Area of complete deforestation by Picography on Pixabay

Forest 500 Report 2023: Read It And Act!

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Oddly enough, I’ve been looking forward to the arrival of this report for some time.

For the past 9 years, this sobering annual read from Global Canopy Forest 500 has dished the dirt on the policies and performance of the 350 most influential companies and 150 financial institutions most exposed to deforestation risk in their supply chains and investments. It requires a clear hour and a seriously strong cup of tea and a biscuit to swallow and digest its stomach-churning contents.

The report sits firmly on my ‘Must Read’ list and I have to be honest, this year’s offering makes for deeply disturbing reading. It’s astonishing really because worldwide coverage on a plethora of platforms about extreme weather events, climate associated deaths, environmental injustices and clean up costs are on a sharper incline than the legs of the Eiffel Tower. Even if one keeps worldwide eco-news at arm’s length – and growing numbers do, these days, to protect their mental health and wellbeing – I doubt anyone could claim they were unaware of the need to green up all of humanity’s acts.

In this year’s report, I learned that:

  • 31% (109) of companies with the greatest influence on / exposure to tropical deforestation risk through their supply chains don’t have a single deforestation commitment,
  • 40% (201) of the Forest 500 have yet to set a single policy on deforestation. Progress on deforestation action is devastatingly slow.

… and the finance sector is, in their words: ‘woefully behind’.

“As a group, companies have the potential to transform not only their own supply chains, but those of every company in the world – if they act, and act effectively.” Global Canopy Forest 500 Report 2023

We aren’t a multi-million pound charity yet, but we will be one day, I’m sure of that. I’m incredibly proud to be Word Forest’s CEO and co-founder and I can tell you, we’re truly blessed to have a large handful of incredibly supportive corporate partners. They help us in a variety of ways, financially, physically and emotionally sometimes, but I wish we had dozens more like them putting funds in our coffers.

Over the past 7 years, I’ve strived to find the winning combination of words that turn potential partners who don’t know how to begin their eco-journey into ones who ask who they should make the cheque out to. I invest the same time and energy in both and whilst I’d love more corporate donors who really want to get down to business and get more saplings in the ground, it’s the ones who need more of a guiding hand that I feel I should focus on.

Last year, a major global investment bank invited me to join a panel of other environmental experts, including a young eco-activist which I was thrilled to see, to give advice to senior members of their team. They wanted to create a pot of funding to assist environmental causes but they had absolutely no idea what was really needed ‘on the ground’. They wanted to get a proper handle on actual requirements before inadvertently setting prohibitive boundaries around a potential pot of very useful cash. Why aren’t more well-heeled firms following in their footsteps?

If companies don’t know their offsets from their elbows, they risk spending so much time concentrating on the minutiae of whether they should use 100% recycled paper or renewable energy – and of course, they should do both – that they’re slow to do anything! And yes, I know offsets aren’t a perfect solution, but they’re a blooming good start! Everything we humans do leaves a footprint on the earth in some way or another. Even taking a pee has a price: think water, toilet paper, energy, the list goes on.

Every company needs to work out what their respective footprints are – most especially when it comes to deforestation and fossil fuel use – and focus on decarbonisation and, if necessary, restructuring the way they take their widgets to market. It’s such a challenge to get organisations to recognise the urgency with which they should be moving.

Step into my world just for a moment and imagine floating between these two answerphone messages:

Company X: “Hello there! We’re hoping to make Word Forest our Charity of the Year in 2025. We’d like to do our bit, you know, for the planet and all that. Could you possibly whizz over say, 500 words, so Deirdre can circulate them to our team? They’re going to vote on the charity they think deserves to win. We’ll get back to you probably in the New Year, if that’s OK. Cheers!”

Colleague in Kenya: “Hey Tracey. I found out what happened to Musa in the end. He lost his sight last year after getting an eye infection, which meant he also lost his job as an assistant at the pharmacy. He couldn’t bring in any income and saw himself as a burden, an extra mouth to feed and a stress on the family, so he just stopped eating and drinking until he died.” 

The simple truth is, if we had more funding, Musa’s wife could have earned money if she’d been able to attend the income generation workshops run by our women’s empowerment group, the Mothers of the Forest. Musa died needlessly.

Deforestation continues to carve deep societal scars across Kenya and the world, not to mention having negative impacts on global temperatures, CO2 emissions, biodiversity, species loss, rainfall, drought, displacement of communities and wildlife, water and food security, human rights and environmental injustices, to name but a few. 

If deforestation continues on its current trajectory, goals for improvements in the above sectors, which have already been agreed by governments at conferences like COP, will be completely unachievable.

The Forest 500 report shows us that too many influential players in the world of global commerce and finance have as many holes as Swiss cheese in their Corporate Social Responsiility and Environmental, Social and Governance frameworks. They’re also failing to educate and encourage better practices within their workforce, business partnerships and client base. We need better behaviour from every firm, no matter what size they are. 

We’d be thrilled to receive their money – Word Forest needs urgent donations to reforest Kenya, a country with only 12% canopy cover the last time I checked, yet it has such potential to relieve our climate emergency.

Business behemoths should be at the forefront, leading by green example, championing new ways to do business that put our planet before profit. It’s not like we can buy a new world if we squeeze this one to death – it’s not a tennis ball!

The Forest 500 report shows us that the gravity of our climate emergency hasn’t made it onto anywhere near enough meeting agendas. In fact, by the look of things, it hasn’t even made it into AOB and I think there are two key reasons for that:

Firstly, resistance to inevitable change is being fuelled by an unwillingness to accept what the science tells us is heading our way. It’s a fatal combination of inertia, fear, a lack of environmental education and lots of hands pressing tightly over eyes and ears and hoping for the best.

Secondly, evidently there’s a plethora of highly profitable organisations out there who are simply unwilling to pay their eco-dues for current and historic deposits of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Whether you choose to hear it or not, the Earth is screaming like a trapped animal; it’s gasping for breath, pleading for your help. I want to help people in business understand why they need to plant trees and decarbonise, I really do, but not in 2025… now!

It’s down to all of us, as individuals, business owners, employees and students, to demand more from those around us. We can and must be better environmental advocates in our homes, our workplaces and our places of learning. 

Those named and shamed in the Forest 500 should be on the phone right now, righting their tardy wrongs – by the way, our number is 01297 533 111.

We could live in a world where clean air, clean water and healthy soil are a given, but we’ll need a seismic corporate shift to have taken place for that to happen. It will come… eventually… but it’s likely to be with an indiscriminate price tag of several billion more innocent wildlife and human lives like Musa’s. 

When it comes to unprecedented human and wildlife displacement, if you think Turkey and Syria’s earthquake and the war in the Ukraine are bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Let’s not wait that long.

It’s time to become a more ethical consumer. 

It’s time to find out which companies really do give a hoot. 

It’s time to vote with our voices, our purses and wallets.

If we do, the Global Canopy Forest 500 Report 2024 will be a far more dynamic and cheery read.

Tracey West and the Team

NB: In 2022, Word Forest created an Educational Learning Platform in an attempt to bridge the environmental education gap. We recognise it is a drop in the ocean in the big scheme of things, but we’re doing our level best to evoke the positive changes the Earth needs.

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