Sustainable wood supply as cornerstone of circular economy

An efficient circular economy needs a sustainable supply chain

​Delivering an increasingly sustainable supply chain represents a fundamental cornerstone of Metsä Group’s forestry operations. Enhancing efficiencies, as well as implementing stricter environmental and ecological measures in sustainable forest management, have a considerable impact on how the group adds to the circular economy.


​For this first in a series of three articles exploring the complex topic of the circular economy (and the associated bioeconomy), we begin with the importance for Metsä Group of implementing and advancing a sustainable supply chain. The two later articles exploring circular production, and the utilisation of side streams, will continue to detail how the principles of circular economy are materialised in Metsä Fibre’s operations, in particular.

Forestry practices supporting circular economy

Defining the terminology

But first, we need to understand what is meant by this varying terminology above. For Metsä Fibre, defining the meaning of a ‘sustainable supply chain’ is relatively simple: at its heart, it is about sustainable forestry, it is about the forest as a renewable raw material, and it is about the certification and traceability of wood as a raw material. A process relatively easy to define on paper, but far more complex in reality, of course.

So, what is the ‘circular economy’? Definitions differ to some extent, but generally it may be summarised thus: an economic space where the value of products, material and resources are maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste is minimised.

A comprehensive circular economy roadmap concept generally includes seven utilisation routes: raw material, production, trade (or distribution), product use, collection, product end of life, and finally, energy recovery. Each of these seven routes can be fed back into the ‘loop’ by way of recycling, redistribution and remanufacturing, for example.

And then to the ‘bioeconomy’, an area of fundamental importance to Metsä Fibre. A workable definition might be this: the bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable bio-based resources and the conversion of these resources and side (and waste) streams into value added products, for example bio-based products and bioenergy. The bioeconomy can be argued as adding an additional, organic, recycling pathway that expands the circular economy, and therefore, a comprehensive circular economy is not possible without the bioeconomy.

Bioeconomy as enabler of comprehensive circular economy

Understanding the supply chain

“When we talk about the circular economy and Metsä Group, for most of the public I think the concept is still a little bit complicated,” begins Jussi Ripatti, Director, Sustainable Forestry, Metsä Group. “If we are talking about the sustainable supply chain in terms of the forest industry, in its simplest terms we can say that a sustainable supply chain means that we know the origin of the wood, where trees have been grown and that the forests where they are coming from are managed in a sustainable way, taking into consideration both the regeneration of the forest, as well as other ecosystem services. Furthermore, we also need to both consider and respect the local ecological and environmental values.”

It is these ecological and environmental considerations that have been the reason for stricter and continually evolving EU legislation in recent years. As part of this, there is the understanding that once you begin transporting raw materials to their next destination, the circular economy process is begun, and the forest itself needs to be regenerated ecologically. Simply, when you harvest the trees, you start the next part of the regenerative process again.

Regeneration of forests part of sustainable forest management

Regeneration boosts sustainability

“That is very crucial in sustainable forest management,” continues Ripatti. “If you are harvesting, if you are renewing the forest, you must take care that the new forest will appear at the same place. In Finland, we have forest legislation, of which the crucial part is regeneration, in that you have to replant the area within certain years and forest authorities control this.”

Ripatti is making clear that from the perspective of Metsä Group, there is an obligation to speed up the regeneration process and the benefits for doing so are clear.

“If we have a rotation time in the Nordic countries of around 60 to 80 years, then the natural rotation can take around 200 years. Clearly, helping the process by implementing regeneration measures is beneficial from a sustainability perspective.”

Sustainable wood supply as cornerstone of circular economy

From traceability to certification

From regeneration, we move to the other fundamental requirement that relates to Metsä Group’s sustainable forest management, that of traceability and certification. Metsä Group has been able to boast 100% traceability of its forest raw materials for a considerable amount of years. According to Ripatti, certified wood is not yet at 100% but the aspiration to reach that goal certainly exists.

