Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Surviving Turbulent Organizational Environments: A Case Study Examination of a Lumber Company's Internal and External Influence Attempts

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Surviving Turbulent Organizational Environments: A Case Study Examination of a Lumber Company's Internal and External Influence Attempts

Article excerpt

As a result of the nation's growing environmental awareness, lumber companies, along with the nuclear power, pesticide, and oil industries, are more frequently being labeled as "environmental bad guys." A number of issues play a role in the changing image of the lumber industry. First, the industry has recently come under attack because environmentalists argue that the northern spotted owl, which is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, nests only in the Pacific Northwest's Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, staples of the lumber industry (Levine, 1989; "Talk of logging exemptions," 1995). Moreover, environmentalists have criticized the lumber industry for harvesting trees faster than they can be grown (Schultz, 1989), and the lumber industry in the Pacific Northwest has been attacked for diminishing supplies of "old growth" timber (e.g., redwoods) (Byrne, 1989). Recently, the National Audubon Society argued that the Forest Service's plan to manage old-growth national forests is inadequate because it leaves too many of the 1,084 plant and animal species in the area at risk (Berle, 1994). Finally, recent attempts have been made to prevent old growth logging in other parts of the country such as Alaska (Brooks, 1994).

While it is evident that environmentalist attacks are damaging the lumber industry's image, what may be more important is that such attacks may be threatening the survival of several U.S. lumber companies. Indeed, legislation which protects the spotted owl by curtailing the cutting of timber has been estimated to cost the lumber industry anywhere from 5,500 to 260,000 forest jobs (Begley, 1993; Egan, 1994; Levine, 1989; Scott, 1992). Moreover, if legislation concerning the cutting of old growth timber in the Pacific Northwest becomes too strict, competition in Canada and elsewhere could benefit at the cost of small U.S. companies (Byrne, 1989). Criticism regarding the industry's rapid tree harvesting could also result in legislation to curtail logging in some areas permanently. Finally, lumber companies could be troubled if their employees believe that they are working for companies which are seriously damaging the environment (Higgins, 1990). In short, environmentalist attacks are threatening the lumber industry as a whole, but particularly small U.S. lumber companies.

An examination of the ways in which lumber companies are coping with the turbulent organizational environment they currently face should be of interest to communication scholars. Although not all problems facing the lumber industry are communication related, researchers in organizational communication have long been interested in studying the ways in which different organizations adapt or respond to changing environments (e.g., Katz & Kahn, 1978; Peters, 1988; Weick, 1979). Such researchers have also been interested in examining the factors and communication strategies that influence the successful or unsuccessful adaptation of organizations. Information provided by such examinations are of interest for both practical and theoretical reasons. To be sure, such information not only illustrates how organizations can survive in the face of crisis, but explains the underlying factors which influence the ways in which organizations approach such hardships.

However, despite the potential benefits of studying the current situation facing lumber companies, little communication focused research has done so. A review of literature indicated only four studies addressing this topic. Bullis and Tompkins (1989) investigated the ways in which environmentalist legislation passed in the 1970s affected the control practices within the Forest Service, but did not discuss the impact of such legislation on particular lumber companies. Moreover, Lange (1993), Moore (1993), and Peterson (1988) examined overall communication strategies used by environmentalists and timber, oil, and/or gas companies but did not provide an analysis of attempts used by particular companies in dealing with a threatening situation. …

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