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Corporate Singapore ups the ante in fight against haze

Firms to sign pledge for green procurement; FairPrice yanks certain products off shelves

NTUC FairPrice withdrawing Asia Pulp & Paper Group products off shelves, at Serangoon NEX mall on Oct 07, 2015.


THE corporate community in Singapore is stepping up efforts in the fight against the haze, with firms committing to sustainability by adopting green procurement practices.

This comes as the burning of forests in Indonesia has resulted in a stubborn haze blanketing Singapore and cities in Indonesia and Malaysia.

On Wednesday, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) announced that they have asked certain major firms from the supermarket, pharmacy and furniture industries to underscore their support for environmentally friendly practices by declaring that they do not offer products made with wood, paper or pulp from companies linked to the forest fires in Indonesia.

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The retailers, including household names such as Cold Storage, Sheng Siong and Ikea Singapore, operate a number of outlets from which consumers buy paper-based products.

SEC and Case said that they would send declaration forms to these companies and their subsidiaries and expect them to respond with the declarations within a week.

The two bodies said in a joint statement: "They are a good starting point for retailers to commit to a green procurement process, and for consumers to show their support for brands that have environmentally friendly practices. With heightened efforts from both retailers and consumers, SEC and Case are confident that more companies will join us to promote environmentally friendly conduct."

Meanwhile, NTUC FairPrice has announced that it was yanking all products sourced from the Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) Group from its shelves, including two of NTUC's house brand paper products and brands such as Paseo, NICE and Jolly.

The move by Singapore's largest supermarket chain comes on the back of the SEC imposing a temporary restriction on the use of the "Singapore Green Label" certification for APP's products. APP is one of the five Indonesian firms named by Singapore's National Environment Agency as a likely contributor to the haze.

Seah Kian Peng, chief executive of FairPrice, said: "We initiated meetings with the various parties concerned when a list of firms, including APP, was named by the authorities as suspects for contributing to the haze.

"As a fair business partner, we reserved taking action pending further information and investigation by the authorities. Our decision to withdraw all APP products is a result of the temporary restriction of their Green Label certification."

The SEC has requested companies with paper products certified under the Singapore Green Label Scheme to declare that they are using sustainably-sourced materials.

FairPrice was unable to sign the declaration for the two house brand products earlier because it was waiting for APP's confirmation of its compliance with SEC's requirements.

Associate professor (strategy and policy) Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore Business School said: "The current move by some of our business entities is really a good . . . start to show they're serious."

He added that it was beneficial for companies to augment diplomatic efforts, which are happening at the government-to-government level, albeit slowly.

Aside from cultivating customer goodwill, FairPrice's move will strengthen its long-term business, in ensuring that each and every part of the business was acting in a sustainable fashion.

"Customers do care," Prof Loh said, adding that the move to remove specific products from the shelves would also pressure FairPrice's competitors to follow suit. "Suppliers will be more responsive too."

He said that any potential loss in revenue for FairPrice would be more than offset by customer goodwill.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Singapore Business Federation on Wednesday urged businesses to follow global industry standards on sustainable agricultural practices, citing examples such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for palm oil cultivation and the Forest Stewardship Council for responsibly managed forests. Both chambers also encouraged the business community to commit to buying only sustainable products and adopting green procurement practices.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) have set the tone too, with the ABS expected to issue guidelines soon on responsible financing. This week, MAS said that progress was being made in ensuring that Singapore financial institutions and listed corporations promote sustainable development.

An MAS spokeswoman said on Monday: "MAS has been in discussion with ABS on how our banks can help to promote lending practices that support sustainable development."

Singapore Exchange is pushing for greater transparency from listed companies on the environmental and social aspects of their businesses, with sustainability reporting on a "comply-or-explain" basis likely by financial year 2017.

Separately, Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan announced on Facebook on Wednesday that Indonesia had accepted Singapore's offer of a haze assistance package, after what he described as a "good discussion" with his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, on Wednesday evening.

"Good for our countries to work together to resolve this as soon as possible," Dr Balakrishnan wrote.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that it had sent a formal request to Jakarta for the names of the companies suspected of being linked to the haze in Indonesia, in response to the request by the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who had said that if Singapore wanted the names of the companies to be officially sent to it, it had to be done through the government-to-government channel.

MFA had reiterated its offer of assistance to Indonesia, which includes, among other things, a team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to provide assessment and planning assistance and up to three C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations and for ferrying the SCDF team.