The vital role of forests

Our planet's future relies on their regeneration
Forest tropical trees
Since 2012 the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 21st March the International Day of Forests.

"It's important that we take a day each year to recognize and draw international attention to the importance of forests," says Emily Kunen, Global Sustainable Sourcing Leader at Nestlé.

Based in Nestlé's Procurement hub in Malaysia, she is immersed at the very heart of the supply chain and plays a key role in creating and implementing the Forest Pillar of Nestlé's climate strategy. She is proud of what they have achieved so far but is keen to focus on what still needs to be done: "We must understand the urgency of working together to protect and restore forests".

The importance of forests

What role do forests actually play in the future of our planet? "We are reliant on them for so many things in our day-to-day lives, such as food, fuel, and medicine," Emily explains. "They also play an important role in maintaining healthy water and soil systems and storing significant amounts of carbon. They are key to stabilizing the climate".

"In September 2019, Nestlé made a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 throughout our value chain. In December 2020, we published a detailed roadmap for achieving this, including setting interim targets for reducing our absolute emissions by 20% by 2025, and 50% by 2030".

Emily also points to the important role that forests play in ensuring sustainable livelihoods for millions of people across the globe: "Land rights and human rights are really critical elements in the fight against climate change. Communities play a crucial role in protecting the world's natural resources".

Taking action

With all of this in mind, back in 2010 Nestlé made a commitment to end deforestation. "As a food and beverage company, we're very reliant on agricultural supply chains," Emily explains. "We knew that forests were being cleared and degraded at alarming rates and that we had a role to play in putting a stop to it".

A decade later, the achievements have been significant. "We've been working to map our supply chains and truly know where our ingredients come from," says Emily. "We use satellite monitoring and boots on the ground to verify that there is no deforestation". Today a full 90% of the key forest-risk commodities bought by Nestlé are deforestation-free (pdf, 500Kb).

Man planting tree

But with greater knowledge comes greater understanding of the nuances of the issue. "We've developed a lot of tools, gotten to know our supply chains better, and learned more about what drives deforestation," Emily explains. "Through that we've learnt that to be a responsible business and have a positive impact for forests and people, we need to go further".

Recognizing complexity

To illustrate the complexities of the issue, Emily points to an experience she had visiting a Nestlé-funded smallholder project in Indonesia. She was blown away by the community's commitment to forest conservation. "They had mapped out what areas of standing forest still existed and agreed as a community to conserve those areas," she recalls. "It was a really great collaborative effort among the community members and subsequently with project partners and government."

But they encountered difficulty because the land had been granted from the government to be cleared for production. "The way that the land was classified was for economic activity. So if it was conserved and not developed, it could be given to someone else to clear," Emily explains. In trying to save the forest the local community risked losing it. The project team and the local community then set about working with the government to re-classify the forest as conservation land.

"It was heavy to realize how complex the challenge was, but also very exciting to see what we could achieve," says Emily.

A forward-focused strategy

Ten-year's worth of experience places Emily and her team in a great position to fully understand what needs to happen going forward. She explains that the Nestlé forest positive strategy that they are currently working on will fall into three main pillars. The first is the goal to push deforestation-free supply chains from 90% to 100% by the end of 2022.

My big hope is that our sourcing practices and supply chains become really regenerative for forests and communities, in the deepest sense.
Emily Kunen Nestlé Global Responsible Sourcing Leader, Palm Oil & Seafood

The second acknowledges the need to be proactive to conserve forests: "Assessing where there is risk of future deforestation, forest degradation, or land conflicts, and taking a forward-looking approach to identify those areas and to invest in conservation, restoration, and the recognition of customary land rights," says Emily. Part of this pillar includes Nestlé's pledge to plant 200 million trees over the next 10 years.

"The third pillar is what we call sustainable landscapes," Emily explains. "This is about recognizing that farms in our supply chains don't just operate in isolation. Landscapes are a mosaic of activity, with forests, farms, communities and many other things. They need to all interact in a sustainable way. For our supply chains to be sustainable we need to consider the interactions and interdependencies within these landscapes".

International Day of Forests serves as an opportunity to reflect and regroup with fresh determination for the future. "My big hope is that our sourcing practices and supply chains become really regenerative for forests and communities, in the deepest sense," Emily explains. "By doing that we can benefit both the planet and the people living on it. It's something that's going to take a lot of companies coming together and working collaboratively with local and national governments and civil society. And there is an urgency for this to happen now."