Quick summary: Explore the sustainable journey from 'Tree to Tyre' in the rubber industry. Uncover how responsible rubber cultivation is redefining the sector while safeguarding the environment. Dive into the world of sustainable rubber production in our latest blog
Sustainable Rubber is increasingly in the spotlight for manufacturers, as both consumers and companies become more discerning about the environmental and social consequences of rubber production.
Rubber holds a prominent place in the automotive industry, with tire manufacturers being the largest global consumers of natural rubber, accounting for over 70% of the annual global rubber production.
Indonesia, the world’s second-largest rubber producer, relies heavily on the rubber industry, with approximately 90% of rubber plantation areas managed by independent smallholders, directly impacting the livelihoods of over 2.5 million households. However, these smallholders face challenges in achieving higher yields due to unsustainable practices and aging rubber trees, hindering their socio-economic progress. Furthermore, these unsustainable practices place a growing burden on the environment.
In our blog post, we embark on a journey that unravels the ‘Tree to Tyre’ concept, shedding light on how sustainable rubber cultivation is redefining the industry while safeguarding our planet. Join us in discovering the story of rubber’s sustainable evolution.
The rubber industry plays a vital role worldwide. Global production primarily involves two types: natural rubber from rubber trees and synthetic rubber derived from petrochemicals. Rubber finds applications in diverse sectors, such as automobile tires, footwear, construction materials, industrial products, medical equipment, and consumer goods. This versatile material is central to modern life, supporting various industries and infrastructure while contributing significantly to global trade and economic development.
The biggest consumer of Natural Rubber is China, followed by India, EU, US, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia, each using between 4 and 9 % of the global production.
The natural rubber sector holds a pivotal position in the economies of numerous developing nations, with a special focus on the primary producing and exporting countries in Southeast Asia. These countries collectively account for around 90% of the world’s natural rubber production. The industry contributes significantly, generating an annual revenue surpassing USD 300 billion and providing livelihoods for approximately 40 million individuals and their families, both directly and indirectly through employment opportunities.
According to an assessment by SPOTT, 79% of natural rubber manufacturers assessed are yet to publicly claim traceability to rubber processor level.
Rubber production poses environmental challenges, notably deforestation and habitat destruction due to land clearing for rubber plantations. This impacts biodiversity and carbon storage. Forest conversion to cropland and plantations is driving land clearing of high-biodiversity forests resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Additionally, the extensive use of pesticides and fertilizers in rubber farming can harm ecosystems. Social challenges include labor issues and land conflicts, as smallholders and indigenous communities sometimes face exploitation and displacement. Sustainable practices are essential to mitigate these adverse effects.
Hence, it becomes imperative to advocate for sustainability within the natural rubber supply chain as a means of tackling environmental and social challenges. An environmentally and socially sustainable natural rubber supply chain plays a significant role in preserving well-functioning ecosystems and advocating for the adoption of optimal harvesting practices in both industrial and individual plantations. Furthermore, sustainability holds a critical position in the natural rubber supply chain by upholding traditional land rights and enhancing the well-being and working conditions of smallholder farmers and the broader community.
Rubber cultivation begins with planting rubber trees, typically the Hevea brasiliensis species. After several years of growth, latex collection commences. Latex, a milky sap, is obtained by making shallow diagonal cuts on the tree’s bark using a specialized tool, a process known as tree tapping. The latex then flows into a collection cup or container. Tappers revisit the trees regularly for latex harvesting, ensuring sustainable yield without harming the tree’s health.
Traceability is one of the most challenging aspects of sustainability in the natural rubber supply chain since more than 90 per cent of the global natural rubber is produced by independent smallholders, with little or no interaction with downstream companies.
.A Proforest study commissioned by the Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) has identified six categories of environmental risks, namely, land use change, biodiversity loss, water, soil, air quality and climate change
The rubber supply chain grapples with multiple challenges.
Addressing these concerns through sustainable practices and responsible sourcing is crucial for the rubber industry’s long-term viability.
In 2018, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development launched GPSNR with the objective of addressing concerns pertaining to the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the natural rubber supply chain. The overarching vision of GPSNR is to foster a natural rubber value chain that is characterized by fairness, equity, and environmental responsibility. Its core mission is to spearhead enhancements in both the socio-economic and environmental aspects of the natural rubber value chain. GPSNR is deeply committed to encouraging the adoption of sustainable natural rubber practices in the global marketplace by confronting issues such as forest conversion, biodiversity depletion, violations of human and labor rights, and inequalities within the natural rubber supply chain.
