Weeks after Greenpeace released a study identifying brands that source leather from unsustainable cattle ranches in the Amazon, Nike and Timberland have announced new policies to prevent deforestation there.
Nike will require its suppliers to certify that leather is not coming from the Amazonian region, and Timberland will now require its suppliers to certify that leather is not source from newly deforested tracts of Amazonian forest. Timberland is also working -- and had been before the release of the Greenpeace report, apparently -- on policies to steer the entire cattle industry away from deforestation in the Amazon.
Will other companies follow suit? According to Greenpeace, other U.S. brands that continue to source their leather and beef from unsustainable ranches in the Amazon include Adidas, Boss, Clarks, Eagle Ottawa (which supplies car interiors for BMW, Ford, Honda, Toyota and others), Geox, Gucci, Hilfiger, IKEA, Kraft, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Reebok and Wal-Mart.
The advocacy group urged consumers to ask those brands to clean up their supply chains, so that they source leather from ranches that don't eat up the rainforest. A similar effort in 2006 is credited with stopping the rate of deforestation from soy farming in the Amazon.
The Greenpeace report traced the leather used in consumer products like shoes and car interiors back through various suppliers to its source on cattle ranches in the Brazilian Amazon. These ranches cutting new swaths from the Amazonian jungle are the single largest contributor to global deforestation, representing 14% of all forests lost each year, according to Greenpeace. An acre of rainforest is lost every eight seconds, and the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from deforestation help make Brazil the world's No. 4 greenhouse gas polluter in the world.
Greenpeace lodges its biggest criticism, though, against the government of Brazil, which it says has supported the growth in the nation's cattle industry (which at 200 million head is the largest in the world) at the same time that it is a part owner of three of the nation's largest cattle businesses, Bertin, JBS and Marfrig.
A recent NASA analysis illustrates how deforestation spread so quickly through the Amazon, using the western state of Rondonia, where about one in three acres of forest has been cleared:
"Deforestation follows a fairly predictable pattern in these images. The first clearings that appear in the forest are in a fishbone pattern, arrayed along the edges of roads. Over time, the fishbones collapse into a mixture of forest remnants, cleared areas, and settlements. This pattern follows one of the most common deforestation trajectories in the Amazon. Legal and illegal roads penetrate a remote part of the forest, and small farmers migrate to the area. They claim land along the road and clear some of it for crops. Within a few years, heavy rains and erosion deplete the soil, and crop yields fall. Farmers then convert the degraded land to cattle pasture, and clear more forest for crops. Eventually the small land holders, having cleared much of their land, sell it or abandon it to large cattle holders, who consolidate the plots into large areas of pasture."
These two images, of the same land in 2000 and 2008, illustrate the rate of change in the Amazonian landscape in Brazil's Rondonia state:
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