One conversation at a time

There are more formally protected grasslands and natural forests under management of the plantation industry, than in any other commercial land use sector. Photo: Mondi
There are more formally protected grasslands and natural forests under management of the plantation industry, than in any other commercial land use sector. Photo: Mondi

In June, I represented both Forestry SA and PAMSA at an event hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at the CSIR. We had put up some banners depicting plantation trees and set up a table with an array of printed brochures.

A student approached our table, looked at the banner and uttered “Forestry…” then asked, “but why do you have paper on the table?” I smiled, and asked her what the first kind of paper she had touched that morning had been. She looked at me quizzically. At this point, a number of other people had approached. I repeated the question, urging them to think very carefully. I prompted, did you pick up a jar of coffee and touch the label? Did you have some cereal from a box? I dropped my voice, and with a wink asked, “What about toilet paper?”

Taa-daa. Sounds of pennies dropping.

I went on to explain that paper and timber products – in countless forms – are made from the wood of farmed trees; that using paper helps to stimulate demand for new trees – and keep people employed; and that paper recycling is still important. Arming them with some fact sheets, I encouraged the students to share what we had discussed – essentially that the wise and responsible use of paper is good for the economy and the environment.

This particular exchange and a few others that night serve as a reminder that as the forestry, pulp and paper industry – including suppliers of technology, equipment and solutions – we need to set the record straight. And this includes removing those dastardly email footers. (Even suppliers to the paper industry – and their PR agencies – ask me to consider the environment before printing my emails.)

And this isn’t only on home soil. A global survey carried out by Two Sides showed that environmental misunderstandings persist. The survey questioned more than 7,000 consumers – including 604 South Africans – worldwide, to gain insight into perceptions on the environmental impacts of print and paper. While there is a notable preference for print on paper in all age groups, there is a strong link between the perceived destruction of rain forests and the use of paper.

Disappointingly, 46% of South African respondents still believe that our forests are shrinking despite the fact that the South African forestry industry plants on average 260,000 trees a day, harvests only 9% of the total plantation area and replants these areas within a year of harvesting. Similarly, only 5% believe European forests have increased in size over the last 50 years.

It is clear that more education is needed to raise awareness about the industry’s positive environmental activities, in particular its commitment to sustainable forest management and recycling.

How do we change this story? One conversation at a time is a good start.

Samantha Choles | Editor, TAPPSA Journal

[This post features as my Upfront editorial in Volume 4 2016 of the Tappsa Journal.]

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