Several companies and organizations are actively promoting sustainable rubber production. The “Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative” (SNR-i) is a collaborative effort by tire manufacturers, such as Michelin and Bridgestone, to improve sustainability in the industry. Companies like The Body Shop and Patagonia are also committed to sourcing sustainable rubber. These initiatives prioritize responsible sourcing, reduced deforestation, and fair labor practices, showcasing the industry’s shift toward sustainability.
Having a sustainable supply chain is key for the industry, as this translates into resilience, sustainability, reliability and stability in a very competitive market.
Certification systems like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Rainforest Alliance have expanded their focus beyond timber and agriculture to promote responsible rubber sourcing. They set standards for environmentally and socially responsible rubber production. These certifications ensure sustainable land management, reduced deforestation, and fair treatment of workers. They provide consumers with assurance that their rubber products meet ethical and environmental standards, encouraging more responsible supply chains in the rubber industry.
Blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) are bolstering traceability and transparency in rubber supply chains. IoT sensors on trees and in collection cups monitor latex production, ensuring efficiency and quality. Blockchain technology records every step in the supply chain, making data accessible and immutable. This enables stakeholders to track the journey of rubber products, confirming their ethical and sustainable origins and fostering greater trust in the supply chain.
Innovations in sustainable rubber farming and processing are advancing environmental and social responsibility. These include drought-resistant rubber tree varieties, reducing water use. Precision agriculture techniques optimize resource efficiency. Sustainable processing methods are reducing emissions and chemical usage. Additionally, the development of bio-based and recycled rubber materials contributes to eco-friendly products and circular economies in the rubber industry.
Consumer awareness and responsible purchasing decisions play a pivotal role in driving sustainability in the rubber industry. Informed consumers who choose products with ethical and eco-friendly sourcing send a clear message to companies to adopt responsible practices. By supporting sustainably sourced rubber, consumers can contribute to the preservation of ecosystems, fair labor conditions, and overall environmental health. Their choices wield considerable influence in shaping the future of rubber production.
Tips for consumers to support sustainable rubber supply chains
The Business Case for Sustainable Rubber
Businesses gain several advantages from investing in sustainable rubber supply chains. They enhance their brand reputation and appeal to eco-conscious consumers, potentially increasing sales. Sustainable practices can reduce operational costs and resource use. Improved supply chain transparency and resilience mitigate risks. Additionally, adhering to ethical and environmental standards helps meet regulatory requirements, ensuring long-term viability and access to environmentally conscious markets.
The recent consensus on the EUDR, which incorporates natural rubber into the list of regulated commodities, underscores the growing need for manufacturers in the natural rubber industry to reveal geo-location data concerning their upstream production sites. This shift places a heightened emphasis on reinforcing due diligence practices.
As per the EUDR, businesses introducing products to the EU market or exporting from it must prove that their products, including rubber derivatives like gloves, tires, and apparel, are free from deforestation and adhere to legal standards. Non-compliance with the EUDR could result in penalties of up to 4% of a company’s EU-wide turnover.
Research conducted by ZSL reveals that merely 7% of companies provide documented evidence of routine deforestation monitoring in their supplier operations.
Companies like Michelin have made significant strides in adopting eco-friendly rubber sourcing. They’ve committed to sustainably harvesting natural rubber through the “Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative” (SNR-i). Similarly, tire manufacturer Bridgestone is actively pursuing sustainable rubber supply chains to reduce deforestation and protect ecosystems. These initiatives align with growing consumer demand for responsible and eco-friendly products, setting positive examples for the rubber industry.
TraceX’s blockchain traceability solutions empower rubber companies to establish a transparent, efficient, and responsible supply chain. This not only ensures compliance with regulations but also enhances product quality, safety, and consumer trust, ultimately benefiting the company’s bottom line and sustainability efforts.
The blockchain technology allows for the creation of an immutable ledger that records every step in the rubber supply chain. This transparency ensures that each transaction and movement of rubber is traceable, providing a clear view of the product’s journey from source to end-user.
The blockchain traceability helps rubber companies prove that their products are sourced responsibly and sustainably. This is particularly important as consumers and regulatory bodies are increasingly focused on ethical and environmentally friendly practices.
In conclusion, the rubber industry’s sustainability efforts are vital for mitigating environmental and social challenges associated with its production. Sustainable practices and responsible sourcing, coupled with technological innovations and consumer awareness, hold the key to a more eco-friendly and socially responsible rubber supply chain. Businesses that invest in sustainability can reap economic and reputational benefits while safeguarding our planet’s fragile ecosystems and the well-being of local communities.