SINGAPORE — Indonesian paper producer Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has tapped SPRG, which handles its public relations in Singapore, to oversee its global communications — considered one of the industry's tougher assignments due to the company's environmental practices.

SPRG's new remit includes consolidating and managing APP communications across 11 territories. The agency is charged with working with APP's network of agencies to ensure its sustainability message is "properly communicated" internally and externally, it said.

SPRG will also be working with APP on branding, social and digital communications.

Hiring SPRG comes after the controversial paper giant ended its global relationship with Cohn & Wolfe in 2016. Since then, according to sources familiar with the situation, APP has been working with Edelman, which leads global PR duties from Indonesia. The company also counts relationships with other consultancies, including SPRG in Singapore and WPP's Global Counsel.

The move also comes after considerable changes in APP's sustainability and corporate affairs leadership. In November, Lu Ching Lau stepped down from her role as global communications director after just one year with the controversial company.

Former Singapore army general Bernard Tan now oversees corporate affairs and sustainability, while Elim Sritaba has replaced Aida Greenbury as sustainability head.

The APP assignment is considered one of the tougher briefs in the public relations world, given the scrutiny the company attracts from NGOs over its environmental practices. Cohn & Wolfe, for example, won the global brief in 2010 after Weber Shandwick resigned the business.

Recent criticism of the company has centred on the construction of a massive new pulp mill in South Sumatra. SPRG's mandate in Singapore, accordingly, involves promoting APP's firefighting and haze prevention efforts.

In announcing its win, SPRG noted this year marks the 5th anniversary of the company’s Forest Conservation Policy, which focuses on zero-deforestation and protection of forested peatland. 

APP has also implemented an Integrated Forestry and Farming Scheme under which the company engages with local communities in and around forest concessions. The program provides support, expertise and tools to help these communities transition away from slash and burn agriculture, SPRG said.

“Having worked with APP for the past nine months, we recognize the efforts the company is taking to become a more sustainable business," said SPRG Singapore general manager Edwin Yeo. "We’ve also had the opportunity to see first-hand the challenges and resistance that APP faces as it transforms the business. It’s a tough brief, but we believe that there’s a great story to be told about APP’s journey to sustainability.”