A lot happened in my first week with TFT China. I met the Deputy General Manager of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) China at breakfast on my first day, took a two-day inspection of APP China forest operations, participated in a two-day European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) workshop, had four flights and slept in five different hotels. I hit the ground running.
I’m a forester, hailing from the Australian outback where I grew up on a sheep and cattle farm. This is now my third time working with TFT, and in many ways it feels like coming home, albeit a slightly disconnected one. I first joined TFT as an intern during my undergraduate degree and then again as project officer before returning to Australia to complete a masters degree.
My career has seen me placed in the beauty of Luang Prabang, Laos, the deep forests of Guyana, and now Guangzhou, China, to assist APP with the implementation of its ambitious Forest Conservation Policy (FCP).
As I look through the window of my twenty-fifth floor apartment, I look out onto a very unfamiliar kind of jungle indeed. On the farm back at home, the air is clean, the sky is blue, wildlife abounds and I can drink straight from the river. In Guangzhou, there is no sky; there is just concrete and haze. The contrast could not be more extreme.
I have, however, been welcomed by a fabulous TFT team. They’ve adopted me as one of their own, and done their best to show me the ropes and adjust to life in this new world. With my severe deficit of Cantonese or Mandarin my communication with the wider city is still characterised by an artwork of hand gestures, smiles, and badly pronounced attempts at getting that juicy meal I’m after.
When so far from home, life’s small pleasures can bring the greatest satisfaction. Like finding that elusive French bakery, your favourite coffee or that local pastry that almost tastes like an Australian meat pie! This is not to discount the brilliance of Cantonese food though.
Arriving a month before Chinese New Year and the upcoming year of the Ram meant that after the initial plunge in at the deep end our schedule quietened down and gave me the chance to reflect on my new role and the team’s aims for 2015.
It has been two years since APP announced its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), and since then, most stakeholders have focussed on Indonesia. The work in China has gone largely unnoticed, which is a shame as for many cultural, social, technical and resource capacity reasons, APP China has many important challenges ahead.
We are not reinventing the wheel, but adapting existing principles of social and environmental sustainability for use in APP’s Chinese operations, in a country that is often unfamiliar with these concepts, requires much skilful pragmatism. Ensuring these values are fully institutionalised will be key for APP to achieve lasting and systematic change.
However, despite the challenges, there is one point that I always come back to. APP has demonstrated it has the ability to coordinate logistical masterpieces.
That is, even within a complex operation in China it can maintain the supply of raw material to keep its machines pumping out 11 metre wide rolls of paper at a rate of 1.8km/minute (!). If it can find a way to do that, then it can certainly find a way to implement its FCP in this unique context.
As I start to feel more at home, (especially now that I’m officially registered in the country), I am excited by the year ahead. I am positive that the mutual learning and growth that has already begun within the Guangzhou office will bear fruit and lead to many new opportunities for us all. I see this year of the Ram as a year of much promise and prosperity.