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How Partnerships Ensure Supply Chain Sustainability on the Ground: Q&A with Belantara Foundation

(Photo credit: SlowPathsImages, Flickr Creative Commons)

As pressure mounts for companies to operate sustainably and transparently, it is essential they take an active role in their supply chain. They must operate in ways that positively impact the environment and the local communities where they do business.

But navigating supply chains can be a challenge, particularly for companies that have supply chains residing in a variety of different geographic locations with their own unique landscapes and environmental challenges.

One way to manage supply chains at a local level is to partner with foundations or other non-profit groups that have a presence in local communities. We touched base with the Sri Mariati, executive director of the Belantara Foundation in Indonesia to talk about how partnerships can help companies address the challenges that affect their businesses, the earth and local communities.

Environmental Leader: Why should global companies care about sustainability in their supply chain?

Sri Mariati: Consumers increasingly expect brands to operate sustainably and transparently. They are driving change with their purchase decisions. Global brands are listening and adopting sustainable practices throughout their supply chains. Companies can gain consumer trust by talking about how they’re delivering on their commitments to serve their customers and minimize their environmental impact.

Now is the time to evolve into the next chapter of sustainable supply chains. Having “visibility” into your supply chain is not enough – we need action. Global companies should take an active role to adopt sustainable practices to not only minimize their environmental impact but also improve lives in the communities impacted by their business.

EL: What can companies do to engage their supply chains to mitigate their impact on the environment and local communities?

SM: Companies see the business value in setting sustainability goals and maintaining an efficient supply chain, but it can be challenging to begin and navigate the process. Each geographic location where a company’s supply chain resides has its own landscape and unique environment to be considered in operational planning.

As companies set goals to be more sustainable, they often encounter local NGOs, governments and other entities that influence their processes. Each stakeholder builds a plan to suit its own goals. But a multi-stakeholder approach, where all entities work together to minimize environmental impact and serve local communities, can have a bigger impact.

Often, there is a need for a mediator to help build solutions that benefit all stakeholders. By working closely with a third-party organization, companies can meet sustainability goals and better serve their communities.

EL: In what way does the Belantara Foundation do this?

SM: The Belantara Foundation is one such organization that helps mediate and synergize efforts among stakeholders. Belantara is an Indonesian-based global non-profit organization working to protect the Indonesian landscape. We help establish local sustainability projects in areas set aside for conservation, reforestation and sustainable community development. Because of our objectivity and expertise in the region, companies have partnered with Belantara partners to expand their sustainability initiatives and positively impact local communities.

EL: Why is Indonesia such an important part of the world?

SM: Indonesia has an extremely rich landscape with some of the densest tropical ecosystems in the world. Indonesia’s unique rainforests help clean the earth’s air. Its peatland acts like a sponge, keeping moisture in the ground while nourishing plant life and trees. It is essential that the rainforests of Indonesia store carbon to keep it from being released into the earth’s atmosphere.

At the same time, Indonesia’s natural resources entice global companies to do business in the region. So many products come from Indonesia and this supply chain is interconnected with the forests, surrounding area and local communities.

Many of the companies utilizing resources from Indonesia understand the need to protect the land and support local communities. For companies that do business in Indonesia, a responsible supply chain there helps translate to a responsible supply chain worldwide.

EL: Why should companies care about the impact on local communities?

SM: Companies need to learn about the priorities and needs of the local communities in which they operate. These questions need to be asked: How does the production process of our business impact local citizens? And, how does the community impact our business?

Consider, for example, paper production in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is an ecologically diverse country with natural resources that benefit the rest of the globe. As we discussed earlier, Indonesia peatlands are essential to growing forests and absorbing carbon. The clearing of peatlands for industrial and other purposes has had an environmental and social impact.

In the province of Jambi, for example, a lack of farming knowledge and natural resource management training, along with unsustainable clearing techniques, have damaged sensitive peatlands and other ecosystems.

EL: How does a shift in natural resource management affect local communities?

SM: As the landscape is restored, local communities require support to improve their standard of living without compromising the environment.

For organizations operating in complex environments like Indonesia, it is vital for companies to understand their impact on the community and vice versa. It is helpful to identify the right partner to navigate the ecological demands of the area and help provide the necessary support for the community.

EL: What can be achieved by organizations aligning with a third-party NGO to make a positive impact on the environment and local communities?

SM: Through partnerships, for-profit organizations and NGOs can address challenges that affect the earth and local communities. By using this approach, organizations like Belantara help companies solve complex, environmental challenges affecting the landscape and local communities.

Belantara has established partnerships with Indonesian provincial governments, private companies, NGOs and communities to build programs that are beneficial to all parties. For example, Belantara recently built a program in an area where peat was degraded or lost due to fires. Belantara brought the stakeholders together to restore the landscape and advised community leaders on how to best protect the area going forward. To restore peatlands and support local farmers in Indonesia, Belantara has provided more than 1 million seedlings, consisting of 13 species, for restoration, covering 2,741 hectares of land.

Belantara collaborates with local partners in five provinces (Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan) to support 10 grant areas to:

—Prevent fires through the construction of 14 drill wells, four fire towers, and 84 canal blocking to manage water;

—Develop three local libraries to improve community knowledge on the importance of forest, the impact of forest fires and the importance of livelihood programs.

Belantara is making strides to achieve harmony in Indonesia by funding local projects that teach farmers how to use new technology, diversify their skills and develop techniques to generate more productivity from their land without compromising nearby forests.

Through organizations like Belantara, companies can have a positive, measurable, long-term impact on ecosystems that are critical for our world’s biodiversity.

About Belantara Foundation

The Belantara Foundation supports 11 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We strive to protect forests and fight climate change by stopping and reversing land degradation and the loss of biodiversity. We strive to improve water quality by providing clean water and building sanitation areas to process and dispose garbage. We also cooperate with local and international stakeholders to showcase our program and promote sustainable development through global partnerships. Our strategic forest protection programs are designed to combat climate change and its impacts. Our Wildlife Conflict Mitigation Groups focus on building forest encroachment prohibition boards, preventing illegal logging and establishing wildlife protection. We conduct training to increase local resources and improve the local economy. We provide the community with information about the job opportunities forests offer. 

Belantara supports efforts to empower people, particularly women, by forming tourism-conscious women’s groups to help better the family economy. We hope to develop tourism in Indonesian communities by improving infrastructure and developing local products.

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