UN sustainable development goals

Ensuring a sustainable future

​The pulp industry manages a product that optimally satisfies the global UN sustainable development goals, says EPIS Secretary General Anna Maija Wessman.

TEXT: TIMO NYKÄNEN, PHOTO: KAROLIINA EK & METSÄ FIBRE, SOURCE:UN ASSOCIATION OF FINLAND

New sustainable development goals applying to all Member States of the United Nations took effect at the beginning of 2016. The development programme specifies a total of 17 principal goals to remain in force until 2030 with a view to eradicating extreme poverty and securing sustainable development for the environment, the economy and human beings. The universal objectives are a continuation of the UN Millennium Development Goals for developing countries.

A significant breakthrough was achieved in work to combat climate change at the end of last year when the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris managed to secure the commitment of a majority of countries to a comprehensive agreement seeking to keep the average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

Anna Maija Wessman, Secretary General of the European Pulp Industry Sector (EPIS) business lobbying organisation, was delighted at the historic accord concluded in Paris, which will have a substantial impact on future generations and all of humanity.

“One example of the practical significance of emission reduction targets for various industries is that they will lead to increasing concern over the carbon footprint of products and the forms of energy that are used for manufacturing them. The forest industry and pulp-based products already emerge as clear winners under any such scrutiny, compared to industries that rely on fossil raw materials. A product that is made from a renewable raw material using renewable energy by a process that generates a surplus of renewable energy – and on top of that is also recyclable – is bound to satisfy sustainability requirements completely”, Wessman says.

Wessman is the founder and CEO of Sustinendo, a consultancy enterprise that promotes business in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, and she also has extensive international experience of various leadership roles in the pulp and paper industry.

Anna Maija Wessman

THE FAR-REACHING IMPACT OF PULP MANUFACTURING ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Wessman reports her satisfaction, on initially reviewing the UN goals for sustainable development, at how pulp and pulp-based products effectively promote all 17 goals, and she notes how this material affects all aspects of human life.

In the first place, paper in the form of educational and other materials enables the goal of effective education that seeks to ensure open, equitable and high-quality schooling and lifelong learning opportunities for all. With only a tiny fraction of the world’s schoolchildren having access to digital technology, paper remains crucial for learning. This also incorporates the drive for equality between the sexes and reduced disparities within and between countries.

“I believe that ensuring the access of women and girls to schooling is an absolutely fundamental factor for greater equality. It links to several UN goals, from promoting dignity at work and sustainable economic growth to advancing peace and justice, and fostering co-operation and partnership. Employment is also naturally linked to the goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. School education naturally helps with this point,” Wessman observes.

The 16th UN sustainable development goal involves the idea that non-violence, respect for human rights, transparency and accountability are the pillars of peaceful societies and therefore of a sustainable future. Under goal 17, achieving the aims of sustainable development will correspondingly require a global partnership of various stakeholders, common goals and values, long-term investment and measuring of results..

UN sustainable development goals

THE PULP AND PAPER INDUSTRY – A MODEL STUDENT OF THE CIRCULAR BIOECONOMY

Pulp is used for making numerous specialty products, such as medical supplies and hygiene items, that help to promote UN sustainable development goals 3 and 6 by providing universal access to good health, well-being and sanitation. Building materials and home furnishing products such as wallpapers and paints also use pulp and its by-products, and they contribute to quality of life by improving our surroundings.

“I also think that culture in a broader sense – in the form of art, literature and music – help to promote human well-being and enhance our quality of life in many ways. Even orchestral musicians continue to read music from sheets made from pulp,” Wessman says.

240% energy self-suffiency rate of Äänekoski bioproduct mill

Any study of the fundamentals of pulp manufacturing as a whole will soon confirm Wessman’s point that sustainable forestry is an absolutely integral factor in the global carbon economy and carbon cycle.

“The rate of consuming fossil raw materials exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of the Earth a long time ago, and we really must get the planet back onto a sustainable path. I can personally think of no other product that promotes this objective more effectively than pulp. It generates much more renewable energy than is required to maintain the manufacturing process, and does so specifically from production side streams and not from burning wood. This supports the UN goal of ensuring modern energy sources, giving optimal substance to the ideas of a circular economy and the cycle of nature.”

Forest reserves that serve as carbon sinks and those that are sustainably managed are directly linked to combating climate change and to the goals of promoting sustainable consumption and production methods. The pulp and paper industry is also an example of a sector that enables jobs, infrastructure and innovation in the bioeconomy, which may in turn promote the UN goal of establishing cities and communities built on a sustainable basis.

ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PULP AND PAPER INDUSTRY

Wessman nevertheless feels that the pulp and paper industry still has some unfortunate public image problems for one reason or another, despite its progressive and responsible manufacturing methods.

“Output has grown considerably, but we have seen a sharp fall in emissions to air and water from pulp mills over the last 25 years. The pulp and paper industry has actually handled its water pollution control really well, thereby serving UN goals for protection and sustainable use of the oceans.”

It should also be noted that even enterprises operating with the abundant water resources of the Nordic countries do not impair the water use opportunities of their neighbours.

87% of wood used by Metsä Fibre is certified.

Responsible forestry is similarly in line with the objectives for life on Earth, and is a condition of future forest growth. Goal 15 calls for the protection and remediation of terrestrial ecosystems, promotion of their sustainable use, and an end to soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. We respond precisely to these requirements by processing renewable wood from responsible sources in a way that extracts everything from this raw material.

“All sustainable activities are naturally based on the idea of not wasting resources, living beyond one’s means, or exceeding the carrying capacity of human beings or the environment. In this respect, making new bioproducts from industrial side streams is something quite new and different from merely burning wood, which I think is a terrible waste,” Wessman observes.


the forest SETS THE PACE

Metsä Fibre is doing its bit to support the goals of sustainable development as a major operator in the bioeconomy. The company’s bioproduct mill now under construction in Äänekoski is one of the largest bioeconomy investments in Europe. According to Riikka Joukio, SVP Sustainability and Corporate Affairs at Metsä Group, the innovative and ambitious bioproduct mill project embodies many UN goals for sustainable development.

“As a modern manufacturing plant that only uses renewable energy sources, the bioproduct mill is a perfect example of sustainable industry that respects climate targets. The wide range of bioproducts made at this plant will respond to the challenge of sustainable consumption, and its side streams will also generate a large surplus of bioenergy,” Joukio explains.

The energy self-sufficiency rate of the bioproduct mill will be a staggering 240 per cent. It will increase the share of renewable energy used in Finland by more than two percentage points. Two-thirds of Finland’s renewable energy is already generated by the pulp and paper industry.

A diverse network of businesses will develop around the Äänekoski pulp manufacturing operation, tapping the potential of new bioproducts in a way that encourages innovation and enterprise, and benefiting the local community and society more generally. The new solutions will also replace the use of fossil resources in the everyday lives of consumers.

“The most important contribution of the UN goals from the perspective of Metsä Group is that they link the work of our company to global objectives for eradicating poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring well-being for everyone. We can easily see how our own operations are part of this, and we can apply these objectives when reviewing our relevance,” Joukio says.

Riikka Joukio reports that Metsä Group intends to study these themes in greater depth this year and examine how the company can promote the UN objectives through its own operations and products.

Riikka Joukio

Riikka Joukio

SVP, Sustainability & Corporate Affairs,
Metsä Group

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