Scott Poynton of The Forest Trust highlights the growing unity between businesses and NGOs in tackling deforestation
Businesses and NGOs haven't always gotten on so well; conflict between deeply polarised opposites has been the norm for most of the 50 years that NGOs have been in existence. That conflict has yielded important improvements in natural resource management and the way people are treated, so-called "NGO wins", but despite these, we're still staring down the barrel of a climate changed world uncertain of our species' future.
My sense is that our conflictual past might better be replaced with a different way of interacting that brings people more into a middle ground to grapple together with the problems we face; no one side has the answer.
Businesses adopting and implementing "no deforestation" and "no exploitation" commitments have opened just such a new way.
I recently received emails from two different NGOs. One was to let me know that a study of eight palm oil concessions managed by Golden Agri Resources in Indonesia had revealed that the company is doing well in its efforts to protect High Carbon Stock forests and that a report announcing that would be published soon. Good news. The second was to raise issues of social conflicts between communities in Indonesia and a palm oil supplier to Wilmar - really helpful.
In the past, there haven't been too many NGO reports announcing good behaviour from a palm oil company. In the second case, it was great that the NGO had already sent the information to Wilmar and then on to us at TFT expressing its strong wish that together we could take action to address the issues.
These two cases represent a hugely different approach from NGOs to relationships with businesses than we've seen in the past. NGOs have for years campaigned to stop deforestation and since Nestlé made the first ever "no deforestation" pledge back in May 2010, more and more businesses have followed suit, many without NGO campaigns to push them and often helped by non-profits like TFT.
There is hope here. Rightly, NGOs want to be certain that the businesses are making good on their new promises so we're getting scrutiny to check that. NGOs, now armed with new tools like Global Forest Watch and their own satellite data and ground checks, are sending more and more information through about issues that conflict with the new policies. Instead of resorting straight away to front-page exposés, NGOs are now nudging businesses to address the concerns. As businesses move to do so they're seeking input and support from their long time adversaries. Trust and collaboration, long absent, is emerging.
That's not to say that discussions are all sweetness and light, not at all, tensions still remain. But this trust is growing as change really does happen out on the ground where it really matters. There is an emerging sense that this new approach really does represent an opportunity; that perhaps, just perhaps, businesses and NGOs can together achieve something never before imagined.
It's been made possible by No Deforestation, No Exploitation business leaders going beyond the traditional tick-box approach of compliance by certification. They've put it out there, in public, what they believe. They've stated their values, right up front. They've opened themselves to say, "This is who we are". Enlightened, and pleasantly surprised, "We just thought you were evil", NGOs have been ready to help the transformation process. "Here's info where you need to do more" and "here's proof that you're making good progress". Scrutiny, hand holding, helping to grapple together with complex wicked problems is becoming a new order. Businesses saying, "We can't do it alone" are being met by, "OK, we can help" reactions from NGOs keen to see this new approach work.
I am hugely buoyed by this new way of working because it really is bringing people from two different worlds together into a middle ground. NGO campaigns are a form of battle and in battles we have starkly polarised opposites. We still need battles because not everyone is open to this new way, yet it's impossible for trust and collaboration to emerge on a battlefield and we can't bring change without these key ingredients. Battles create wastelands and our spin toward a 6C warming screams that together we're creating the biggest wasteland of all and that we urgently need to change.
For too long we've acted with a black versus white, good versus evil, business versus NGO mentality; a battle-field where we see the world through a lens only of dichotomies. In truth, there are no dichotomies. We live in a world of people who live together with other species in Nature. By bringing good human values to the table in their new No Deforestation and No Exploitation policies, businesses have opened the chance to join hands with those they used to only ever fight with. It could of course all still go horribly wrong. Progress since May 2010 suggests otherwise. Indeed, the acceleration of businesses adopting and implementing these policies suggests that we're seeing the emergence of a new and exciting way where folk grapple together with issues, instead of fighting vociferously with each other. It can only be better.
Scott Poynton is executive director and founder of The Forest Trust. He Tweets @scottpoynton.
This article is part of BusinessGreen's Zero Deforestation Debate
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