The world’s 12th biggest forestry company goes net positive on biodiversity

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The world’s biggest graphic paper maker and 12th largest forestry company today announced plans to go net positive impact on biodiversity by 2030.
With a catchphrase that seems creepily similar to BP – UPM is now branding itself as BioFore -Beyond Fossils, but today came up with a new net-zero goal for biodiversity that may just live up to the name.

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The company is big.  It plants over 50 million tree seedlings each year, and sends 1 timber truck to a saw mill around the world every 45 seconds. But as part of its new plan, it also protects about 38,000 unique biodiversity habitats, totalling an area almost 2x the size of Singapore.
That’s 135,000 hectares of biodiversity that’s never getting turned into paper.

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Now, most of Finland is forests, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

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“We have over 23 million hectares of forest, but only 2% of the forest cover is currently funded” noted Jari Luukkonen, the WWF Finland Conservation Director.

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“That’s why we think this is such an important sustainability commitment…we know that stopping the destruction of biodiversity is one of the most important targets, and we need everyone’s support.”

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At the announcement, Jari Luukkonen called this a “bold commitment”, but he also admitted that “when I go back to Finland, a lot of people will ask whether this is actually real?”

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Janne S Kotiaho,  Professor of Ecology at the University of Jyväskylä (yes Finnish is funny) later added that “I was pleased to know that there is indeed an independent research forum that is going to be established that will help you stay on track to achieve a net positive impact”.

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Speaking at the event, Kotiaho clarified what No Net Loss might mean, “its practically impossible to guarantee that no species will die, but what it aims at is an average positive effect. Some ecosystems will lose out, but overall, there should be a positive effect”.

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He added cautiously that “all their actions to preserve sustainability should be subject to peer review”.

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Kotiaho also cautiosly questioned the methodology of UPM’s off-set scheme, highlighting that the company has stated it has  “developed protected forest areas for the last 20 years” and that there are a lot of “tough questions to answer” if the company wanted to retroactively count these conserved areas as part of future offsets.

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“There is going to be leakage, and the question is how to handle it”.

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Saying that, he added that the company seems “on track to achieve its 2020 Aichi targets”.

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While the paper industry isn’t exactly the world’s most popular among sustainability advocates, UPM has long been known for its industry-leading  practices. It is the only paper company which is listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices and the only forestry company invited to the United Nations Global Compact LEAD platform, which connects the world’s 50 most sustainable companies.

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However, business isn’t all easy at UPM. Since 2006, it has had to deal with a global oversupply of paper – and as a company it has been keen to diversify. In 2006, it first began announcing cutbacks to its traditional paper businesses.

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In this light, the announcement may be seen as an extension of its diversification processes, and this was hinted at by UPM’s Sustainable Forestry Lead, Timo Lehesvirta;

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“With this target and our actions, we want to open up new opportunities for different land uses that are guaranteed not to endanger natural resources or habitats.  This is the only safe and sustainable way of moving from a fossil-based economy to bioeconomy.”
In this light, the key will be transparency.

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“It is important that the indicators used by UPM are strongly aligned with the UN’s Aichi-biodiversity targets. We will closely monitor the implementation of UPM’s biodiversity program,” Liisa Rohweder, Secretary General of WWF Finland.

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