A supply chain to promote sustainable development


In the Brazilian Amazon regions of Maranhão and Pará, a multi-stage project is underway through which a historic Italian household and hygiene tissue manufacturer and one of its most important raw material suppliers aim to support the local economy and with it biodiversity.

In no uncertain terms, «This is the most important and engaging of all the initiatives I have ever taken part in professionally, as it is truly aimed at promoting people’s well-being.» This was said by chief purchasing officer of Lucca-based Sofidel Andrea Piazzolla when presenting the Together we plant the future – Developing biodiversity corridors for a more sustainable future project recently. In addition to Sofidel, a Tuscan company that is one of the world’s leading tissue paper manufacturers and the celebrated creator of the Regina brand, one of its main suppliers and largest pulp producer on a global scale, Brazil’s Suzano, is a key player in the initiative. It is precisely the South American federal state that is the scene of the program, of which the Brazilian Institute for Development and Sustainability (IABS) and the nonprofit association Amazônia Onlus are also an integral part. Over a three-year horizon, the idea is to support “the conservation and ecological restoration” of the Carioca regions of Maranhão and Pará “while supporting the economic development” of the Amazon territories. The goal is to give rise to “sustainable business models” that benefit “communities living close to the rainforest” and consisting of about 1,400 farming families. For the most part these live below the so-called poverty line, and Sofidel, with its partners, wants to guarantee them not just subsistence but full-fledged food security and nutritional quality.

Incentivizing productivity

The plan has two parts, and the first is predominantly centered on enhancing beekeeping and increasing agricultural productivity with a view to marketing native species such as açaí berries and babassu coconuts. In a second step, it is planned to develop a biodiversity corridor linking intact forest areas – within an area of 2,210 square kilometers – between Maranhão and Pará. Primarily the focus is on habitat restoration and “sustainable agroforestry systems,” but Suzano’s outlook is far broader. The hypothesized corridors should extend by 2030 over 5,000 square kilometers “of priority areas in the Amazon, Atlantic Forest, and Cerrado biomes of Brazil.” Animal species at risk of extinction precisely because of the alteration of their living environments should also benefit: jaguar, grooved toucan, South American tapir and satanasso chiropote are just a few examples. In the affected areas, Suzano has a presence with some of its activities, but it was the dialogue with Sofidel that sparked the spark. «For a long time,» recalled Andrea Piazzolla, «we had been hypothesizing that we could affect the future by working together, at the head of a partnership that has lasted two decades and has seen us grow. When I first visited its factories in 2006, Sofidel was a medium-sized player that was starting to approach Europe from Italy; and Suzano was producing about 1.5 million tons of pulp a year: now we are both players on the relevant global landscapes.»

A beautiful environment for growing up

The development path of the two companies has taken place under the same values of respect for the environment and social responsibility. Already among the Climate Savers of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Tuscan company constantly invests in efficiency and owes 96 percent of the water needed for its processes to reuse. In the future, it would like the share of energy produced from renewable sources with which it powers its plants to reach at least 84 percent. «What we do» the purchasing manager pointed out, however, «must also reflect on and involve the supply chain, with a view to an almost natural extension of our relationship. We think of the supply chain as a multiplier of opportunities. Together we plant the future wants to be an example to others and attract them so that the future is better.» What is taking shape in Brazil is «a shared mission, made up of best practices and solutions pooled with suppliers»; it is the culmination of a lasting relationship and almost an obligatory outlet for those who, like the Tuscan brand, run a sustainable procurement site and a thematic magazine. And that it finally monitors supplier behavior by rewarding the green-oriented ones and penalizing, up to and including exclusion from the chain, the bad ones. In the name of the greatest possible transparency, the results of the project should be published regularly and certified by Bureau Veritas; and the next update is expected in December when some of the promises made should have materialized.

Made in Italy is leading by example

This is also the expectation of Suzano, which through the mouth of the general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Paulo Jose de Souza Chaer Borges outlined the cornerstones of the company’s philosophy. Understanding «the characteristics of places and communities» with a view to their empowerment-self-sufficiency and self-support-is crucial, and the goal is «to lift something like 200,000 people out of poverty between now and the end of the decade. » Hence, «on previously degraded lands» reforestation and restoration programs have been initiated with the planting of 1.2 million plants per day on an area of 1.7 million hectares to which a million more hectares of conservation lands are added. From here come «as many daily-use tissue items as tissues,” and if Sofidel was chosen as an ally it is because of its being “a pioneer in sustainability” and therefore “a benchmark.» Sixty percent of the land involved is for harvesting and replanting; 40 for restoration: eucalyptus is favored for a variety of reasons ranging from its strength and resilience to its preservation possibilities; to its ability to provide larger wood masses. It is not only the plants and the ecosystem that are the beneficiaries of Suzano and Sofidel’s joint action. People are in turn, and the intention is to provide them with training about area conservation and strategies to achieve it, based on a “synergistic and long-term vision.”