Stakeholder feedback is essential to operations development

Matti Maajärvi
Matti Maajärvi
Environmental Specialist, UPM Wood Sourcing and Forestry, North Europe
13 October 2017

Companies do not operate in a realm separated from society and the rest of the world. Businesses are constantly interacting with customers, authorities and other parties operating in the field. The array of stakeholder groups is particularly vast for companies in the forest industry. This is because forestry and wood sourcing have a wide circle of influence and are subject to a great variety of needs and objectives that stem from the pluralistic nature of the forest.

At UPM Forest, we receive a great deal of feedback from different groups of stakeholders. General interest in forestry activities has increased in recent years. Furthermore, the increase in environmental awareness and the emphasis on multiple-use forestry have also raised questions regarding the environmental responsibility of forestry and wood sourcing. Naturally, the stakeholders who are typically active in these issues consist of eNGO’s. Their feedback usually concerns matters related to forest biodiversity, such as valuable habitats and endangered species.

How does UPM Forest react to the environmental feedback received?

UPM Forest has a standard approach to processing stakeholder feedback. It consists of storing the feedback, investigating the subject internally within the company, responding to the sender and implementing any measures resulting from the feedback when necessary. The entire feedback process is documented.
When feedback is processed within the company, it is always sent to the party responsible for the operations in question. This helps to ensure that first-hand information on the issue is available and that the content of the feedback reaches the people who are responsible for the actual operations.

For feedback on valuable habitats and issues involving endangered species, the observations reported to us are verified and the observed conservation values are recorded in the forest plan. This means that they can be taken into consideration when planning and implementing practical measures. This cannot always be accomplished within a day or a week. For example, the time of year may affect the timeframe for making observations in the field and subsequently processing the feedback in the appropriate manner. In some cases, we may also obtain an outsider’s perspective to get to the bottom of the issue. This may involve visiting the site with the authorities or the person who sent the feedback, for instance.

Feedback is a part of operations development

Pieces of stakeholder feedback related to environmental matters are important indications of the environmental quality of our operations. We apply a large range of quality criteria, including both our own standard operating procedures and the binding obligations of the company. They constitute the minimum quality standard for our operations. For its part, feedback is also indicative of how we have succeeded in meeting this standard. In addition, feedback provides insights into how we are perceived as an operator, as well as current trends in public opinion.
Stakeholder feedback focused on forest nature usually concerns biodiversity-related values that we have previously been unaware of. These observations complete the company’s own nature value mapping conducted in conjunction with forestry planning. Approximately 40,000 natural sites in our forests have been recorded in UPM’s geographic information system. Some of these records have a direct connection to stakeholder feedback.
UPM Forest employs certified environmental and quality management systems and we are highly committed to forest certification. These systems include requirements related to the appropriate processing of stakeholder feedback. Our standard of documenting and processing stakeholder feedback is verified during external audits, i.e. independent third-party evaluations of the certified systems. Critical feedback is often reviewed during audits, especially in matters related to forest certification. Furthermore, if necessary, a dialogue can be set up between the feedback sender, auditor and UPM Forest to find a solution to the issue in question.

Genuine collaboration in environmental development

The content of environment-focused stakeholder feedback typically consists of senders expressing their belief that the company has done or is about to do something wrong in its operations. These situations are managed in accordance with the feedback handling process described above. When we receive feedback on an issue such as a previously unknown occurrence of an endangered species in an area where felling has been planned, we communicate the issue to the persons responsible for the local operations and determine the extent to which this species occurs in the felling area. If necessary, the information in the forest and felling plans is updated based on the observation before any measures are taken.

In order for this approach to work, the feedback needs to include sufficiently accurate and detailed information about the observation and the location where it was made. We protect the conservation values that we are aware of by taking the appropriate measures for the species or habitat in question, in accordance with our obligations. However, indicating the location at the estate or stand level is not accurate enough. Knowing the exact location is an essential prerequisite for managing the issue in an appropriate manner, especially where individual species are concerned.

We appreciate feedback which informs us if any part of our operations has failed to meet the set requirements. This type of feedback helps us to tackle the aspects of our operations that require further development. Instead of—or at least in addition to—purposely finding fault, we hope that the feedback offers constructive suggestions for collaborative development. We are more than happy to engage in dialogue with society and the other parties involved to develop forestry in an environmentally responsible direction and in a positive atmosphere.

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