At York cognisance is taken of concern for the environment and the impact of human actions on the environment through all aspects of planning and decisions taken in the business. This is no easy task, since the sum total of legislation in the framework for environmental compliance in the country stands at 38 Acts. Notwithstanding the fact that there are Rationalisation Acts, Repeal Acts and Amendments to Acts, this plethora of Acts governing the protection of the environment is taken seriously at all levels in the Company.
Legislation to regulate environmental deterioration has been in existence for over 300 years. In earlier times, the focus was on air and water pollution, particularly after the Industrial Revolution, as well as the protection of tracts of land for the recreational benefit (hunting) of privileged groups. Accountability of the public at large for the conservation of natural areas arose in the mid-1800s, and in South Africa the first game reserve was proclaimed in 1894 in Pongola. The National Parks Act, 56 of 1926, was soon followed by a host of comprehensive provincial nature conservation ordinances, including most recently for Natal in 1974. A global turning point for the relationship between humans and the environment, occurred on 1 January 1970 when the United States National Environmental Policy Act became law.
What then of the position of York within this framework and the prognosis for the future?
Joseph Shires planted the first commercial trees in Sabie in 1876 and today the town is surrounded by the largest manmade forestry area in the world. York was incorporated in 1916, listed on the JSE in 1946 and acquired GFP and the Sabie mill in 2007 (which first went into operation in 1949). Clearly, prior to the 1970s, there was little or no legislation, in comparison to the present, that governed the operations of commercial forestry.
It is against this background and context that consideration must be given to the significant contribution being made today by York with regard to its environmental and resource sustainability objectives through sustainable forestry practices, protection of biodiversity, preservation of natural heritage sites and sponsorship of several environmental education initiatives. York takes pride in its membership of the FSC and wholly supports its principles of environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable forestry management. York promotes biodiversity by setting aside and managing areas with indigenous vegetation to provide suitable habitat for biota and corridors of connectivity across the landscape.
Over 60 conservation important species of plants and animals have been identified and are closely monitored on the 24 000 hectares of land that the Company has set aside specifically for this purpose. In addition, at least 25% of the total landholdings will never be planted to alien trees for the same purpose, also allowing these renewable resources to be shared with employees and rural neighbours in a sustainable way.
York also protects and manages seven natural heritage sites – areas designated by the South African Government as having environmental or national significance. The sites include a tree fern reserve, caves as well as rock art paintings. The natural heritage sites provide environmental educational opportunities for organisations such as schools, bird watching clubs and lepidopterist societies. York is ensuring that these national treasures will be in existence for the enjoyment of future generations.
Embodied in the mission, strategy and core values of the Company is a desire to operate an efficient, vertically integrated forest products company, underpinned by sustainable resources, to manage plantation resources on a sustainable basis and supply optimal raw materials to each processing unit, become an industry leader in environmental compliance, apply superior environmental and safety standards to the operations and empower people. If the National Framework for Sustainable Development is considered in which the substantive principles are the efficient and sustainable use of natural resources and in which the socio-economic systems are embedded within, and dependent upon, ecosystems, then clearly York achieves its objectives today.
The newly planned integrated site with its log merchandising yard that will optimise full tree length use in the form of logs, pulp and fuel, the sawmill that will employ cutting-edge technology, the plywood plant that will implement automatic grading and product repair, the cogeneration plant that will result in York becoming a net producer of electricity and the MDF plant that will produce high value boards from pulp and other value-add products, all attest to the progressive mindset of the Company.
Any silviculturist who is able to utilise over 90% of each tree, increase efficiency and optimise the production of a diverse basket of products with waste generation and environmental impact significantly curtailed and provide social inputs into the regional socio-economic environment is a market leader in every way. This is where York sees itself today and in the future.