The Finnish Friends of the Earth declared this CDP status, and UPM's public commitment to the UN Global Compact’s business ambition to limit global warming to 1.5C, as a “UPM greenwashing campaign”. This is a stunning claim that undermines not only the work done by our employees but also the highly respected non-profit organizations that are well known for their high integrity.
Setting the record straight
Like many companies UPM is often asked to respond to different ratings and rankings because of the increasing interests and demands from customers, investors, rating agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) towards our environmental, social and governance performance. These ratings are not based on what companies say but what they actually do.
As the Finnish Friends of the Earth wrote, UPM is a multinational company. Therefore, all activities that UPM reports are always based on the company’s global approach and cover our operations globally. All of the information UPM provides in relation to different ratings and rankings is based on public sources and is third-party verified. This applies globally – on corporate, production site and product level. Transparency is also part the credibility of the ratings, so for example the information given to CDP is publicly available on CDP’s website www.cdp.net and CDP evaluates the performance themselves.
Our results have not always been as good as they are today. And even the fact that UPM has ranked as or among the best performers in its industry for many years does not mean that we are perfect or that our operations have only positive impacts. We have learned along the way and from our own mistakes. We constantly work to mitigate our negative impacts and challenge ourselves with more ambitious targets – like our commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 65% by 2030. We also have an ongoing dialogue and collaboration with a number of external parties from research institutes to expert organizations to challenge and expand our own knowledge and further develop our operations.
NGOs are an important part of this, and while we prefer open dialogue, we respect the decision by Friends of the Earth to make public accusations instead of a joining in constructive dialogue based on facts.
Their claims focus entirely on UPM’s operations in Uruguay and include misconceptions and generalisations both regarding geography and the industry, which fail to recognize the uniqueness of Uruguay as a country, and the fact that not all forestry companies are alike.
We are happy to set the record straight:
1. Plantations and grasslands
UPM plantations are established on old grazing lands. Extensive cattle grazing has been practised for more than 400 years in Uruguay. In the late 1980s the Government of Uruguay passed a Forestry Act to that defined “forest priority soils” – soils that are typically sandy or stony, have both the lowest productivity for traditional agriculture land use and lower vigour and biodiversity than the more fertile soils. Today 6% of the total land area in Uruguay is under plantations. Natural forests are all protected by law.
The lands owned by UPM and our partners always include both plantations and grasslands, even the land allocated to plantations is never completely planted. In fact, almost 40% is left unplanted.
This brings us to the specific claim that plantations are worse carbon sinks than grasslands, though this is not the view commonly accepted by IPCC, an internationally recognised authority on climate change. The government of Uruguay reports its national greenhouse gases using IPCC methodology that acknowledges that forest plantations have much higher carbon stocks than the previous land use, i.e. grazing. Links to their reports are available in the reference list below.
However, soil carbon calculation between old grazing lands and plantations is an under-investigated area. That’s why UPM is currently studying the soil and wood stand carbon storages and sinks with research institutes.
2. Extraction of nutrients and impacts on biodiversity
Extraction of nutrients in plantations is relatively low, especially when compared to agricultural crops. This is mainly due to the harvesting method, where the leaves, branches and bark are left on the site to decompose and recycle nutrients back to the soil.
UPM has never claimed that monoculture tree plantations would favour and expand biodiversity. What we do state is based on what we actually do – taking actions to protect and promote biodiversity.
UPM has conducted biological surveys since the early 1990s, initially to identify and classify species and ecosystems in the areas where it was going to operate, and later as part of our biodiversity programme. In our plantations all valuable biodiversity hotspots such as wetlands are protected. The natural vegetation included in the areas around the plantation stands is maintained and enhanced. All of these are part of, and controlled by, the environmental permits as well as the certification standards. In addition, UPM maintains over 20 specific conservation areas in Uruguay.
3. Water pollution by plantations and production
When it comes to the use of agrochemicals on plantations, the amount, intensity, frequency and type of products is much less intensive than in agriculture. There are buffer zones with natural vegetation around the plantations and around water areas. UPM follows both locally and internationally accepted forest certification standards in all safety and environmental issues, and these are annually checked in external audits. UPM has a long track record in certification, serving as another external poof that we do what we say we do.
Throughout its operations, our Fray Bentos mill in Uruguay has been among the best pulp mills in the world when it comes to environmental performance. It is also the most monitored pulp mill in the world. The mill’s environmental performance is reported monthly to the local authorities who also monitor it online. In 2019 the Argentinian and Uruguayan authorities made their 100th joint inspection at the mill. All results, as well as the environmental performance reports are publicly available. UPM Fray Bentos was also the first non-European pulp mill ever to be included in the EU’s EMAS system, as early as 2011, showing UPM’s long term willingness to report its impacts openly and universally.
4. Industry causing social and political transformation in the region
These claims are based on references and research from countries that have very different circumstances from those in Uruguay, especially when it comes to economic development, land ownership and indigenous people.
In addition to its own ethical principles, and the strict national legislation and regulation in Uruguay regarding land use, UPM adheres for example to the FSC™ certification standards (FSC-C014719) that include over 200 details on how to manage the land, including interaction with society and communities. The FSC standard is widely approved by NGOs given its holistic approach to environmental, social and economic responsibility.
Responsibility is also about choices and respect
All companies, UPM included, should be challenged on how responsibly they perform, and what actions they take to address global challenges such as climate change and loss of biodiversity that affect all of us.
With a growing population and increasing living standards it also matters – now more than ever – how much we consume, and what we consume, and the choices are not always easy. Should the 2 billion new people entering the global middle class by 2030 be denied hygiene products we take for granted, like tissues and toilet paper? Should we increase the use of fossil-based plastics for example in packaging or should we rather use renewable, recyclable materials based on wood fibres?
Forest plantations are one solution to supply the growing global demand for renewable materials, using natural resources sustainably. Unfortunately, there are examples around the world where this has not been done right. However, accusing anyone over the actions of others is not responsible either.
We can and will develop our operations and sustainability further, but we are also proud of the work our teams do every day for sustainability, and the recognition this work has received from respected external organizations that base their reviews on verifiable facts.
Saara Tahvanainen, Vice President, Stakeholder Relations, UPM Biorefining
Sami Lundgren, Vice President, Stakeholder Relations, UPM Responsibility
UPM’s Chasico conservation area with the Biofore Station known as Palmares del Cuico are located among the rolling hills and pasture lands of the north-western Uruguayan province Paysandú. The conservation area of 300 ha is home to more than 100 native species of plants and birds, including the protected Yatay palm trees.
In 2018, in a systematic review of the socio-economic impacts of large-scale tree plantations a group of seven academics noted that of the 20,450 studies they identified in their literature search, only 92 studies met the predefined inclusion criteria, and only 22 studies presented a clear comparator and considered confounding factors in their analysis.
There is plenty of research around but for those interested in further reading about plantations in general and about UPM’s reporting and operations in Uruguay:
A systematic review of the socio-economic impacts of large-scale tree plantations, worldwide (Arttu Malkamäki, Dalia D’Amato, Nicholas J. Hogarth, Markku Kanninen, Romain Pirarde, Anne Toppinen, Wen Zhoud)