“Last year (2017), 88% of our forest raw materials came from PEFC or FSC certified forests. The ambition is to further increase the share of certified wood. We have no fixed target date to reach a certain higher percentage, but the goal is to keep our certified wood above 80%. We have reached that and now we are discussing if we should set a new target for certified wood. At the moment, this 88% benchmark is the highest it has ever been and actually this is the record in the northern hemisphere.”

“The majority of our forests are PEFC certified in Finland, but we have FSC certified forests as well. For us, it’s not a big difference in terms of the forest management criteria, as they both have similar requirements. We recognise both schemes and we rely on them and are utilising both labels. But to put all of this in perspective, only 10% of the world forests are certified and we recorded 88% in 2017, with the other 12% still fulfilling strict criteria.”

Increased efficiency of forestry through digitalisation

Forests need digitalisation too

One other major factor that has an increasing influence on Metsä Fibre’s sustainable forest management - and how it impacts the circular economy in terms of delivering the raw material, namely the harvested wood into the eco-system - is the dramatic advance in the use of digitalisation. The role of technology, though immensely complex, can ultimately be boiled down to one maxim: to make the system as efficient as possible.

“For transportation from the forest to mills,” explains Ripatti, “kilometres are money, so we try to avoid transportation as much as possible, as well as trying to optimise the wood flows from the forests to the mills by utilising return cargoes. We have a very good geographic information system (GIS), so we can transfer information of logging sites straight to the harvester computer and the forwarder computer, for example. Our database is so well updated that the driver can see from their computer how much each logging site has raw material available on the road side, and whether they are able to take the full cargo from place a or b, so this modern new technology has helped to avoid extra work.”

For Metsä Group, digitalisation has, in recent years, dramatically increased the efficiency of forestry operations, for example, via advances in logging site maps and in the more accurate pinpointing of wetland areas so they can avoided. Metsä Group is currently recognised as a world-leading company with regards to the use of this new technology, and institutions are further developing these technologies to see what kind of new possibilities they will be able to provide in the future.

Sustainable wood supply as cornerstone of circular economy

Says Ripatti, “Forestry management is now very high-tech and our clients from middle-Europe and elsewhere are surprised when I bring them in to see the harvest and the cabin and they see the GIS map program that indicates with GPS where the machines are, as well as the biodiversity hotspots in the area that should be avoided. It’s an ongoing process, as all the biodiversity hotspots have not yet been found within the land of every Finnish forest. Also, we are not quite at the stage yet where digitalisation can help us to pinpoint individual trees to be cut, but we are getting closer.”

But while digitalisation has an increasingly important role to play in terms of advancing the sustainability of the supply chain, it is not the answer to everything. A sustainable wood supply or sustainable forestry is also about how the forests are managed, how many cutting operations are executed, and about making sure that companies are not cutting more than the annual growth. In Finland, the situation is currently considered very positive, with cutting only contributing to around 60-65% of the annual growth. In the end, it is about taking care of the environmental issues, and making sure that the company is not decreasing the biodiversity values in a forest.

Sustainable foresty in circular economy ecosystem

Berries, mushrooms and social values

Creating an increasingly sustainable supply chain allows for the most efficient delivery of raw materials (or biomass) to become part of the bioeconomy, as well as to also enter the larger circular economy eco-system. It is no less than an absolute cornerstone of the Metsä Group’s forestry operations. The 100% traceability of the wood, the knowing of the origin of the wood the company procures, the world-leading figure that denotes that 88% of the wood has come from certified sources, are facts that are of obvious pride to the Metsä Group. According to Ripatti, of pride too, is the fact that in Finland, social values are also respected in forestry operations, alongside sustainability and environmental issues.

“One might ask what sustainable forest management is in terms of how sustainability is implemented when we are growing the trees. We are really taking care of our forests, we are making thinning operations, we are safeguarding the regeneration and then the environmental and social values are respected in forestry operations. If you go to the forest to pick berries or mushrooms, these are also part of social values. The forest industry is helping to bring societal wellbeing across the entire country. This is very important.”

