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The Final Word by Jim Thompson

The US presidential election is over and the results hold ominous signs for industries such as the pulp and paper industry.  It was reported before the election that the US EPA had 200 employees working on stricter coal regulations which they were prepared to move into the approval process in November and December, in the event the current administration was defeated.  Their logic was if they could start these down the approval path, it would be very difficult for a new administration to derail them.  With the reelection of the current administration, they are no doubt emboldened and on the same schedule.

I have been, as loud as I know how, telling the industry for more than twenty years now that we must educate the public if we ever want to win the Public Relations War, the most important one.  In the early years, I was completely ignored, industry leaders preferring to hire lawyers and fight it out in court.  We lost the early battles.  Finally, in the last ten years or so, the industry has started educating the public on our environmental record.  Yet, the industry is still behind the times.  The public has moved on--the public clearly believes governments and NGOs are far more credible than industry.  In other words, we have been reduced to the category of liars from which no information is ever trustworthy.

We don't see this big picture, for the general public close to our mills, close to our headquarters knows us and know we supply jobs.  It is the distant population, the population that sees us as uncaring monoliths that have these opinions and wage this war.

We probably have one last chance to influence this situation.  It has to be done at the grass roots level and at distances far from our mills.  If we don't do this, expect nationalization as the next step.  But how do we do this?  Well, we start with the publicity medium that is in our hands--the packaging we make and the packaging we use to deliver our products to our customers.  We have to take space on that packaging to do more than put tiny symbols that say "FSC" or something else. We have to take space, much larger space on our packaging to deliver the positive message about our industry. 

We are in a struggle for our independence as companies.  We have tried appeasement and it has not worked.  We must change the message if we have any hope of long term survival as independent industrial companies.


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