilever, the owner of brands like Axe and Dove, used 1.5 million metric tons of palm oil and its derivatives in 2012-2013, but 1.2 million of that was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The company made commitments to a deforestation-free palm oil in 2008. Its manufacturing facilities also consume an estimated 1 percent of the world’s soy, most of which comes from North America.

A long way to go

While it’s encouraging to see the above major multinational corporations take the issue of deforestation seriously, 30 companies evaluated by Forest 500 got the lowest rankings possible. In a press statement, Mario Rautner, The Global Canopy Programme’s Drivers of Deforestation Programme Manager, emphasized that there is still much work to be done to meet the goal of getting deforestation off the grocery store shelves. “Putting policies in place is just the necessary first step in addressing tropical deforestation and their implementation will be critical in order to transition to deforestation free supply chains by 2020,” he said.