The brown stuff has hit the spinning thing. Australia's largest supermarket chain has been caught with its pants down over labelling claims that its own branded loo paper is environmentally beneficial. Turns out that Woolworths Select toilet paper is sourced via Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world's largest pulp producers, whom the Indonesia's Centre for International Forestry Research recently reported rely on the clearing of natural forests in Sumatra for 60 to 70% of their wood supply. Woolies have said that APP were due to be accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) within a matter of weeks. Which is kinda odd, because one of FSC's on-the-ground affiliates, the Rainforest Alliance's Smartwood program, "terminated its relationship with APP in February this year, stating that the company had not demonstrated a comprehensive, consistent or dedicated approach toward conservation management necessary to maintain or enhance the forest ecosystems." But in the days since this first blew up, the Australian office of the FSC has entered the fray, saying even were if APP were being assessed, that its very different to being certified. That a business should not be claiming attributes that are not yet verified. As well as advising Woolworths' marketing department not to be confused with ISO 14001, which while a environmental management system, specifically avoids any reference to sustainability. The environmental group, WWF, a stalwart advocate of the FSC, have also chipped in saying that they would interpret phrases like "from sustainable forest fibre" to suggest a pulp derived from plantations. But they point out that clear cutting native, tropical forests that are prime habitat for rhino, tigers, orangutan and the like, so one can establish plantations is not what most people would consider 'environmentally sustainable.'
Interestingly, in a letter written July 2007, [PDF] refuting other claims against the company, APP make no mention of FSC involvement in accrediting their operations, citing instead the Swiss-basedSociete Generale de Surveillance (SGS) as their auditors for chain of custody. SGS certify just about anything, forestry doesn't not appear to be a speciality.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) who monitors sustainability claims on behalf of businesses and consumers commented that, "[...] we are finding that products that have these claims attached to them often have also attached to them premium prices and when consumers are potentially misled or deceived into paying premium prices for sustainable products that are not-otherwise sustainable, then clearly that is of concern." Especially when Woolworths launched their 'Select' range saying, "we were determined to select from the finest products to create our new quality range."
If any good is to come from this war of words and terminology, it will hopefully be that both consumers and businesses (Woolies admit they didn't verify their supplier's claims) will become more discerning about of the origins of their purchases.