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The path to real change is a rigorous consistent practice of sustainability


The world just commemorated a flurry of environmentally themed days – World Wildlife Day, World Water Day, International Day of Forests and most recently, Earth Hour. I’ve always wondered why these days all happen around the same time in March. Was it an unsaid collective effort by the different organising bodies to use the high frequency of similarly themed days in a short span of time, to get the layperson’s attention on climate and sustainability issues?

During the month of March, you get people talking about the important issues, buying commemorative t-shirts that support the fight against illegal animal trade, maybe even switching off their lights for an entire 60 minutes during Earth Hour. But then, without any real impetus for change, most people tend to be less concerned about how their practices impact the earth and climate for the other 11 months of the year. I would be guilty of that myself, but working for a company that works round-the-clock on sustainability matters does help me stay on my toes.

Earth Hour is a yearly lights out movement that has taken place since 2007.

But truly, what good is being conscientious for one month out of 12? Some might say doing something is better than doing nothing at all. But I see it differently, because if you go the extra mile for a short period of time, you tend to follow that by overcompensating. So say for example, you decide to go to the gym for an additional hour every day, and because of this extra effort you had put in, you go all out and have more than your normal share of cake – how is that helping? I’m not saying it happens for everyone, but more often than not, people inevitably end up behaving that way.

You see it’s important to be consistent in your sustainability practices. It is a 365-day, 24/7 issue that will not go away or get better just because of a one-off awareness day. It is not okay to switch off the lights completely for one hour, one day of the year, but leave it on carelessly for all the other days even when you’re not in the room. What change will that bring about?

Similarly, for organisations, the work in the everyday is so important in bringing about real change. For example, we have a robust fire reporting system that involves several members from cross-functional teams, working together daily to ensure faster response times in sending aid, better fire containment, and transparency in reasons for fire. Good fire reporting gives us reliable data that then sets the foundation for many of our sustainability initiatives.

Change in our supply chain has also been brought on by the regular engagement with third-party suppliers. Every week, GAR’s supply chain team visits our suppliers all across Indonesia, carefully reviewing their compliance with our GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP), and training them on sustainable production practices. Rigorous work in this area since 2015 has led to 100 percent Traceability To Plantation (TTP) for all owned mills as of end 2017, and will help us reach our target of 100 percent TTP for all mills by 2020.

GAR conducts regular training with our suppliers.

We also have dedicated teams working with communities on our Desa Makmur Peduli Api and Participatory Conservation Programme, both of which have led to concrete results of reduced hotspots due to slash-and-burn, and increased forest conservation area.

These activities have required consistent effort and time to implement, and have shown real change and results. How can we ensure that the change each of us is encouraged to make from the push of special events, is sustainable and impactful, rather than impulsive and short-lived?

  1. Read more.
    Get well acquainted with what change you’re about to embark on and why. If you decide to use only products with certified sustainable palm oil, ensure you know how to identify it, why you’re doing it, and what to do if you cannot find a substitute for items that have not been certified.
  2. Start with one consistent action and keep at it.
    Don’t be overly ambitious. It is easy to make a sweeping statement to completely change the way you live in order to be more sustainable, but you might fail to realise just how much you have to do to make that change.
  3. Share your goal with the people around you.
    Firstly, they can help keep you on track. Secondly, your actions might influence them to also commit to a change.
  4. Finally, set milestones and review your action from time to time.
    Has it been meaningful? Do you see any positive traction from it? Are you ready to do more?At the end of the day, change takes time and is unlikely to happen in a span of an environmentally-frenzied month or two. Remember, being consistent trumps flashy ad-hoc actions, so go forth and start doing your part for our environment!

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