Asia Pulp and Paper’s Commitment to Climate Change Underpins TEDxGlasgow 2021

published Sep 13, 2022
5 min read

In February 2021, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres labelled 2021 a “make or break year” for climate change. For Glasgow this message certainly hit home closer than ever as the city played host to two keystone events to tackle the global issue of climate change – the Conference of the Parties 26th Annual Summit (COP26), and the Climate Action Initiative’s TEDxGlasgow 2021 event. These major international events signal a changing of the tides, with international bodies resolving to cooperate and consolidate their efforts to combat climate change.

The former, the COP26, is the latest in a three-decade series of global summits organised by the UN to discuss how to combat climate change. The COP26, which spanned 12 days, saw world leaders gathered in Scotland alongside thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens.

While COP26 looked at how world governments and leaders could tackle today’s climate crisis and environmental sustainability, it was a different story over at TEDxGlasgow 2021 which saw input from businesses and key industry leaders instead.

Based on the idea of communities sharing, proliferating, and mutually benefiting from good ideas from one sector of the collective system to another, TEDxGlasgow 2021 covered ground that COP26 could not. Recognising that required actions to reduce the impact of climate change must happen outside of and beyond the COP26 conference, TEDxGlasgow convened as a hub for industry movers and shakers worldwide to achieve their unified goals of moving towards Net Zero within the next year.

Between COP26 and TEDxGlasgow 2021, plans were clear – multi-sector cooperation would be needed to best respond to the world climate emergency and examine how the relevant stakeholders could transform ideas into action. With the intention of setting forth a blueprint for the world to follow, a good deal of attention in these events was dedicated to spotlighting regional and local actions and extrapolating them onto a global scale.

Stressing cooperation in solving the climate crisis, attendees of both events also retroactively examined the current course of actions already being taken, weighing their benefits and looking for ways to improve. Given the high-profile nature of the partners of the TEDxGlasgow 2021 event, such as the BMW Group from Germany and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Sinar Mas in Indonesia, crucial to discussions were the cross-border partnerships and actions taken by these companies to move towards a Net Zero future.

Indeed, the ideas and concepts discussed at TEDxGlasgow seek to reinforce environmentally sustainable practices across industries. While much was shared at the conference, there are three key concepts that we should look at closely:

Climate Optimism

The first concept relates to a paradigm shift proposed by Adam Dorr, an environmental social scientist, technology theorist, and research fellow at ReThinkX. At TEDxGlasgow, Dorr presented an idea he termed “Climate Optimism”.

In his talk “CLIMATE OPTIMISM : BUILDING OUR FUTURE WITH BETTER TOOLS”, Dorr acknowledged the growing pessimism on the ground that surrounds climate change efforts and how a significant amount of people have adopted a “we’re all doomed” approach. However, the main thrust of Dorr’s talk was to challenge this status quo and urge attendees to reorientate the way they viewed climate change.

Dorr posited that now more than ever, there is greater cause for optimism in our fight against climate change due to the technology and tools we have at our disposal. Citing the three main sources of greenhouse gas emissions as energy consumption, transportation, and food production, Dorr theorised that the solution to drastically reducing emissions lies in tech-fuelled disruptions.

Stemming from the emergence of dramatically improved new technologies that outdo current ones, industries and sectors are entirely transformed and become exponentially efficient. He further lists examples of these technologies currently present, such as solar power and wind power, which are becoming more commonplace and quickly overtaking traditional fossil fuels in terms of cost efficiency.

In another talk held at the TEDxGlasgow 2021 event, Ronald Vernimmen, Environmental Scientist and founder of Data For Sustainability at Asia Pulp and Paper, highlighted how technological innovations that seek to propagate environmental sustainability and protect natural resources such as peatlands and forests are already underway.

Through the use of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, Vernimmen presented how companies like Asia Pulp and Paper are already optimising the management of peatlands and forests, mapping out their topology and landscape. The additional knowledge and insight gleamed from these technologies helps the company accelerate the rate at which peatland and forest restorations occur, a process which generally takes a relatively long time to naturally materialise.

In this way, these examples just scratch the surface of how we as a society can make headway towards battling climate change, by leveraging on technology and better tools.

