It was nearly 23 years ago I started this company with a premise. That premise was that the pulp and paper industry was being clobbered by bad public relations related to its environmental performance and that it made more sense to work on the public relations than deal with lawsuits. That premise proved wrong, for industry management at the time and for some years thereafter thought the lawsuit route was more "fun" (That is my interpretation. They sure spent a lot of money on nothing if they weren't having fun). I moved on to other ways to spin my invoice printer.
Time for a bold prediction again, but I am not staking my company's future success on it this time, for I know how long it takes for our industry to react to current conditions.
Three things came together to help me draw this conclusion. The first was the continually developing situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and the meeting called by President Obama at the White House just yesterday to discuss it with key leaders around the country. The second is the case of Oliver Fairfield, a white student and senior at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, who said, concerning a recent mugging he experienced, "Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as 'thugs?' It's precisely this kind of 'otherization' that fuels the problem."
The third is the Greenpeace press release of 26 November 2014 titled: "Best Buy Accused of Destroying Ancient Forest for Throwaway Flyers: New Greenpeace Report." This press release makes the case that by buying paper from Resolute Forest Products, Best Buy is destroying the Canadian Boreal Forest.
So here is the logical next thing to worry about. Certain minority elements of the population have been saying, with some justification, that their position in life is based on the position of their forefathers who were treated very poorly by those in power at the time. Little argument about that. However, since the 1960s, many social programs have been implemented to correct these problems, often with weak results. Thus I believe the next logical step is to come directly to companies and demand that a portion of their equity be turned over to the disenfranchised as restitution for society's past sins. Whether the demand for this distribution will be made on the behalf of individuals or groups purporting to represent vast swaths of individuals, it is too early to say. What it isn't too early to say is that this demand is coming and it is as plain as day to me that this will happen.
Will it take laws to do this? I don't know. I can tell you this, if one large company thinks they can gain a marketing advantage by voluntarily doing this, they will carefully weigh the costs versus the long term benefits and make a move if it makes sense for them. For public companies choosing this path, this will be fairly easy--they will dilute their stock by issuing shares, law or no law. Private companies will find it harder to play.
If you think I have lost my mind, and you are over fifty, think about what we have done to appease the environmental community. Twenty or thirty years ago, did you think we would spend the kind of money and make the kinds of concessions we have for that cause? Of course not, but we have done it, haven't we?
This is coming and the prudent will begin thinking about it now.
Jim Thompson is Executive Editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.