Walk down the aisles of the average supermarket, and many of the products you see have a chance of containing an ingredient from illegally deforested land–whether it’s palm oil in shampoo or ice cream, soy used to feed chicken, or just a cardboard box containing some pasta. Every year, an area of tropical rainforest the size of West Virginia is chopped down around the world, and the majority of that forest disappears to help produce soybeans, beef, palm oil, and products made from wood.
Some of the world’s largest companies, from Ikea to McDonald’s to Procter & Gamble, have pledged to change their supply chains. Walmart, for example, made a commitment that 100% of the beef it buys from Brazil would be “deforestation-free” by this year. But it’s not clear yet how much progress that they–or several of the other 200-plus companies that have made commitments–have actually made. A new tool called Supply Change aims to help track these corporate promises in real time.
“Right now there’s not a lot of information out there about how these commitments are being made, how they’re being structured, what that means for on-the-ground impact,” says Molly Peters-Stanley, director of Ecosystem Marketplace for the nonprofit Forest Trends, one of the groups that created the site. “There was a void in the marketplace around how this trend is being shaped.”
Different companies are promising different things; some promise they’ll buy only traceable palm oil, while others have pledged to buy palm oil certified by a group like Rainforest Alliance, and others say they’ll buy palm oil that’s “sustainably produced.”
“They’re all using slightly different criteria, and slightly different wording and guidance, which can create confusion in the market about what companies are supposed to be doing, what consumers are holding them accountable for,” says Peters-Stanley.
By bringing everything together in one place, the organization hopes to make it easier for companies to see what competitors are doing, and ultimately come to agreement about standards for tackling the problem. So eventually it will be easier for consumers or investors to support products that are forest-friendly. The companies aren’t ranked, but the data are available for an investor or nonprofit to use to make its own ranking.
“What sits behind these commitments is a market for sustainable, low-forest-risk commodities,” says Peters-Stanley. “As a market, you want to have actual numbers that will support decision making, and to understand the scope and shape of the market, so if you’re a producer on the ground or an investor, you have some context for the market in which you’re engaging.”
For now, much of the information is still to come. A third of the 243 companies profiled on the site made their commitments only last year. Others have goals that are due in 2015–so it will soon become clear whether they’ve been able to make that progress. The website is in beta right now, and will continue to add data and features throughout the year. Coming soon: tracking government commitments so it’s possible to see how much impact new laws protecting forests have on companies.
Ultimately, the site will also be useful as a tool to convince more companies to stop buying commodities that cause deforestation. As a recent ranking showed, there’s a long list of companies that could be doing something but haven’t yet.