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Environment and sustainability a major focus this year: Experts

Companies and their partners are facing pressure to adopt sustainable practices or risk losing out in the eyes of consumers, especially after unprecedented levels of haze from forest fires in Indonesia choked the region.

SINGAPORE: Tissue paper and other similar paper products are an integral part of our daily lives, but many people give no thought about how they are produced. However, this changed earlier this year, when unprecedented levels of haze from the forest fires in Indonesia choked the region.

Sustainability has taken a huge focus this year, with some experts describing 2015 as a watershed year when it comes to environment and sustainability.

Singaporeans are becoming more aware of where the products they buy come from, especially forest products related to the haze-causing forest fires. As a result, companies and their partners are facing pressure to adopt sustainable practices or risk losing out in the eyes of consumers.

People, now aware that purchasing even the most mundane item may perpetuate more forest fires, are now beginning to vote with their wallets. This culminated in supermarkets across Singapore pulling products associated with the forest fires, from their shelves.


NTUC FairPrice staff members clearing APP products off shelves. (Photo: Imelda Saad) 

Global personal care company Kimberly-Clark is one company which hopes to lead by example when it comes to sustainable practices.

In sourcing for materials for its paper products, Kimberly-Clark said it looks only at forests certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainable. It said credible third-party authorities can help companies identify areas where they can be sustainable.

Said Kimberly-Clark’s director of communications & government affairs (Asia Pacific), Shweta Shukla: “Kimberly-Clark is sourcing its wood pulp or the raw material for its brands like Kleenex from FSC-certified sources or forests. Which essentially means that it is really the gold standard when it comes to picking and choosing suppliers that we source from.

"The FSC is a credible third party and most rigorous standard of responsible forestry and that's why we rely on them for certifying our suppliers and forests.”

Not all companies have direct control of where materials are sourced and how products are produced. Many work with other smaller firms as part of a larger supply chain.

COMPANIES LOOKING AT ENTIRE SUPPLY CHAIN TO ENSURE SUSTAINABILITY

However, increasing consumer pressure on sustainability is forcing corporates to not only look at their own processes but down the entire supply chain.

Said Mr K Sadashiv, partner, climate change and sustainability services at EY: "Supply chain participants intimately impact the way companies operate or its results. So companies have now realised that engaging in their supply chain or at least the material members of their supply chain is truly important for themselves in making sure that they are seen to be responsible not only for their own operations, but also for the operations of those supply chain participants.

"As such, supply chains have become intrinsically a key participating member in the whole sustainability movement.”

Going forward, analysts said this sustainability movement will only gather momentum.

World leaders met in Paris this month for a UN climate change conference to discuss a binding, universal agreement on climate.

"Sustainability is not just all about corporate social responsibility, which was the buzzword a few years ago. It's the lens by which businesses will be judged by consumers, by shareholders and general stakeholders at large. Companies cannot afford to ignore sustainability and need to embed it in their operations to make themselves successful in the longer run,” said Ms Monica Hira, sustainability and climate change partner at PwC Singapore.

Singapore regulators are doing their part to ensure companies are aligned to the environmental trends. Earlier this year, the Singapore Exchange announced that it will require listed companies to publish sustainability reports starting from Financial Year 2017.