For Metsä Group, incorporating recreational or social values into sustainability makes perfect sense. It is about enhancing the culture of sustainability for everyone.

“We Finns like to go to the forest to pick berries and mushrooms, and to go hunting. It is important for Finnish souls. This is yet another example of sustainable forest management. Nature is complicated, so we have to be also taking complicated measures to safeguard the value of nature,” concludes Ripatti.

Related articles

  • 4/2020/ Metsä Fibre

    Comparing pulp grades can be accomplished with Metsä Fibre’s FIT tool

    ​The FIT tool used by Metsä Fibre's technical customer service can be used to quickly and cost-effectively evaluate and modify paper and board furnishes. Optimisation of the stock furnish results in the best possible final product quality, more efficient production and lower production costs. 

    Read More
  • 4/2020/ Metsä Fibre

    A chair for better school days

    ​While Isku interior's new Prima chair may look like an ordinary plastic chair, it is not. The chair is made from a biocomposite, in which the plastic has been reinforced with wood fibre.

    Read More
  • 3/2020/ Sawn timber

    Metsä Fibre’s sawn timber has a new brand image

    ​The Nordic Timber logo previously printed on the protective plastic packaging is no longer in use and instead the white cover now features the word Metsä in a black font, as well as the elk logo in green, and a forest pattern depicting Finnish nature. We also used this opportunity to harmonise the look of the shipping marks stamped on the ends of the sawn timber.

    Read More
  • Sawn timber

    3/2020/ Sawn timber

    Sawn timber is now sold by Metsä Fibre

    ​Sawn timber sales and customer service have been transferred from Metsä Wood to Metsä Fibre’s organisation. The goal is to create a closer link between production and sales, and improve day-to-day customer service. 

    Read More
  • 3/2020/ Pulp

    Metsä Fibre takes bioproducts to the multi-million tonne markets

    ​Metsä Fibre is complementing its current product range with new bioproducts converted from pulp. The best production model for this is an industrial ecosystem in which the new products are developed and produced by partners. So far, product development is furthest along in the advance of textile fibres and biocomposites.

    Read More
  • 3/2020/ Metsä Fibre

    Metsä Fibre’s services to customers

    ​In addition to traditional pulp sales, Metsä Fibre provides numerous services that enable customers to develop their business operations and cut costs. 

    Read More
  • Vanha-Pälsilä

    2/2020/ Metsä Fibre

    Generations of sustainable forest management

    ​The next generation is taking over the forests of Vanha-Pälsilä farm with the help of Metsä Group’s Forest Management Specialists.

    Read More
  • forest, aerial, lorry

    2/2020/ Metsä Fibre

    FibreOnline gathers the data needed by customers in one location

    ​FibreOnline is an information service for Metsä Fibre’s pulp customers. The service provides customers with information about deliveries, product quality, certifications and statements, as well as for other sustainability matters.

    Read More
  • Pulp sheets

    1/2020/ Pulp

    Pulp lends itself to many things

    ​While we've known how to make pulp for over a hundred years now, its versatility keeps on surprising us. 

    Read More
  • Metsä Aspen fibre

    12/2019/ Pulp

    Accurate pulp refining analysis with Metsä Fibre's renewed FORE tool

    ​Proper pulp refining gives paper or paperboard desired properties and often saves costs as well. Metsä Fibre's Pulp Refining Audit service can be used to determine how you can refine pulp for the best result.

    Read More
  • Sun paper building

    12/2019/ Pulp

    China's cardboard market is changing

    ​Consumers’ demand for the quantity and quality of cardboard will rise as the economy develops. For the Metsä Fibre’s client, Sun Paper Group, this is good news.

    Read More
  • 11/2019/ Metsä Fibre

    Sustainable forest management is important to us

    ​Sustainability and responsibility play a key role in Metsä Group’s forest management. Specialists help forest owners manage their forests in a way that safeguards biodiversity and allows the forest to grow well. 

