PEFC looks back on a game-changing year for sustainable rubber
17 December 2021 Driving innovation
Despite worldwide supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the drive to achieve sustainability in the rubber industry saw its most successful year yet in 2021. The stage is now set to achieve broad sustainability in the natural rubber industry in the years to come.
We will look back at 2021 as a pivotal, game-changing year for sustainable rubber and rubberwood. This success is built on the foundation of innovative pilot projects across Southeast Asia and amplified by the work of PEFC.
It has seen real results on the ground, with significant new certifications granted to producers and buyers of certified rubber and rubberwood. 2021 was the year when “someday” became “today”. Standout contributors came from rubber producing and consuming countries alike, and now, the whole world stands to benefit.
This positive news was a long time in the making. We have been active in Southeast Asia for years, building relationships to make a sustainable rubber industry a reality. This was essential, because 85% of the world’s natural rubber comes from Southeast Asia, with the majority of it produced by millions of smallholders on small plantations.
Given the complexity of the value chain and the challenges that small-scale producers face, we understood that sustainability would take time. Over the past years they have been working on pilot projects to certify groups of smallholders in Thailand, expand chain of custody certification for rubberwood in Malaysia, and bring new supplies of certified rubber online in Vietnam. Those projects set the stage for a transformational 2021.
PEFC also engaged in outreach to actors in the natural rubber and rubberwood value chains to spread awareness and act as a market connector. This included a series of regular online events, with speakers from the supply side, such as the Vietnam Rubber group (VRG) and the Thailand Forest Certification Council (TFCC), who had been instrumental in pilot projects for certification of rubber plantations and processing plants. From the demand side, we were joined by panellists from international first-movers such as Weber & Schaer, one of the largest natural rubber trading houses, and Unilin, a global leader in hardwood flooring and panelling that relies on rubberwood.
While this growing awareness is essential, 2021 would not have been a transformational year if it didn’t include real progress on the ground. That arrived in the form of two game-changing certifications.
The first from VRG, who saw their pilot project with PEFC culminate in the certification of 55,000 hectares of rubber plantations. This means that the 85,000 tons of natural rubber and 300,000 tons of rubberwood produced by these plantations is now certified sustainable.
The second game-changing development was Weber & Schaer’s achievement of PEFC chain of custody certification for natural rubber. This important German trading house is one of the first companies to bring certified natural rubber to buyers and consumers across the world. In fact, Weber & Schaer cites the large-scale certification of VRG as the trigger for them to get certified. It’s a strong indication that demand exists for environmentally friendly rubber, and that supplier certification can trigger certification of buyers.
A tipping point, not a false start
These important developments all played out during a year of increased international attention on climate change. Participants at COP 26 discussed the need for a carbon neutral economy - something that an environmentally friendly rubber industry can help achieve. Sustainably managed rubber plantations contribute to decarbonisation through avoidance, by reducing deforestation, and additionality, with improved forest management. Nature based solutions like these are a proven way towards achieving net zero commitments and have the added benefit of reducing our reliance on the fossil fuels used to produce synthetic rubber.
While this is all good news, continued and sustained action is necessary to ensure that we can look back at 2021 as a tipping point, and not a false start. Natural rubber represents a 300-billion-dollar supply chain and requires the labour of millions of people. Sustainability is necessary for these smallholders, who are vulnerable to price fluctuations and invest money and years of labour into their plantations before they become productive.
We all have a role to play in supporting sustainable rubber - to uplift smallholder livelihoods while protecting the environment. Suppliers should commit to take the steps necessary to achieve certification. Manufacturers should increase their targets for sourcing sustainable materials. Brands and retailers should demonstrate their commitment to human rights and a healthy ecosystem with inclusive and responsible procurement policies.
PEFC is here to help
No matter where you are on the supply chain, PEFC is here to help. To understand more about the important role you play, or to learn about why sustainability is essential to the rubber industry, visit us here.