How often do you think about where items are sourced from when shopping?
Next time you see a loo roll think about where the fibre is sourced from. In the seventh of an eight-part series leading up to Fairfax Media and PWC's Sustainable60 awards this month, Maria Slade investigates why the Cottonsoft brands are under attack.
You drive through the Bay of Plenty, past towns such as Kawerau and Murupara, you see trees: hectares and hectares of deep green stretching as far as the eye can see.
One thing New Zealand is not short of is forests. Everyone knows pinus radiata practically grows like a weed in our temperate climate.
So many shoppers would have been surprised when a joint Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Green Party project revealed fibre in some toilet paper brands on New Zealand supermarket shelves comes from Indonesian rainforests.
With vast chunks of the North Island covered in pine and other plantation forests, why on earth would a Kiwi company need to cut down exotic rainforests to make loo roll?
It's a question Dunedin and Auckland-based Cottonsoft has been having to answer ever since the Greenpeace survey hit the headlines three months ago.
Greenpeace has red-carded the Cottonsoft brands KiwiSoft, Paseo and CottonSofts, in its "Rainforest Friendly Toilet Roll Guide". The tissue came from companies linked to rainforest destruction and should be avoided, it said.
"It's a shocking truth that the expansion of pulp, paper and palm oil plantations is destroying Indonesia's precious rainforests, driving the endangered Sumatran tiger and orangutan towards extinction," the guide says.
Cottonsoft is owned by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), the brand name of a giant forestry, pulp and paper corporate headquartered in Jakarta. So does it use rainforest material in its products?
Basically, yes. But it is not high conservation-value wood, the company argues. Fibre used in the Cottonsoft products is either approved by the international forest certification programme PEFC as having been sourced ethically or certified by the same outfit as being non-controversial.
Cottonsoft says there is no credible evidence for Greenpeace's allegations that its practices are endangering Sumatran tigers. It has attacked the United States-based laboratory that tested its tissue, saying it has limited knowledge of tropical hardwoods, the terms it used were vague, and it could not identify the country of origin.
Cottonsoft's director of corporate affairs Steve Nicholson is frank about the Indonesian rainforest connection.
APP has a zero tolerance policy for illegal logging, he says. But on the other hand, it does source wood from "degraded, legally non-controversial forests".
"We do object to [Greenpeace's] moral high ground in dictating the practices to an emerging country like Indonesia," he says.
"I have taken this fight personally because there's an incredible amount of injustice."
APP plants one million trees a day, he says. It has 750,000 square kilometres of plantation forests and by 2015 will be totally renewable/sustainable, meaning all its fibre to make tissue will come from plantations.
Forty per cent of the forestry concessions it gets from the Indonesian authorities it donates back as environmental buffer zones around its plantations.
It also supports some wildlife projects including a 100,000 hectare tiger sanctuary, a 76,000ha Javan rhino sanctuary and an orangutan programme.
Still, Cottonsoft stands alone among its New Zealand competitors in using this source of fibre.
It isn't possible to make toilet paper just out of pinus radiata, because the product requires a combination of fibres. But at least one of Cottonsoft's rivals manufactures its tissue solely out of New Zealand plantation forests.
Andrew Taylor, sustainability manager for SCA Hygiene Australia which makes the Purex brand, says all its New Zealand toilet paper is manufactured in Kawerau using locally grown plantation pine and eucalyptus.
It likes its suppliers to be third-party certified and many have the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamp of approval.
It wants to increase that level of certification, but even the suppliers that don't have it yet meet minimum FSC requirements, he says.
"It makes no sense for us to source anywhere other than New Zealand."
Ross Hearne, general manager of corporate services for Kimberly-Clark which owns the Kleenex Cottonelle brand, is more blunt.
The company does not source any fibre from Indonesia, "and the reason we don't is because we can't be sure of the sustainability of the sources. We have to be able to demonstrate at retail level and also with our business-to-business customers the sustainability of our fibre."
Kimberly-Clark has a global fibre sourcing and forestry group which has formed its own opinion about the Indonesian product, he says.
It prefers its suppliers to be FSC certified, which is broadly accepted as the "gold standard" for sustainability.
The view of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace is that there are many shortcomings with PEFC certification on the social sustainability side, but also because it simply certifies the national standards of the individual countries.
"That's not an issue for New Zealand or Australia where national standards are high, but for other countries like Indonesia ... they have major concerns with it. Which is why we've moved towards FSC."
However, there is not enough FSC-certified wood globally for producers of paper products to go 100 per cent FSC yet, he says.
Environmental consultant Lyn Mayes says New Zealand has become a dumping ground for fibre of dubious origin, much of it from Indonesia.
"There is very little of that that would be certified so you don't know."
Many consumer brands have moved from PEFC to FSC-certified supplies because there have been examples of PEFC having its label on tissue that was ultimately found to be questionable, she says.
"In Europe and the US they wouldn't be allowed to sell this product. It's consumer-driven the retailers wouldn't buy it. That's why it's being dumped here."
When she was working in Britain a decade ago retailers routinely asked her for information about the sustainability of material in products. "You don't see that level of stuff happening here. People haven't made these demands of their suppliers."
WHAT THE SUPERMARKETS HAVE DONE
The response of New Zealand retailers to the Greenpeace study on Cottonsoft products has been variable.
At the time, The Warehouse said it would no longer stock Cottonsoft products. However, last week general manager of customer channels Des Flynn said the brands had been earmarked for deletion anyway because they hadn't been selling enough, and the environmental concerns had nothing to do with it.
Foodstuffs, operator of the Pak 'N Save and New World supermarkets, has requested Cottonsoft obtain the independent Environmental Choice certification, a standard recognised by the Government.
A spokesman for competing operator Progressive, owner of the Countdown supermarkets, said it had highlighted the concerns of Greenpeace and its customers to Cottonsoft. It had also pointed out that it had taken steps to source sustainable fibre for its own private label products.
Meanwhile, PEFC is understood to be conducting its own investigation into Cottonsoft's certification.
WHAT GREENPEACE SAYS
Greenpeace climate campaigner Simon Boxer says a lot is going on behind the scenes about Cottonsoft, but any action by certifying bodies or retailers would take time.
"We know the case is solid, so if [the supermarkets] are determined not to have rainforest fibre in the different brands going out on their shelves it's only a matter of time before they come off."
He claims a growing number of companies around the world are dropping APP, including Australian wholesaler Metcash which announced in August that it would no longer source fibre from the company for its own label products.
It cited "continuing questions" about the impact APP may be having on Indonesian native forests.
Last week in the Netherlands, the Dutch Advertising Code Commission ruled that APP's advertising, which attempted to position the company as caring about the environment, was misleading.
Greenpeace campaigners have just toured the areas in Indonesia where APP has its forestry concessions, Boxer says. The lobby group claims APP continues to illegally clear peatlands, in two cases using fire to do so.
It also says logs are illegally taken from forests, which APP then says are degraded and can be further logged.
These forests are still habitats for endangered species, in any case.
"On every level it just doesn't stack up.
- © Fairfax NZ News