Drivers given even more options to support sustainable natural rubber production as PROJECT TREE grows with Continental tyres

Kwik Fit today announces that following a successful pilot, it is making more tyres available which support sustainable natural rubber production and help protect the rainforests of Indonesia.  Over the last four months, many customers at Kwik Fit have purchased a selection of Pirelli UK tyres which are helping fund PROJECT TREE, an innovative sustainability programme in Sumatra.  Now the choice has been significantly widened with the addition of ranges from premium tyre manufacturers Hankook and Continental.

PROJECT TREE is a new initiative which aims to help meet the demand for natural rubber through sustainable and ethical methods.  The supply of natural rubber used in tyres, among many other applications, relies on thousands of farmers who tap the rubber trees on their small holdings and sell the raw latex to collectors, dealers and processers. The project is designed to bring transparency to this natural rubber supply chain, encouraging sustainable practices while at the same time protecting the livelihoods of the smallholders dependent on rubber for their family’s income. 

Under the PROJECT TREE scheme, a portion of the purchase price of each supported tyre is allocated to the farmers supported by the programme. In the four month pilot phase, Kwik Fit has seen sales of Pirelli PROJECT TREE tyres exceed expectations, in spite of the small cost premium.  With the addition of ranges from Hankook (last month) and Continental (this week) Kwik Fit expects to sell over 150,000 PROJECT TREE tyres this year.

Project Tree: Transparent Rubber Ecosystem for Earth

Mark Slade, managing director of Kwik Fit, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting PROJECT TREE, which could provide a template for ensuring the sustainability of rubber production in the long term.  Perhaps surprisingly, given the current pressures on everyone’s day to day living costs, the initial experience with the project has shown that car owners have chosen to support more sustainable production through their buying decisions and have been willing to pay a modest premium for these tyres.”

PROJECT TREE has developed a proprietary traceability system which uses blockchain technology to track and inspect the supply chain.  This software is designed to help prevent rubber entering the system from inside the conservation area.

A historic problem in natural rubber production has been that increases in demand have seen communities clearing land, in some cases illegally, in order to plant new rubber trees.  Not only is this land clearance a serious issue, but it has often been counter-productive.  With a rubber tree taking around six years before they can be tapped, the spike in demand may have disappeared by the time these newly planted trees are producing latex, resulting in oversupply. 

The PROJECT TREE team is working with communities by offering incentives and training to help improve yields on existing land.  This will enable farmers to increase production more quickly than planting new trees and will also help halt the loss of biodiversity.  As many smallholders do not have bank accounts, the project will operate pool accounts providing farmers with access to education, tools and fertilisers where required.

The project has been developed by ITOCHU, Kwik Fit’s ultimate parent company, through its rubber producing subsidiary PT. Aneka Bumi Pratama (ABP).  Partners in the project include Proforest, a global organisation focused on responsible sourcing and production of agricultural and forest commodities and SNV, a not-for-profit international development organisation that works across sectors of Agriculture, Energy and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), and seeks to make a lasting difference in the lives of people living in poverty through sustainable development.

Mark Slade said: “An ever-growing proportion of consumers are interested in the provenance of the products they buy and by highlighting PROJECT TREE in our centres and online, we can help raise awareness of the whole production process and the impact drivers can make with their choices.  Our long-term ambition is for the vast majority, if not all, the tyres we sell to be supported by PROJECT TREE or an equally robust equivalent scheme.”

The tyres covered by the scheme are available in a range of popular sizes from Pirelli, Hankook and Continental with further manufacturers expected to join the programme in the near future.  Supported tyres are easily identified in Kwik Fit centres or online as they display the PROJECT TREE logo.

PROJECT TREE – how it works
PROJECT TREE uses mass balance credit methodology to certify and reward more sustainable production. Blockchain technology is used to identify the volume of raw latex collected and the location source of this rubber.  This can then be tracked all the way through the supply and processing chain to the point it is delivered to the tyre manufacturer.  

The tyre manufacturer pays a premium for the sustainable rubber which helps protect the price paid to the farmers participating in the scheme.  The tyre manufacturer is awarded a number of credits depending on the quantity of rubber bought under the PROJECT TREE scheme and applies these credits to the equivalent quantity of tyres it produces.  

These tyres can then be selected by the motorist, in this case via Kwik Fit. A portion of the price of the tyre contributes to the cost of PROJECT TREE, with the single largest item being the incentives paid to the smallholders, over and above the market price for rubber.
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