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Lego banishes Asia Pulp & Paper due to deforestation link

Tuesday 16 August 2011
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In response to a campaign by Greenpeace asserting that packaging used for its iconic toy building blocks is contributing to deforestation in Indonesia, the LEGO Group on Thursday announced it is taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging materials and paper.

Denmark-based LEGO said its new policy includes three initiatives: reducing the amount of packaging materials used, using more recycled materials, and ensuring that non-recycled packaging materials are sourced sustainably (e.g. derived from forests and plantations certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

"It is our intent that we will only source material from suppliers that are not involved in deforestation," said Helle Sofie Kaspersen, Vice President Corporate Governance and Sustainability at the LEGO Group, in a statement.

The move means LEGO has effectively barred Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) from supplying its fiber, according to Greenpeace.

"[Lego has] confirmed that this means APP will not be able to supply the company," wrote Andy Tait, Senior Campaign Advisor for Greenpeace UK, on the Greenpeace blog.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups have targeted APP due to its ongoing role in forest clearing on Sumatra. APP suppliers control tens of thousands of hectares of natural forest and peatlands on the Indonesian island. The area is key habitat for critically endangered Sumatran tigers and elephants. It is also home to some of the last traditional forest tribes in Indonesia.

APP has previously committed to phasing out sourcing of wood-pulp from natural forests, yet it has consistently failed to meet its targets for doing so. APP's subsidiaries are also under investigation for illegal logging in the province of Riau. Damages are estimated in the tens of billions of dollars by Indonesia's audit agency.

APP has recently stepped up an aggressive public relations campaign to counter criticism over its environmental practices. It has released a number of sustainably reports and regularly runs advertisements in publications like The Economist and The New York Times touting its environmental record. It has also contributed money conservation projects in Sumatra, including a tiger "conservation" initiative, the Indonesian government's effort to protect the Javan rhino, and two reserves: Giam Kecil-Bukit Batu Reserve and the Bukit Tigapuluh. But these initiatives have received a tepid response from scientists, conservationists, and environmentalists, who note that APP still intends to destroy far more forest than it claims to help protect.

Some of APP's marketing tactics have been highly controversial. For example, APP says it supports groups like World Growth International and the Tea Party-affiliated Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity, which have launched public attacks on companies that have dropped its products (Staples, Office Max, Office Depot) and environmental organizations that have raised concerns about its environmental conduct (Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, WWF, local NGOs). World Growth International and the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity are now working to undermine the Lacey Act, the law that prohibits the import of timber and paper products sourced via illegal logging. Meanwhile a Facebook page operated by the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity currently hosts comments calling for the murder of environmental activists.

Nevertheless pressure on APP from environmental groups continues to mount. Greenpeace says it will continue to target other companies listed in its most recent packaging material report — Disney, Hasbro, and Mattel — until they adopt packaging sourcing policies that exclude fiber produced from the destruction of Indonesian rainforests. Such policies would bar pulp and paper materials from APP "until [it] makes real changes on the ground that protect Indonesian rainforests, biodiversity and respect the rights of people living in these forests," according to Greenpeace.

This article was originally written by Rhett A. Butler and published by Mongabay; tropical rainforest conservation and environmental science news.

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