As rubber demand and production continue to increase, large consumers, producers, and the international community have become increasingly aware of the negative environmental and social impacts of rubber production. Rubber is a $30 billion cash crop, and global consumption is expected to reach 19.4 million tons by 2020, according to the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). A total surplus of 1 million tons of natural rubber by 2020 is also predicted. All stakeholders are driving significant initiatives to drive the adoption of sustainable rubber in the supply chain.
The International Rubber Study Group, headquartered in Singapore, is a network of 36 member countries (including EU member-states) and 120 rubber producers and consumers, and is the “sole international body representing the global rubber industry.” It is the leading source of data on the production, consumption, and economic status of rubber.
Within the IRSG, the Sustainable Natural Rubber Working Group works to define sustainability standards and has created the Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative (SNR-i). The SNR-i puts forth guidelines and criteria for best practices that organizations can voluntarily choose to adopt. The IRSG’s primary goal is to promote the adoption of sustainably produced rubber and efficient material usage. It also recognizes the importance of promoting transparent supply chain communication, which cannot achieved without a clear process in place for supplier engagement.
Other international groups are also spearheading collaboration across industries. A conference on sustainable rubber will take place in Yunnan, China Oct 16-19 this year. The conference is hosted by The Platform on Sustainable Rubber, a non-profit that aims to “facilitate communication among researchers, government agencies and industry groups concerned with the sustainability of rubber cultivation.”
According to the organization, China is a significant driver of the increasing demand for natural latex, with rubber cultivation primarily occurring in SE Asia. The acreage of rubber plantations has nearly doubled between 1983 and 2012, leading to a significant loss of natural forest habitat and greenhouse gas emissions. Poor labor conditions and increased poverty are also cited as some of the ethical consequences of accelerated rubber production.
Rubber consumers are also actively incorporating sustainable rubber initiatives into their business practices. Bridgestone and Yulex have invested in projects to drive sustainable alternatives to rubber in 2013, and Toyota recently announced its commitment to sustainable rubber by becoming the first car manufacturer to sign a partnership agreement with WWF. Companies focused on providing sustainable rubber options are also on the rise, such as Tellus Technology which was founded in 2011.