Forests are the dominant terrestrial ecosystem on earth. Managing forests sustainably is therefore critical to ensuring the survival of mankind, and our society. It’s also clear that managing forests effectively takes a true understanding of the rich, complex nature of forests – well beyond their economic value.
Forests are not simply a resource to be exploited, but sophisticated, multi-layered ecosystems. Forests don’t belong to us. They sustain us. It’s therefore vital that we understand them holistically.
CHEP, one of the world’s most sustainable logistics organisations, has built a business based on the share and reuse of more than 330 million platforms – mainly pallets – which today underpin many of the world’s supply chains.
With timber being such an integral part of its operations, the company has embraced forest-positive goals as part of its 2025 Global Sustainability Targets, growing two trees for every tree used in the business, one tree for the pallet and the other for the planet.
In South Africa, CHEP owns several plantations in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which supply timber for the manufacture and repair of pallets and are directly managed to ensure optimal compliance to the highest sustainability principles. The plantations are housed within Braecroft (Pty) Ltd, wholly owned by CHEP.
CHEP plantations are maintained to preserve biological diversity, environmental values, and local community’s rights. However, in managing these forests, CHEP has come to appreciate that to truly ensure the sustainability of the forests, one must try to understand them holistically in a committed, hands-on way.
“These are not just pine plantations,” says CHEP spokesperson Gordon McKenzie, Senior Manager: Forestry. “They are complex ecosystems supporting numerous habitats and relationships. Over the 16 years since we acquired our first forest, our activities have evolved, and we’ve adapted our operations in the interests of our forests – not just our business.”
In terms of engagement with the communities around the forests, food gardens have been erected at Runnymede, in conjunction with the Harry Gwala NGO. Vegetables from these gardens provide healthy nutrition for employees as well as the greater community.
The forestry team assists the Ndawana community around the Excelsior Forest with much-needed work on their sanitation facilities, and also helps to clear alien vegetation, which improves water quality for communities downstream.
The community around the CHEP plantations are given free cattle grazing land (under controlled conditions), firewood, and hay bales for winter cattle feed. Braecroft foresters also spend time educating children from the community on sustainability topics such as poaching and fire prevention.
The use of rodenticides has been banned on all CHEP’s plantations. Instead, raptor perches have been erected to create vantage points for birds of prey, as they hunt for rats and mice. Owl boxes are also erected for nesting owls who in addition to the raptors, help control the rodent population.
“Wattled cranes are also being seen around the forests,” says McKenzie. “While these cranes don’t actually breed on our farms, they visit our farms to feed. These birds only feed from wetlands which are in a pristine condition – so their choice of farm is a compliment!”
In addition to these specific interventions, environmental work is a constant part of daily operations around the CHEP forests. Alien-vegetation control supports species diversity and healthy waterways. Erosion control protects soil resources, and manual weed cleaning helps avoid the need for herbicides.
Today CHEP owns 18 pine timber plantations, covering more than 15 000ha. The holdings help to mitigate against timber supply shortages, but McKenzie emphasises that managing the forests is about supporting the huge role they play in the natural environment and in surrounding communities.
“Forests are the foundation of many of our societies,” says McKenzie. “Where we can restore and replenish our forest resources, we create value for society. Ultimately, we are working to become a regenerative business – to add more to the environment than the business takes out.”