Presented By

Most talk about conservation and travel tends to revolve around reducing emissions: fewer pollutants means fewer harmful climate changes.

But protecting the environment isn’t just about tailpipes; it’s about tires and the rubber that’s used to make them. Right now, most of it comes from exotic tree plantations in Southeast Asia. Since the 1980s, its production has led to the loss of hundreds of millions of acres of natural forest, threatening the species that call those places home.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Last month, Michelin, the world’s largest buyer of natural rubber, announced a new zero-deforestation policy, setting the bar for the rest of the industry. Its goal is to produce rubber responsibly, working in places like Indonesia’s Thirty Hills region to design wildlife-friendly plantations that offer sustainable income for local communities. The move comes on the heels of the U.N.’s 2014 Climate Summit in New York City, where 53 of the world’s largest companies–sans the rubber industry–pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.

To be sure, plenty of work lies ahead, especially in the Tanintharyi landscape (along the border of Burma and Thailand), where rising rubber production could wipe out some of the richest mammal populations in Asia. But that work must be done. Our tires should support the wheels of progress–not leave behind a path of destruction.

Roberts is the president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund

This appears in the July 25, 2016 issue of TIME.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at

You May Also Like