Environmental group holds rally in Greenville to urge tire industry to use deforestation-free rubber

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Photo by Will Crooks/Greenville Journal.

Environmentalists gathered in downtown Greenville on Wednesday afternoon to protest the tire industry’s sustainability policies and to raise awareness of deforestation.

The rally, which was held at the Joel Roberts Poinsett Statue on South Main Street, was organized by Mighty Earth, an environmental nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Speakers included Dr. Frank Powell, a former health science professor and sustainability liaison at Furman University, and Kate Franch, chair of the Greenville County Democratic Party.

Margaret Kran-Annexstein, campaign director at Mighty Earth, said the rally was one of three demonstrations held nationwide as part of the group’s “Driving Deforestation” initiative, which was launched in 2017 and pushes tire manufacturers to responsibly source natural rubber.

Kran-Annexstein said forests throughout Southeast Asia and West Africa are often cleared to make room for growing rubber trees, displacing indigenous communities and destroying important habitat for endangered species, such as tigers, gibbons, and elephants.  

Deforestation also accounts for approximately 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and is a major contributor to climate change, according to Kran-Annexstein. Scientists estimate that increased rates of deforestation for rubber between now and 2024 could release the same amount of carbon dioxide as the country of India does annually.

“The tire industry accounts for a shocking 70 percent of global rubber consumption and, as a result, is a major driver of deforestation, which, as a whole, is responsible for approximately 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions,” Kran-Annexstein said. “As the major consumers of rubber, it’s critical for individual companies to make it clear to their vendors that the rubber they are buying for their tires should be free of deforestation and human rights abuses.”

Photo by Will Crooks/Greenville Journal.

Kran-Annexstein said Mighty Earth decided to organize a rally in Greenville because of its proximity to Michelin North America. The company, which is an affiliate of the Michelin Group in France, has been headquartered off Interstate 85 in Greenville since the 1980s and operates more than a dozen tire plants nationwide, including several in the Upstate.

In addition to Greenville, Mighty Earth also organized rallies in Nashville, Tennessee, where Bridgestone America is headquartered, and Atlanta, where Kumho Tire USA is headquartered, according to Kran-Annexstein.

“Long-term, Mighty Earth is working to break the link between deforestation and agriculture for rubber,” Kran-Annexstein said. “Achieving this goal relies on the private sector immediately stepping up and taking action on an aggressive timeline, and Mighty Earth is committed to encouraging the private sector along this path.”

Several major tire manufacturers, including Michelin and Bridgestone, have adopted policies to address deforestation and other issues related to the natural rubber supply chain, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is working with the tire industry and other stakeholders to develop a Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber.

The platform, which is expected to launch in March of next year, “will work to harmonize standards to improve respect for human rights, prevent land-grabbing, protect biodiversity and water resources, improve yields, and increase supply chain transparency and traceability,” according to a press release from the WBCSD.

Mighty Earth published a critique of the platform shortly after its announcement in October, claiming that neither it nor other non-governmental organizations had been consulted throughout the development process, and that NGOs and other stakeholders, such as academics and small-scale rubber-producing farmers, are currently left out of the platform’s decision-making body.

A new proposal, however, has since been introduced that would alter the structure of the platform so that Mighty Earth and other stakeholders have equitable voting rights, according to Kran-Annexstein. Michelin and other founding members of the platform are expected to vote on the proposal by early 2019.

“In order for the platform to be successful, the tire industry must be prepared to give up the idea that they alone have final control over the platform’s decisions,” Kran-Annexstein said.

Kran-Annexstein noted that Michelin’s policy for sustainable natural rubber is “strong” and that Mighty Earth’s rally in downtown Greenville was intended to thank the tire company for its efforts and to urge it to “encourage other founding members to support the proposal.”

Michelin issued the following statement regarding Mighty Earth’s rally in Greenville:

“Michelin appreciates Mighty Earth’s efforts to raise awareness about sustainable natural rubber production, a discussion that Michelin has led across the tire industry and globally in recent years … Many other global NGOs are working with Michelin and the tire industry in an ongoing dialogue to fine-tune governance and by-laws of a Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber. These discussions are very active and unfolding in a constructive and collaborative manner. At present, however, Mighty Earth stands alone in its opposition; we are hoping the group will rejoin the discussions in pursuit of the goal. All actors of the supply chain, civil society or other stakeholders are welcome to become founding members of the platform before the official launch that is scheduled for March 2019. Zero deforestation and responsible natural rubber production are core elements of Michelin’s long-term approach to sustainable mobility.”

For more information, visit www.mightyearth.org.  

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