24 hours with… APP chief sustainability officer, Elim Sritaba

How does the head of sustainability for Asia Pulp and Paper spend her working day?

Elim Sritaba, chief sustainability officer of Asia Pulp and Paper, with Pak Suryono, a farmer who previously used slash-and-burn techniques to prepare land for cultivation. Image: APP
Elim Sritaba, chief sustainability officer of Asia Pulp and Paper, with Pak Suryono, a farmer who previously used slash-and-burn to prepare land for cultivation, and has been converted to sustainable farming techniques. Image: APP

Elim Sritaba is chief sustainability officer of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a company that is never far from the headlines. Eco-Business has published more than 200 stories on APP over the last decade, covering the sustainability journey of one of the world’s largest and most controversial pulp and paper firms.

In a widely praised move at the time, APP committed to end a long legacy of deforestation in 2013, but in the years since the company come under continuous scrutiny from environmentalists who claim that APP is not living up to its promises. Sritaba joined APP in October 2013, eight months after APP made its landmark forest conservation policy. Over six and a half years, she has worked in numerous roles across the company, including corporate relations and human resources as well as leading the implementation of the no-deforestation pledge, and was appointed sustainability chief in 2017

Here, Sritaba documents a typical working day running APP’s sustainability operations at a particularly difficult time, as Indonesia experiences a spike in Covid-19 cases

6am: My family and I live outside the city, so I have to leave early in order to avoid getting caught in traffic. It’s a two-hour commute to the office in downtown Jakarta. I use that time for personal meditation and prayer, which I do daily. After that I get caught up with emails, the news or podcasts, and to get organised for the day ahead. My daughter is currently studying in the US, and if she doesn’t have lectures in the afternoon, I catch up with her at this time.  

Covid-19 has prevented us from visiting our mills to see our efficiency implementations.

8am: The sustainability team works closely with both senior management and our mills across the country, so we keep the same hours they do. My day usually starts at 8am with a quick check-in with my team, getting progress updates on the various projects and initiatives the sustainability team is involved in. 

8:30am: I grab myself a cup of coffee and prepare for my next meeting. The APP board meets weekly to discuss key matters in our business. We are vertically integrated, which means we oversee every step, from nurseries to plantations, to our various mills, to the logistics that carry our pulp and paper products to converters and customers in over 120 countries. There are sustainability considerations across our entire operation, so it is important for me to be present. The current priority for the board is Covid-19. The discussion is focused on employee health and safety, as well as ensuring business continuity so we can continue to meet market demand for various products. 

10:00am: Over the last couple of weeks, my team has been working very closely with all the different divisions and mills to interview them for our upcoming sustainability report 2019. This has not been an easy year for my team as Covid-19 has prevented us from visiting our mills to see our efficiency implementations, but the team is quite resilient. I sat through some of the interviews and am excited about the progress in this year’s report. 

12:00pm: I usually grab lunch with some members of my team or the communications team. I usually pack lunch from home and chill with the rest in my office or the meeting room. We make it a point to not discuss work during lunch, so it’s an opportunity to socialise and unwind.

1:00pm: I have a meeting with our sustainability consultants, who are helping us with formalising our Sustainability Roadmap Vision 2030. We have achieved almost all of the targets we set out to achieve by 2020, and it is time to set new targets in more areas of sustainability and human rights. Following the annual UN climate conference in Madrid last year, we are working to align our 2030 targets more closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the new targets are not just focussed on product innovation and energy and water efficiency, but also on poverty alleviation, clean water and gender equality, both inside and outside our organisation. 

2:30pm: We are working with the communications team to update our sustainability website and to make more information transparently available to interested parties. One of the initiatives we are working on is providing near real-time information about forest cover in the conservation areas we oversee. Today, we are reviewing content and making sure that what we put out will be easy to understand. 

3:00pm: In 2015, we updated our Forest Conservation Policy to include a commitment to restore peatland areas. This is something we are continuing to monitor and have established collaborative partnerships to learn more about these landscapes. I have a meeting with researchers from a university that is working with APP to explore and catalogue our peatland forests. The partnership has two objectives. The first is to discover and evaluate alternative tree species that grow naturally in peatlands, which, in the long term, will allow us to work more productively in these landscapes. The second is to establish “seed stands” for rare or endangered tree species. These stands provide us with a steady supply of good quality seeds that can then be used to repopulate rare trees in our conservation forests.   

4:30pm: Conference call with our Fire Management and Integrated Forestry and Farming System (IFFS) teams. While we have banned the use of agricultural fires across all our suppliers, forest and peatland fires continue to be a problem. Our operations are often in close proximity to community land, where agricultural, cooking or rubbish fires continue to occur, so we need to be prepared, even during wetter seasons like we are experiencing now. Today’s call is focused on the impact of Covid-19 on training and community work. We also brainstormed within the various internal teams on how we could work better in “high fire risk” villages this year. 

6:00pm: I try to leave the office at 6pm, as it is a long commute back home, and usually I will skip my dinner and just spend time with my husband and son. But as soon as I arrive home, my 4-legged children welcome me with loads of kisses. I sometimes do a bit of baking after dinner, because it’s something I enjoy and it helps me unwind. 

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