Bridgestone hits the brakes on deforestation

The tire company has become the third of the world’s “Big Five” to have a formal policy on deforestation, but environmentalists say they will be closely watching its implementation.

bridgestone tires
A race car that used Bridgestone tires with green grooves for the Japanese Grand Prix. The tire industry accounts for at least 70 per cent of global natural rubber consumption with the “Big Five” tire makers accounting for about half of the industry’s consumption. Image: Morio,CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Global tire and rubber company Bridgestone Corporation on Tuesday announced a new sustainable procurement policy which outlines the company’s mission to eliminate deforestation and peatland development, reduce its waste and carbon footprint, and address human rights and labour issues across its supply chain. 

The policy, which is applicable to all Bridgestone’s suppliers, also aims to improve the traceability of the company’s supply chain, and holds suppliers to good governance standards which include not participating in corruption, bribery, or extortion. 

The zero-forestation commitment was one of the seven points the report outlined when considering potential major impacts that procurement operations may have on the environment, and what can be done to reduce them.

The other points were: no development on peatlands, biodiversity considerations, water management, conserving resources and reducing waste, reducing energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions and control of chemical substances.

Masaaki Tsuya, chief executive officer of Bridgestone, said in a statement: “We recognise our ability and responsibility to drive change and improvements in the ways that industry interacts with the environment and communities around the world.”

“We expect our suppliers and partners to work with us in pursuit of sustainable supply chains, efforts which are never-ending and which require collaborations with all industry players, including communicating with the various audiences in order to generate broader public awareness,” he added. 

The company directly operates plantations across Southeast Asia and Africa, including the world’s largest rubber plantation in Liberia, spanning more than a million acres.

When considering natural rubber on its own farms, Bridgestone actively conducts reforestation, which includes restoring deforested areas to their natural state, the report read.

Bridgestone’s policy comes after fellow tire giants Michellin and Pirelli released their own statements in previous years for deforestation-free rubber.

In the 38-page report, the policy outlined requirements for suppliers to follow all laws on forest protection, and not clearing high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) areas which are home to various endangerd species in Southeast Asia like gibbons, orangutans, tigers, and elephants.

This a major step by Bridgestone towards ending deforestation for rubber in Southeast Asia. However, we will be closely watching the implementation of this policy on the ground to ensure swift action is taken.

Kristin Urquiza, campaign director, Mighty Earth

US-based environmental group Mighty Earth welcomed this move as progress in the global tire industry, which is a driver of deforestation and uses 70 per cent of the world’s natural rubber each year.

“This a major step by Bridgestone towards ending deforestation for rubber in Southeast Asia. However, we will be closely watching the implementation of this policy on the ground to ensure swift action is taken,” said Mighty Earth campaign director Kristin Urquiza.

Urquiza noted how there can be a range of challenges to implementation—rubber supply chains engage a multitude of actors across different languages and cultures so thoughtful approaches to translation, training, and support is necessary—but emphasised how this should not stop a company from doing its due diligence to move forward. 

According to its website, Bridgstone’s new policy will be implemented regionally. Over the next 18 months, Bridgestone will work with its suppliers and partners to ensure that they have received the policy and understand it.

In a statement, Urquiza noted how in a span of four years starting 2001, tree cover loss in Cambodia, a rubber-producing country, accelerated faster than any country in the world, based on data from the World Resources’ Institute Global Forest Watch.

Demand for natural rubber is driven by the production of tires for the more than one billion vehicles – commercial, passenger, and aircraft – that operate around the globe, she said.

Much of the expansion of natural rubber plantations to meet rising global demand has come from extremely rapid deforestation in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar.

Following Bridgstone’s announcement, Urquiza urged the two remaining “Big Five” tire companies which do not yet have sustainable procurement policies, German-based Continental and US-based Goodyear, to follow suit.

“With Bridgestone’s announcement, deforestation-free rubber production is becoming the standard market expectation,” she said.

“Companies that want to sell rubber should know that engaging in deforestation or land grabbing means losing access to international markets. We’re seeing a total revolution in the tire and rubber industries happen before our eyes.”


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