Breaking news! It appears as though yet another celebrity couple has been hit by scandal this month, as plastic heartthrob Ken publicly dumped his long-term girlfriend after learning of her evil ways. No, she has not been found cavorting with certain Premier League footballers; environmentally savvy Ken has broken up with his blonde sweetheart because of her recently discovered “nasty deforestation habit”.
Indeed, it seems that there are many reasons to find fault with Barbie. She has long been demonised in the media for having helped to promote unrealistic expectations for young girls across the world, due to her impossible physical proportions and permanently arched, miniscule feet, which are always ready for some serious strutting. However, in an online campaign launched by Greenpeace last week, it has emerged that the production of this iconic toy has been having an equally devastating impact on the environment. Their investigations have uncovered a direct, undeniable link between the fibres in Mattel’s packaging and the rapidly depleting rainforests in countries such as Indonesia. Experts in paper in the United States discovered an alarming proportion of Mixed Tropical Hardwood (MTH) present in the composition of the packaging used in the manufacture of products by global corporations such as Mattel and Disney. As MTH comes from Indonesia, this strongly suggests that these companies have been dealing with paper mills such as Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), illegally circumventing some of Indonesia’s laws in order to pulp millions of trees from the rainforest each year. It has been estimated that the Indonesian rainforests have shrunk by 183 million acres (74 million hectares) since 1950.
This practice is not only harmful to the environment, as the large-scale destruction of vast areas of vital, carbon-rich rainforest has a direct impact on the development of climate change, but also to the thousands of species living in these dense forests. Indonesia has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, which makes it all the more alarming that endangered species of tiger and elephant are coming under increased threat as these corporations seek to obtain huge amounts of cheap pulp for their throwaway packaging. The Sumatran tiger is, for instance, just one of the many species finding their habitats being wrecked by companies like APP, which are notorious among environmentalist circles for being some of the most destructive enemies of the world’s rainforests.
Greenpeace launched its campaign to tackle this pressing environmentalist issue last Tuesday, bringing widespread attention to these unscrupulous toy manufacturers in the online media and blogosphere. Although Disney, Lego and Hasbro also use products containing Indonesian MTH, the global activist organisation has chosen to focus its publicity on the well-known figure of Barbie, a cultural icon since the mid-twentieth century. Mattel is also perhaps the worst offender among these companies because of the scale of the corporation. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Mattel is the largest manufacturer of toys in the world. The campaign began with a number of activists dressed as Ken scaling the Mattel headquarters in Los Angeles in order to unveil a large banner depicting the moment this plastic-haired hero decided he could no longer date a girl who was into large-scale deforestation. This movement has since been introduced to as many as forty countries worldwide, including Britain.
APP was quick to respond to these accusations, issuing a statement claiming that the company has always been and will continue to be dedicated to promoting sustainable packaging materials. A closer examination of the statement as well as former PR campaigns headed by APP representative and sustainability director Aida Greenbury, however, suggests that there is a good deal of misinformation and skewed logic at play, as the company also described itself as a major player in the move towards recycled paper production in Indonesia:
…around 85 per cent of APP’s pulpwood consumption comes from our own Sustainable Wood Plantations (which are replanted every six or seven years), with the remainder coming from legally-sourced mixed wood residues. In five years, we are aiming for 100 per cent being sourced from our own plantations.
It might well be true that APP has invested in a sustainability programme, and has spent a certain amount of time and money introducing sustainable and recycled wood into their paper mills. However, the extraordinarily high proportion of “sustainable” pulpwood allegedly under consumption could indeed be called into question. There is apparently little evidence to support this figure of 85 per cent, and the company’s claim to be preparing for a shift to fully sustainable pulp in their paper products over the next five years seems a little too ambitious considering the recent revelations regarding their true sources.
In their most recent statement, APP spokespersons dismissed the Greenpeace campaign as unjust and libellous. However, these individuals have thus far failed to produce any credible, independently sourced evidence to suggest any real commitment to long-term conservation of Indonesian rainforests. As early as 2004, APP committed itself to sustainable plantation pulp by 2007. The reiteration of this claim this month in response to environmentalists’ criticisms really makes their “environmentally friendly” sourcing policies appear, in retrospect, to ring a little hollow. The forensic investigation commissioned by Greenpeace involving samples of packaging obtained across Europe and America really does indicate a much higher level of environmentally damaging activity than APP spokespersons might care to admit.
There is evidence to suggest that the campaigning of environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace are very capable of mobilising the public and bringing about profound changes in political and corporate attitudes towards conservation. Progressive companies are starting to actively support low-carbon development, implementing policies to reduce the harmful impact of their production and supply lines on the environment. A growing number of corporate buyers, such as Tesco, Adidas, Kraft and Nestlé have begun to turn from APP in favour of pulp varieties from more sustainable sources. This is, however, a small step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult process.
What this demonstrates is that a number of large-scale manufacturers are still directly contributing to deforestation and the overall degradation of the state of our environment by supporting companies producing phenomenal amounts of unnecessary and harmful packaging. Such packaging is often excessive, and ultimately destined to be thrown away within minutes of the product being opened. It is therefore crucial that corporations such as Disney, Hasbro, Lego and Mattel begin to truly consider the implications of their practices upon the planet. Rather than paying lip service to the importance of ecological conservation, it seems that these firms need to take serious and immediate action in order to support their official rhetoric with concrete policies.