    Read More
  • Sellu, pulp

    11/2019/ Pulp

    The future of the pulp market: these 4 changes are to be expected

    ​The consulting and engineering firm ÅF Pöyry estimates that demand for market pulp will grow by approximately 2.5 per cent a year over the next five years. 

    Read More
  • Forest and sky

    9/2019/ Pulp

    Plastic became a problem – is wood the solution?

    ​Plastic was once considered an irreplaceable material. Now plastic has become a problem to which we are frantically trying to find a solution. There is therefore plenty of demand for a biodegradable, bio-based and sustainably produced material.

    Read More
  • pulp fibre

    9/2019/ Metsä Fibre

    The pre-engineering of the Kemi bioproduct mill is progressing

    ​Metsä Fibre kicked off the pre-engineering project for the Kemi bioproduct mill in the spring of 2019. The project is now proceeding in terms of the environmental permit process, among other things.

    Read More
  • 9/2019/ Metsä Fibre

    Finnish forest management made an impression

    ​Metsä Fibre provides its customers with a service that lets them get to know a Finnish commercial forest up close. A Metsä Day visit is not only entertaining, but also educational, as it affords a glimpse into responsible forest management. 

    Read More
  • A sustainable circular economy needs efficient utilisation of side streams

    5/2019/ Metsä Fibre

    A sustainable circular economy needs efficient utilisation of side streams

    ​A comprehensive circular economy is incomplete without the bioeconomy. The bioeconomy can contribute in several ways to the circular economy, and this includes the utilisation of organic side and waste streams from forestry and the converting of these production side streams into value-adding products. Metsä Fibre has world-leading capabilities in this field.

    Read More
  • Our products sequester carbon throughout their life-cycles

    4/2019/ Sawn timber

    Our products sequester carbon throughout their life-cycles

    ​The high-quality and sustainable sawn timber we produce is used to a particularly high degree in end uses where the carbon remains sequestered in the wood for a period spanning decades or even a century.  Such end uses include various wood construction solutions and furniture.

    Read More
  • Finnish sawn timber is a sustainable choice

    4/2019/ Sawn timber

    Finnish sawn timber is a sustainable choice

    ​Thanks to sound forest management, Finland’s forests are growing by roughly 20 per cent more than they are being used. This is why Finnish sawn timber is a sustainable and resource-smart solution.

    Read More
  • We utilize the properties of northern wood

    4/2019/ Sawn timber

    We utilize the properties of northern wood

    ​Metsä Fibre possess solid and long-standing know-how in the conversion of northern softwood. We know our raw material and the opportunities it offers inside out. 

    Read More
  • Premium sawn timber from northern wood

    4/2019/ Sawn timber

    Premium sawn timber from northern wood

    ​Northern sawn softwood offers extremely advantageous strength qualities in relation to weight, due to which it is well-suited for use in load-bearing structures.  In terms of its appearance, northern wood is consistent, and it is easy to process and treat in the preferred manner. 

    Read More
  • Metsä Fibre’s bioproduct concept

    3/2019/ Pulp

    Metsä Fibre’s innovative bioproduct concept

    ​The cornerstone of Metsä Fibre’s operations is continuous improvement, and it is according to the principles of continuous improvement that we develop our products and operations. Renewable wood raw material and innovative solutions offer solutions for future global challenges, such as climate change, population growth and resource efficiency.

    Read More
  • Metsä Fibre acquires biogas plant in Äänekoski

    3/2019/ Metsä Fibre

    Metsä Fibre acquires biogas plant in Äänekoski

    ​The biogas plant located in the mill area of the Äänekoski bioproduct mill was transferred from EcoEnergy SF to Metsä Fibre’s ownership on 10 December 2018. It produces biogas and biopellets from wood-based sludge generated by the bioproduct mill.

    Read More
  • Metsä Fibre awarded with supplier excellence award in China

    3/2019/ Metsä Fibre

    C&S presents Metsä Fibre with supplier excellence award in China

    ​Metsä Fibre has received a Supplier Excellence Award from C&S, one of China’s major tissue producers, for being the company’s Partner in Excellence.

    Read More