October 17th, 2011 by

It might not be if it comes from Indonesia, which has one of the rapidest deforestation rates in the world.

So I learned earlier this month thanks to Greenpeace and Mattel. Mattel, under pressure from Greenpeace, recently announced that they would be following a new set of sustainable sourcing principles while packaging their products, specifically their marquee Barbie line. Kudos to Mattel for stepping up, although it’s too bad it only occurred because of outside influence and not simply because the company wanted to help save the planet. Another positive to this decision is that hopefully it will add some economic incentive for Indonesia to curtail its illegal deforestation activities.

For geographically challenged individuals like me out there, Indonesia is a Southeast Asian country (it lies north/northwest of Australia) comprised of more than 17,500 islands and dozens of provinces, and it has the world’s fourth largest population. What it also has is a big ole mess of a deforestation problem.

Logging in Indonesia

Certified timber in logs pond in PT. Sumalindo Lestari Jaya 2, West Kutai district, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Timber certification is one mechanism for ensuring sustainable forest management. Credit: Michael Padmanaba/CIFOR

A few decades ago, 82 percent of the country was covered by forests. Today, that number has plummeted to less than 50 percent thanks in large part to illegal logging — by everyone from communities just trying to survive to corporate giants who also have permits for legal logging. It’s estimated that at least 50 percent of Indonesia’s $10 billion a year timber-products export industry is from illegal logging. Earlier this year, Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry claimed that more than 1,200 mining firms and more than 500 oil palm plantation companies are operating illegally in the country. That’s a lot of corruption and economic incentive to overcome to halt this devastation to the world’s tropical forests and our climate (Indonesia’s carbon emissions from deforestation make it the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse gases).

However, the United Nations is trying to do just that. In a report issued earlier this month by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Indonesia could potentially triple the economic benefits of its forests through the UN’s Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative. Under REDD, the UN — with the fiscal support of its member nations — provides financial incentives to developing nations to keep their forests standing. Under REDD, orangutan habitats in Sumatra, Indonesia, could earn more than $22,000 per hectare compared to the $7,800 they would earn through palm oil production. That’s a pretty good incentive to save some forests, if you ask me.

What do you think about Mattel’s decision? REDD’s objective? Share!

P.S. Speaking of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan, American Forests’ Global ReLeaf program is planting more than 30,000 trees in Sumatra this year to help aid reforestation efforts to help rebuild and protect these endangered simians. Beyond just trees, though, this program is also working with the local community, training them in agroforestry to bolster community support for legal, sustainable forestry practices.