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Kavickumar Muruganathan, APP's sustainability and stakeholder engagement manager

Boycotting products not necessarily the best solution to combating the haze

Boycotting products is a solution to combating the haze; but not necessarily the best, says Kavickumar Muruganathan, one of the nominees of the inaugural Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award earlier this year.

Following the accusation by Singapore's National Environment Agency which said that it was seeking information from Asia Pulp and Paper under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, Indonesian officials against Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), the company's products like Paseo and Livi were swiftly removed from the supermarkets by several of Singapore’s largest supermarket chains, including NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong Group Ltd.

The environmental engineer, who was heading the Eco-Certification team at the Singapore Environment Council, where he assessed and administered the Singapore Green Label , joined APP on 18 April 2016 as a sustainability and stakeholder engagement manager.

The 28-year-old, who is currently about to complete his Masters in Environmental Management at the National University of Singapore, said: “Boycotts should only be used as a last resort, not a first. Looking back to the haze episode of 2015, the response and the groundswell was unprecedented, and totally unexpected. Education would have had a better sustained impact, and in the end with better education, the public would then have been able to decide on their own which products they should be buying and which ones they should be leaving on the shelves.”

Kavickumar explained how the landscape in Indonesia and on the ground was a complex matter which required a lot of understanding, and collaborations from many parties.

“One company alone will never be able to solve the haze problem and it requires a many hands on deck approach,” he added.

Exploiters of the forest often get away with burning land as traceability is a major problem in Indonesia. The authorities are not able to accurately allocate land tenures, as they are seldom aware of what is happening on the ground. This includes disputes over land ownership and responsibility, which only perpetuates the cycle of confusion.

Operating vastly different from other industry players operating in Indonesia, APP has placed maps of its concession lands online on its website and worked with world resources institute which has access to its maps since 2013. All its suppliers are also made known online on its website, making it an easy target for claims on its culpability.

Kavickumar said: “Major companies like APP can be influencers for the entire landscape. APP has been exemplary in how they have been transforming their operations and greening their supply chain since they introduced the Forest Conservation Policy in 2013.."

On why Kavickumar decided to join APP, a company which has been blacklisted by Singapore retailers, he said: "More recently, even the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) posted on its website and informed stakeholders that FSC’s roadmap to end its disassociation with the council was up for discussion. This is a significant step in the right direction as the FSC is a certification programme which is recognised around the world. If FSC recognises the value of what APP is doing, it is hard to justify the kind of actions which have been taken against them.”

In his post on Facebook which announced Kavickumar’s appointment, APP’s Vice-President of Corporate Affairs (Singapore) Jose Raymond said: “Kavickumar has a stellar record in environmental management. His appointment to APP (Singapore) further reflects our commitment to Singapore and our regional markets.”

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An expert in carbon footprint assessment and reporting, Kavickumar was a member of the Singapore Standards Council Technical Committees & Working Group for Paints & Surface Coatings, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Management, and Environmental Management System.

He is also a National Environment Agency-certified Environmental Control Officer, an ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and ISO 18001 Lead Auditor and an approved HazMat expert.