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The deflowering of the EU's green logo

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The EU's Ecolabel is used to certify a product partly made from Indonesian rainforest timber. What a shame

The European Union <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/eu> has an eco-label for green products. Its symbol is a flower. More than 3,000 products have made the grade and carry the flower <http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/> . They include two widely sold brands of copying paper: Golden Plus and Lucky Boss <http://www.asiapulppaper.com/portal/APP_Portal.nsf/0/34c06bc006bd4e76472... .

No doubt thousands of European office workers have bought the brands reassured that they are sustainably produced. So what a shame that it seems both are partly made from timber logged from one of the largest but fastest disappearing tropical rainforests, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

What a shame, too, that the French eco-labelling agency – the "competent authority", according to the high-flown language of the EU – will not release any documents discussing the reasons why it granted the high-prized label, which can be used in all 27 countries of the EU.

The news of this gross deflowering of the EU's green logo is contained in a new report, EU Ecolabel Allows Forest Destruction <http://www.fern.org/sites/fern.org/files/FERN_PindoDeli-final_0.pdf> , from the Forest and European Union Resources Network (FERN) <http://www.fern.org/> , an NGO set up by the World Rainforest Movement to track European policies on the world'sforests <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/forests> .

Fern says it investigated the credentials of the green paper after its staffer Veerle Dossche spotted the product - which is manufactured by an Indonesian company called Pindo Deli - on sale in Belgium. Pindo Deli, she knew, was owned by Asia Pulp and Paper <http://www.asiapulppaper.com/portal/APP_Portal.nsf/c5d55c89778dd4cb47257... , a controversial paper company with extensive rights to log the Sumatran rainforest. APP is in turn owned by the Sinar Mas Group, founded by Singapore-based magnate Eka Tjipta Widjaja.

Fern asked the Jakarta-based rainforest researcher Chris Lang to investigate. Lang concluded that the two brands of eco-paper were partly made from timber much of which is logged from virgin forests by another APP subsidiary Wira Karya Sakti (WKS).

APP does not have a good reputation on environmental matters. Two years ago, the Forest Stewardship council, a certifying body for eco-timber run jointly by environmental groups and the timber industry, took the unusual step of "dissociating" itself from some of APP's activities <http://www.fsc-watch.org/archives/2008/01/10/FSC_dumps_Asia_Pulp_> .

The stakes are high because the Sumatran rainforests have been logged faster than any others on the planet in the past decade, much of it by APP and its twin logging behemoth, Asia Pacific Resources International (April). The forests are home to Sumatran tigers and elephants, as well as native Orang Rimba people, who say WKS is logging their land.

David Gilbert, a research associate at the Rainforest Action Network, a California-based NGO, was there last December. He told me: "I travelled for days along APP logging roads carved out of primary rainforest, and watched as bulldozers cleared natural forests and at least 20 trucks a day hauled rainforest timber out of WKS's operating estates."

How had these brands come by their coveted ecolabel? European laws grant national governments the right to appoint "competent authorities" to award the ecolabel, which can then be used for marketing throughout the EU. In France the competent authority is the Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) <http://www.afnor.org/en> , a private organisation for setting and verifying technical standards, with offices in 28 countries around the world.

Pindo Deli applied to AFNOR, which granted the label back in 2006. According to Lang, AFNOR has not released any details or documents describing the assessment process, or how the decision was arrived at. The EU web site discussing the label <http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/about_ecolabel/facts_and_figure... says that "the environmental criteria behind it are tough, and only the very best products, which are kindest to the environment, are entitled to carry the EU Ecolabel ... This is a label that consumers can genuinely trust." It adds that "Choosing ecolabelled paper guarantees paper coming from recycled fibres or sustainably managed forests."

In fact this statement is misleading. The detailed rules unearthed by Lang require, for instance, that "at least 10% of virgin wood fibres from forests shall come from forests that are certified as being managed so as to implement the principles and measures aimed at ensuring sustainable forest management." In other words, 90% need not meet such criteria.

AFNOR was unable to respond to the Guardian before deadline. But the EU may know there is a problem with its labelling system. This week officials were meeting to discuss revisions to the rules.

APP's director of sustainability, Aida Greenbury, issued a statement to the Guardian: "APP is playing a crucial role as a development agency for the countries it operates in." It said the Fern report was "ill-informed ... full of intent to undermine economic development in the developing world." It said the company's claims to sustainable forest practice were "based on national forest certification" within Indonesia, and Fern's questioning of their validity was a "neo-colonial approach" and "immoral". However it did not specifically address any of the claims in the report about making paper from virgin forest.

APP's website says the company has helped conserve some areas of Sumatran forest, and that only a small area of low-value land is used for pulpwood plantations <http://www.asiapulppaper.com/> . But the site also points out that almost 70m hectares of forest in Indonesia – an area larger than Sweden – isdesignated by the government "production forest" to help reduce the country's poverty. That means it is set aside for felling.

Turning the last rainforests into "production forest" may or may not be the right policy for developing the economy of Indonesia. But it is unlikely that Europe's green consumers would regard this as sufficient credentials to qualify for the Euro flower.

The Guardian
Fred Pearce
Thursday, April 15, 2010

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