A rainforest river in Malaysia’s Sabah state. Photo: Rhett A. Butler
Sateri has become the latest major viscose producer to adopt a new wood- and pulp-sourcing policy aimed at removing deforestation from its supply chain.
The company, the world’s third-largest viscose producer, joins Aditya Birla and Lenzing, the two biggest, in making commitments to stop buying wood pulp from natural or endangered forests. Aditya Birla announced its new policy in May, while Lenzing adopted its policy late last year.
Together, Aditya Birla, Lenzing and Sateri account for half of all viscose in the world.
Sateri’s commitment comes two weeks after its parent company, the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) group, launched a sustainability policy requiring all of its business units to address the social and environmental impacts of their operations.
“Sateri is committed to eliminating deforestation from our supply chain,” Ben Poon, a senior vice president for the company, said in a statement. “We will develop an implementation plan with time-bound targets by December 2015 and report transparently on its progress with independent verification.”
Sateri’s commitment is being hailed by some conservationists as further evidence that the entire global fashion industry is undergoing a rapid transformation to remove deforestation from its products, a remarkable turnaround that has taken place over the past two years.
“With this commitment by Sateri, in addition to policies put in place by Aditya and Lenzing, we’re seeing a sea change in the clothing industry and the Rayon supply chain,” Nicole Rycroft, executive director of Canopy, a Canadian environmental group that worked with both Sateri and Aditya Birla to develop their new pulp-sourcing policies, told mongabay.com.
Viscose fibers are used to make fabrics like rayon that are widely used in clothing and textiles.
A logging operation in Borneo. Photo: Rhett A. Butler
Canopy estimates that anywhere from 70 million to 100 million trees are cut down every year to be fed into mills that produce dissolving pulp, which companies like Sateri then turn into fabric.
Rycroft said at least 30 percent of those 70 million to 100 million trees come from the world’s ancient and endangered forests, such as Canada’s Boreal or the tropical forests of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Some of the dissolving pulp Sateri feeds into its mills in mainland China comes from another RGE unit, Bracell, which controls several long-established plantations in Brazil. But Sateri produces about 10 percent of the world’s viscose, so it sources from a number of other places as well.
“Sateri’s commitment is definitely good news for Indonesia’s rainforests as well as other endangered rainforests around the world because they are the third-largest viscose producer in the world and they are sourcing from many different regions,” Rycroft said.
In adopting policies to remove deforestation from their supply chains, viscose producers like Sateri and Aditya Birla are, at least in part, simply responding to customer demand. Canopy has worked with more than 25 fashion brands with current combined annual sales of $75 billion to develop similar endangered forest commitments since 2013, including H&M, Zara, Levi Strauss & Co and Marks & Spencer, as well as designers like Stella McCartney.
According to Rycroft, the Sateri policy is especially important because the company is the first of the many viscose producers in China to adopt a commitment to phase out pulp from endangered forests. “Transforming the sector will be realized by inspiring change with the remaining producers, mainly based in Southeast Asia,” Rycroft said.
But of course, the most crucial impact of Sateri’s pulp-sourcing policy will be protecting forests and the communities that rely on them. Sateri’s new policy includes commitments not to source from natural, ancient or endangered forests; habitat for threatened wildlife; high conservation value or high carbon stock forests; or operations that violate the rights of indigenous peoples and communities, Rycroft said.
It also includes language around the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities, plus mechanisms for third-party verification, transparency and reporting on the company’s progress in implementing its commitments.
The pulp-sourcing policy is just the first step, however, according to Rycroft. Canopy will be working with Sateri on a broader sustainability policy due to be completed in December that will spell out other key shifts the company plans to commit to, such as how it will make use of alternative fibers and more efficient manufacturing processes, as well as other forest-conservation and sustainability elements.
“They have made an immediate commitment to stop sourcing from endangered forests, from deforestation and from controversial sources,” Rycroft said. “It’s a positive first step, but now the work begins to translate it into real improvements for forests and communities on the ground.”