forest

Boosting the bioeconomy

CEPI Director General Sylvain Lhôte says that the forest industry has an unbeatable sustainability story to tell, but should be better in communicating its strengths.

12/2017 TEXT: TIMO NYKÄNEN, IMAGES: VELHOT/EZEQUIEL SCAGNETTI

​CEPI, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, is a non-profit organisation based in Brussels, Belgium. One of its main objectives is promoting paper-related industries to EU policy makers and institutions, and furthering their competitiveness. Sustainability is high on the organisation’s agenda, with the aim of setting an example of how competitiveness and sustainability can go hand in hand.

“Our key issues this year and next have to do with sustainability and the bioeconomy, with the main focus on the sustainable management of raw materials, including access to more recycled material. Currently, over three quarters of all European sourcing is certified, but we still need to develop the certification schemes further to improve sustainable forest management practices and get them mainstreamed,” says Sylvain Lhôte, Director General of CEPI.

With previous working experience from the metal, chemicals and plastics industries, Lhôte says that paper is the only material that is both renewed and recycled with such efficiency.“We have a unique selling point, but we really need to develop a practical reference tool to demonstrate the sustainability of our products. If we manage to measure this and display the benefits to customers, retailers and consumers, I believe we are unbeatable,” Lhôte enthuses.

He adds that one of the challenges CEPI recognises for the upcoming year is whether the EU will be able to upgrade its bioeconomy strategy, launched in 2012, to support the mainstreaming of biobased products in the market.Sylvain Lhote

FOREST, PULP AND PAPER INDUSTRIES combating climate change

Since joining CEPI in June 2016, Lhôte says that he has been amazed how the industry has managed to transform and practically re-invent itself, for instance, with numerous new products and projects in the innovation pipeline. He mentions Metsä Fibre’s bioproduct mill in Äänekoski as a prime example of developing a chain of completely new value-added operations around a pulp mill.

“We have the unique opportunity to substitute fossil-based materials with sustainable options and have a vital role in climate change mitigation. Also, the forest, pulp and paper industries are the only sectors with real potential of closing the carbon loop. Compared to any other industry, there is remarkable efficiency in the process of both storing carbon in the products and maintaining it in the system through recycling.”

Working on a carbon loop project for CEPI, consulting company Pöyry has estimated that through forest harvesting in Europe, 110 million tonnes of carbon is processed and stored in products, and, in turn, around 66 million tonnes are maintained within the circular economy loop.

Ongoing regulatory discourse

A current discussion dealing with the role of forests as carbon sinks has involved the legislative proposal by the European Commission of integrating greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use-change and forestry (LULUCF) into the EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework. This has major implications for Finland, a country whose bioeconomy strategy is based on the use of forests.

“There is no question that we need to be able to measure the stock of carbon stored in forests. It is very important for the whole industry that we have a clear accounting system and a way to fully recognize the carbon neutrality of forestry. The problem with the LULUCF proposal is, however, that it also aims to limit the use of forests, rather than incentivising sustainable management,” Lhôte notes.

He says that this makes the issue very political, when the focus has shifted to the question of how much each country can discount in their national climate change mitigation obligation from the carbon stock available in forests.

“At CEPI, we are in favour of the current view of the European Parliament, which is leaned towards emphasising the sustainable management of forests as such, but the European Council has somewhat moved away from that position. I believe, however, that in the end a compromise will be reached between the two viewpoints.”

Brussels Christmas market

Responsible throughout the chain

Lhôte admits that forestry was the one area of the industry he was least familiar with when starting in his current position. Therefore, he decided to begin making systematic visits on-site to find out, for example, what it means in practice to be FSC or PEFC certified.

“For the past year or so I have followed the entire supply chain, and in Finland, for example, seen the sustainable way in which wood is grown, renewed, harvested and transported to mills. Until you visit the Finnish forests yourself, you don’t, for instance, understand what it requires from a logistical point of view that 75% of your country is forested and sparsely populated. Also, most people don’t necessarily realise how much advanced technology is involved in forest mapping and harvesting.”

Based on his experiences, Lhôte sees that the best way of advancing the unique sustainability story of the industry is offering people a concrete view into responsible forestry practices, whether by site visits or through immersive virtual reality presentations.

“Communication is absolutely key, and at CEPI, our task is to speak with European policy makers about the industry’s role in reducing our dependency on fossil resources. We have a fantastic story to tell, and should focus on raising awareness of what the industry can offer,” Lhôte concludes.

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