Corporate Responsibility

The next topic discussed has to do with corporate responsibility, as outlined by John Elkington. Founder of Volans, an award-winning world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable capitalism, in his talk “BUTTERFLIES IN THE BOARDROOM”.

During his talk, Elkington described the way current business practices are imposing an ecological debt on coming generations due to the enormous amounts of resources they presently consume, and used the example of Earth Overshoot Day to demonstrate how society has spent its annual allocation of resources quicker than it can be regenerated. Elkington further narrated the increasing pressures in boardrooms worldwide to shift towards sustainable practices, and how businesses are starting to feel a need to do more and contribute to the fight against climate change.

As he moved on to potential ways to lessen carbon emissions, including drastic measures such as taking away the pollution rights of major coal and oil companies, Elkington listed three ways he feels that everyone can contribute to what he calls a new “Caterpillar Economy”.

Using the life cycle of a butterfly as a metaphor, Elkington described how everyday actions and the sum of efforts could be used to overturn the present economic model of overconsumption and excess.

Firstly, he asked the audience to rethink their “caterpillar” consumption patterns, using the necessity of a car as an example. Instead of swapping to an electric car, he questioned if a car was a necessity in the first place. Next, he advocated for stronger “chrysalis” behaviours and asked how we can increase pressure on businesses and markets to shift towards environmental sustainability.

Lastly, like a butterfly which is delicate and might not carry much weight on its own, Elkington stressed his belief that although individually we might feel weak, collaborative platforms that allow people to advocate for their communities and spread ideas are crucial for change.

Elkington ended his talk by signalling how change is already happening, and how participants are already building towards the next generation of “butterfly effects”. This was also a key driving factor behind the Climate Action Initiative’s selection of partners for TEDxGlasgow 2021, with the organising committee including companies such as Asia Pulp and Paper that have demonstrated a commitment to partnership in the fight against climate change.

Like Elkington’s hopes for the coming decades, more businesses must step up and assume responsibility for the way they do business, understand the consequences they have on the environment, and take immediate actions to advance a new Caterpillar Economy.

Sustainable Remediation

Business Activism

The final concept to draw attention to lies with business activism, as examined by Charmian Love in her talk “HOW TO BE BOTH IN BUSINESS AND AN ACTIVIST”. Co-founder and activist in residence at B Lab UK, Love advocates for the acceleration towards a more regenerative, circular, and inclusive economy.

In her talk, she analysed how individuals can be part of the broader change towards environmental sustainability in relation to businesses, and how businesses can still provide value while advocating for activism. She poignantly stated that while the main goal of businesses has by and large always been profit, she believes that we as a society must act now to align the goal of businesses towards a more sustainable direction through activism.

Love then listed examples of businesses that empower their employees to stand up for their beliefs and get involved with issues that matter to them. She reiterated that such actions behave as a force for good as coalitions could be formed to challenge traditional practices, and that big corporations have a responsibility to set the tone of conversation moving forward in regards to climate change initiatives.

Finally, she challenged people – both at TEDxGlasgow and beyond – to act now and be bold, because the risk of doing nothing is infinitely worse than standing up for what you believe in.

All across industries, companies are already acting to rethink and reimagine their relationship to profit and business. Love’s examples of companies like Ecosia, Finistere, and Patagonia supporting their employees as well as directly funding relevant organisations actioning against climate change make it clear that there is no one singular way for businesses to begin to advocate – rather, each company has their own way to contribute towards a solution for climate change.

Closer to home, we can examine Asia Pulp and Paper’s various people-focused initiatives like the Desa Makmur Peduli Api (DMPA) and Community Business Model Development in Partnership with ICRAF-CIFOR-YKAN as ways for companies to empower individuals locally and regionally to stand up for what they believe in.

These changes, cumulatively, can have the power to incite further change in wider communities and ultimately bring about new ways to combat the climate crisis.

The Way Forward Together

Staying solution-focused is vital for success in our battle against climate change. As we’ve seen at TEDxGlasgow, themes such as corporate responsibility and business activism combined with emerging technologies all feed into the spirit of climate optimism. As long as individuals take ownership of their part in the fight against the climate emergency, while companies like Asia Pulp and Paper continue leveraging their position to help push for climate solutions, we can strengthen our economic model’s focus on environmental sustainability and protect the Earth’s biodiversity for decades to come.