Goodyear's new sustainable natural rubber procurement policy made its debut under circumstances that must have galled the tire maker's top executives. Three days after the plan was unveiled, Mighty Earth—an environmental organization which had praised the sustainable NR programs of Goodyear's competitors—claimed the Goodyear plan looked inadequate on its face.
"We welcome this policy, but it's up to Goodyear to show that it has teeth," said Kristin Urquiza, campaign director for Mighty Earth.
According to Urquiza, the Goodyear plan lacked provisions and clarifications contained in the programs of other tire makers such as Bridgestone, Michelin and Continental.
Mighty Earth especially criticized Goodyear for buying rubber frequently from Dau Tieng Rubber Corp., a Vietnamese firm with plantations in Cambodia, and Hevecam, a plantation operator in Cameroon.
"By continued purchasing from these companies, Goodyear is not only engaging with suppliers found to be operating destructive plantations, but also turning a blind eye to the possibility of tainted rubber entering their tire supply chain," the organization said.
Goodyear was quick to respond. The company said it had consulted several non-governmental organizations in crafting its sustainable NR policy. Mighty Earth was not one of them, but Goodyear said it has since reached out to the organization for its feedback.
Goodyear also said it was working proactively with its suppliers to make improvements in the supply chain. "Failure to comply with our policy may result in suspension or termination of the business relationship," the company said.
It is too soon to make blanket judgments about any tire maker's individual sustainability plans. Goodyear has set goals identical to those of other tire companies, including labor rights, responsible land management, sustainable production, supporting smallholder livelihoods and regular audits of the supply chain. It said it will also consult external experts to focus on sustainability issues and close compliance gaps. Surely Goodyear and all other tire makers should be allowed to show how they will implement and enforce their plans.
The Tire Industry Project, a sustainability initiative by Goodyear and 10 other tire companies, strongly suggests that tire makers will aid and support each other's sustainability programs, uniting to ensure transparency and fairness.
It is interesting to note that Mighty Earth has expressed reservations about the efficacy of the TIP. The issues addressed by the TIP and the corporate sustainability programs are far too important to be allowed to fail. They will decide not only whether natural rubber will continue to exist as a commodity, but whether the ecosystems and communities that produce it can survive. One thing we can count on is that no one knows this better than the leaders of the tire industry.