Perceptions of the forestry industry : a case study of Sappi forests in Richmond.
Commercial forestry in South Africa was born out of the need to alleviate the growing demand on limited natural resources. From small beginnings, the industry has grown over the years and currently plays a significant role in South Africa's economy. The industry is a source of employment, foreign exchange and it facilitates a number of downstream processing activities. However, with the growth of the industry, there has also been increasing concern from various sectors over the impacts of the industry on the environment, particularly on water and biodiversity. More recently, concern has also shifted towards challenging the social and economic benefits of timber to local communities. As a result of growing pressure, legislation, policies and institutions have been transformed to ensure that environmental and social issues are taken into consideration in carrying out any form of development. The forestry industry has also changed considerably and understanding stakeholders perceptions has also become evident. In 1995 as part of the process to adhere to ISO 14001 international standards, Sappi forests commissioned a study to enable them to have a better understanding of activities, products and services which could have an impact on the environment. The concerns of the stakeholder were incorporated into their management plan. In continued efforts to improve the image of the forestry industry, this study was commissioned in 1999 with the aim of understanding how peoples perceptions of the industry had changed since 1995. The change of perceptions was determined through structured as well as semi structured interviews. A comparison between the responses in this study with those in Murphy et al. 1995 was undertaken to determine how peoples perceptions had changed since 1995. Even though the forestry industry had included some of the concerns raised by stakeholder and improved their management plans since 1995, peoples perceptions ofthe industry were largely negative. External changes leading to increased awareness in the intervening period were seen as the reason for the lack of change in peoples perceptions. Among others the external changes include increased transformation of environmental legislation both internationally and nationally which is more focused on addressing social as well as environmental issues.
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