Keeping sustainably produced palm oil on-track during COVID-19
COVID-19 brings so many changes in our personal and professional life. Recently, I had a chat with Wahyu Wijayanti, a soft spoken lady who is funny, motherly and also has broad knowledge and experience. She shared how she and her team struggle to adapt to the current situation.
Wahyu’s work involves frequent site visits to suppliers, to assess and help them in meeting sustainability standards. But with the current travel restrictions, site visits – no matter near or far – cannot take place. However, this bump in the road has not stopped her and her team from finding alternative solutions to ensure our suppliers receive the support they need in ensuring sustainably produced palm oil.
Q: How are you? I know you mentioned Work From Home (WFH) can be challenging for your team, so what is it exactly that you do?
Hi! Yes, I am well though WFH can be quite challenging for us. My division is working on what we called Supplier Compliance Assessment. So most of our time, we work with GAR’s 400+ third party suppliers to regularly check if the way they operate complies with our GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP).
To be able to do that, an important part of this work is to meet with suppliers, monitor activities they are conducting in the field and also consult with them on some improvements. Until now, we have visited up to 100 suppliers. These visits are important in building a close and strong relationship with our suppliers, and helps ensure they implement sustainable practices.
Q: What are the challenges you are facing?
The main problem now is that we have to stay at home and cannot travel for site visits. Usually, we would book a certain period of time to travel from one supplier to another, so it would be a series of visits. But even domestic travel is being limited to only critical need in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Q: What are you doing to overcome the situation?
Frankly, in the beginning it was quite nerve wrecking, when you cannot do the usual thing that you are familiar with. We have been using this process for many years and have become so used to it. But the human mind is just so powerful that under the pressing circumstance, we were able to find a creative way to still carry out ‘site visits’. We call this initiative – SMART Reach (SMART Remote Engagement, Assessment and Conference (call) from Home).
Q: What is SMART Reach?
Basically, we are conducting remote assessments for our suppliers. We send them a set of self-assessments, a checklist of sorts, to go through in their operations beforehand. Then we meet via teleconference to go through each item. They will have to provide answers and evidence for each portion of the assessment.
Of course there are some limitations with this method – we aren’t able to see the implementation on the ground, but we are looking at ways to tackle that. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop us from doing assessing our suppliers, and having an open discussion and consultation on how they can improve their sustainability practices. Just like when we are doing on site visit, the most important ingredient for success is trust – trust that we are here to help our suppliers, to continue improving sustainable practices.
The great thing about SMART Reach is that instead of taking three full days for the site visit as before, we now only require three hours per day for two days, to complete a visit for one supplier. Surprisingly, since we started this new way of assessment, we have received more requests from our suppliers to participate! So SMART Reach is beneficial in saving time, saving cost – for airfare tickets, accommodation, transportation, and is even expanding our reach to even more suppliers.
Being pushed to find new ways of doing things has been a silver lining to the COVID-19 situation. These improvements will become our new normal, so that our assessments are done more efficiently, even when our operations resume 100 percent.
While the current situation does limit our normal operations, it should not derail our efforts towards a more sustainable palm oil industry. It may not be perfect, but continued efforts such as SMART Reach, are helping our suppliers to continue their own journey towards sustainably produced palm oil.
How else are our colleagues staying productive amid the pandemic? Hear from them in our two-part story: