Since World Environment Day on 5 June, GAR has been running a sustainability campaign with our Singapore-based staff to help them learn more about the GAR Social and Environmental Policy or GSEP, the roadmap for our sustainability journey.
Sitting in offices in Singapore, or Jakarta, it is easy for staff to feel removed from the reality of our plantations and mills, and the sustainability efforts being made in the field. But we believe that every one of the 180,000 people we employ is essential to GAR achieving its sustainability commitments.
Over seven weeks the campaign aims to not only bring the GSEP to life for our Singapore staff but to educate and inspire them to make more sustainable choices in their daily lives – at home and at work.
Fire management is a top sustainability issue for GAR’s Singapore staff
We surveyed staff at GAR’s Singapore office to find out what they thought was the most important sustainability issue. Fire management topped the results, followed by forest conservation and product health and safety.
These are also amongst the top concerns addressed in the GSEP.
Most of our staff were affected by the haze last year which was triggered by what scientists are now calling a “monster El Niño“. This weather phenomenon led to a prolonged dry season in Indonesia and created the ideal conditions for forest fires to burn and spread.
Emergency Response Team members on the job controlling and suppressing fires.
GAR was fortunate – only 0.5 percent of our total land area was affected by the fires last year. This was achieved through strict adherence to our Zero Burning Policy (1997) which is now part of the GSEP, and with the help of over 10,000 Emergency Response Personnel plus various fire prevention measures. This year we are also using drones and increased satellite surveillance to detect fires sooner.
Recognising that we also need to do something beyond our own plantation areas, we are now focusing on long-term measures with local communities to tackle forest fires and haze. A key initiative here is our Desa Siaga Api programme launched earlier this year.
Villages that participate in the programme will receive training and equipment to enable them to rapidly suppress fires. At the same time, we are conducting awareness programmes about the hazards of fire and haze. We are also focusing on trying to get local communities to move away from traditional land clearing methods using fire. At the end of the dry season, the villages will be assessed and those achieving a good score in fire prevention will qualify for CSR support for community infrastructure projects. So far, we have rolled this out in 17 villages in Jambi and West Kalimantan.
Another important initiative on long-term control of forest fires is our Peat Eco-system Rehabilitation Project. This involves the rehabilitation of around 2,600 hectares of peatland in one of our concessions in West Kalimantan. Aside from the physical rehabilitation of the area, a critical factor for success is getting the community involved in the joint conservation of the area. Intensive consultations and focus group discussions are being held with the local community so that we can jointly come up with alternative livelihood programmes. This will help them earn an income without affecting the conservation area.
We believe that economic growth can go hand-in-hand with environmental protection. As the biggest palm oil grower operating in a country that contains important biodiversity areas and large tracts of tropical forests, we need to ensure that our palm oil production is sustainable and responsible. It is likely that we have the largest areas set aside for conservation amongst palm growers in Indonesia with 75,000 hectares identified as High Conservation Value (HCV) areas or High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. And we are committed to conserving these areas in the GSEP.
Product health and safety was the third most important issue identified by our staff. At GAR we use international standards to ensure the quality of our products and bar codes for traceability, and we systematically record expiry dates and batch data. Four of our eight palm oil refineries in Indonesia are accredited with ISO 22000 certification, which recognises that they adhere to strict international food safety standards.
Product health and safety are our priority at GAR.
In addition, we are committed to rolling out the HACCP food safety system across our operations. This analyses and controls biological, chemical and physical hazards throughout the food preparation process, from raw material production, procurement, and handling through to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product.
We also fortify our products in Indonesia with Vitamin A as this vitamin deficiency is a public health concern in Indonesia.
With about 90 percent of staff saying the GSEP is a policy to guide the company in achieving the highest standards of quality and integrity in our business and operations, we have high hopes we can achieve our sustainability commitments, together.