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Management Side
Demonstrating that trees are the answer
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In our last column, we discussed one of the founders of Greenpeace's views on the merits of active forestry, along with the associated pulp, paper and lumber mills, and other forest products manufacturing operations. Patrick Moore made it clear that, in his view, today's forest products industry is environmentally preferable to many alternatives, as well as being an essential component in our modern living standard.

Coincidentally, Steve Roush interviewed Dr. Moore for PaperMoney and Pulp & Paper Radio International.

In Dr. Moore's opinion, it is clear to those who understand the facts that the environmental performance of today's forest products industry is good, except for a small number of pulp mills and forestry operations. However, the industry's image in the minds of many environmental activists and much of the general public remains negative. Even unbiased academics continue to publish on the basis of some data from the last century that (sometimes accurately) portrays pulp mills as significant polluters, and forestry operations as rapacious and unsustainable.

Improving the industry's image so that the brightest youngsters want to work in it, and so that developers of new mills do not have to face massive and unreasonable public opposition, remains a challenge.

In its early days Greenpeace, including Dr. Moore himself, had many justifiable complaints about the industry's environmental performance. However, his recent speeches and publications show that he recognizes the substantial technical, financial and human resources that, over the past forty years or so, the industry has devoted to correcting almost all environmental deficiencies of pulp and paper mills.

When customers of paper companies announce that they are moving away from paper for environmental reasons, usually under pressure from activist groups, we don't see much rebuttal. Many critics of the industry are just plain wrong, and should be held to account by logical, scientifically sound questioning, or at least challenges by the industry.

For example, Sprint recently announced that the company would test using paper made from wheat straw, stating that it is considered environmentally preferable to paper made from wood. Presumably, Sprint considers that this will be good for the company's public image. There is no sign in the Sprint's announcements on how they determined that the wheat based paper is indeed environmentally superior. In the past, mills using annual plants discharged horrible effluents, and some readers will assume this is true in the case of Sprint's paper. I have been informed by Bob Hurter that the particular mill supplying the paper to Sprint has excellent effluent control.

The wheat-based paper is being imported from India, which will of course involve the carbon footprint of the transport. However, none of the US companies losing markets for their wood-based paper seems to have made any public efforts to question whether the wheat paper is environmentally superior.

Two Sides (www.twosidesna.org and www.twosides.info) has published many good arguments in favour of paper, but do not seem to reach the media as effectively as many environmental activists. Perhaps this is because the activists have more money. Greenpeace has an annual budget of over $300 million, some of which is dedicated to limiting paper industry growth.

Two Sides has had good success in persuading organizations to cease exhorting readers of emails to avoid printing them to save trees. This was achieved by direct contact with the parties involved, rather than public arguments. Unfortunately, this campaign was slow to get under way, since the paper industry did not initially jump in and support it.

There are still a few mills in the industry causing significant and measurable harm to the environment. Their operators tend to defend themselves by legalities and skillful politics while the affected public gets increasingly annoyed. Perhaps it is time for industry associations to take action to pressure the few bad actors to improve their performance.

The Scandinavian pulp and paper industry has a much better image that the North American, and has generally resolved environmental issues with relatively little conflict and without spending any more money. One reason is that the companies actively promote their image in the universities to attract the best young graduates. Another reason is that the mills have active programs to show off their facilities to the public.

When we visited the Stora Enso mill at Lapeenranta a few years ago, we noticed a busload of tourists being shown around. The manager told us that they had about 35,000 tourists per year through the mill. This is a marked contrast to the policies of many major companies in the US who rarely allow even legitimate equipment salesmen past the front office, and make those that enter the mill sign extensive confidentiality agreements.

The last time I visited a US mill, it was by the management's invitation, but we spent over an hour in the front office reviewing and signing multipage confidentiality agreements. One of the corporate lawyers spent the hour with us, and had presumably spent some more hours preparing the paperwork. The subsequent mill tour was still somewhat restricted.

Which company approach builds more public trust?

 

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