One of Asia's biggest pulp and paper firms said on Wednesday it would stop sourcing from natural forests four years earlier than planned, in an effort to reduce deforestation and protect peatlands, a move cautiously welcomed by green groups.
Unlisted Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) brought forward a previous commitment to only use supplies from its own plantations by 2019, and will now work with green groups to avoid developing forested peatland, expand conservation areas and resolve social conflicts on its land.
"This is a major step in our 15-year sustainability journey," said APRIL President Praveen Singhavi.
APRIL and other palm, pulp and paper firms have been criticised for not doing enough to stop deforestation and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands in Indonesia.
APRIL owns plantations covering around 480,000 hectares and has now conserved about 320,000 hectares of natural forest area in Indonesia.
"This strengthened commitment by APRIL is an encouraging step along the pathway towards responsible and sustainable production," said WWF Indonesia's Aditya Bayunanda.
Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest tropical forests, has surpassed Brazil in clearing tropical forests with losses accelerating despite a 2011 moratorium meant to protect wildlife and combat climate change.
APRIL is part of the PT Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) group, which will also implement sustainability policies, said company director Anderson Tanoto.
Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the move and suspended all campaigns against RGE companies.
Criticism of palm and pulp and paper plantations often intensifies mid-year because of Indonesian forest fires and haze that affect its neighbouring countries.
Indonesia apologised to Singapore and Malaysia in mid-2013, when those countries were blanketed with thick smog from forest fires in Indonesia.