On a sunny Thursday morning in Jyväskylä, Central Finland, a team of Chinese customers wearing bright yellow vests were seen standing in the snow discussing the day’s key topic - sustainable forest management. With thick forests and vast lands covered in silver in the background, the enthusiastic guests’ attention was drawn by the densely growing trees.
Metsä Fibre invited representatives from the Chinese paper industry to Finland and offered them a special trip to participate in a Key Customer Event in Äänekoski. In the early morning, the delegation headed for Metsä Fibre’s nearby logging area in Jyväskylä. Guided by experts, the delegation was divided into three teams when stepping into the coniferous forest area to have a closer look at sustainable forest management.
“How is the logging site differentiated from the reserve zone?” “What is the best time to cut different species?” “Will there be any insect pests if only one species is grown in one area?” Numerous questions were raised by the curious customers, who were inspired by the carefully protected forest ecosystem. Thanks to scientific plans and carefully implemented measures over the past years, forest areas, such as the one displayed on the site visit, now grow more wood than ever, with the demand for logging also increasing significantly.
MANAGING RAW MATERIALS FROM THE BEGINNING
With an experience of pulp production for more than 100 years, Metsä Fibre has an annual production capacity of 3.3 million tonnes of ECF bleached pulp. It is the world's largest producer of softwood market pulp. Metsä Fibre hopes that events like the Key Customer Event will provide clients an opportunity for on-site visits to gain first-hand experience of the entire process from forest to pulp, and allow the customers to have a deeper and more intuitive understanding of Metsä Fibre’s philosophy and technology.
Metsä Fibre’s raw materials are provided by a consortium of approximately 104,000 forest owners, and the forest services are handled by Metsä Group’s other subsidiaries. Most of the forest land in Finland is privately owned, and this unique system is the basis of Metsä Fibre’s sustainable forest management.
“There are many things that we can learn from the forest management at Metsä Fibre. First of all, there are carefully drafted plans in place for logging and afforestation. Secondly, the felling process is highly automated. These are conducive to the control of yield and quality," said Zhong Yaoxin, Chairman of the Chinese Zhaoqing Zhongsheng Paper Co. Ltd. Located in Zhaoqing City, Guangdong Province, Zhongsheng mainly produces specialty and offset products, and products for office use, such as copy paper and coated paper.
"The whole world is talking about sustainable development, but there are differences among major companies in different regions regarding this concept. Companies in South America and Asia care more about factors like profits and earnings. But European companies such as Metsä Fibre pay more attention to the sustainable planning and biodiversity conservation, and its contribution to forests and responsibility. This is the trend of the future,” Zhong commented.
REDISCOVERING THE INDUSTRY-FOREST RELATION
In Finland, forestry land covers 86% of the land area, which is arguably unique. Since nature is always close by, Finns have a close and respectful relationship with the forests.
“On the way back, I heard two Metsä employees chatting. They were comparing how many saplings they could plant in one day when they were teenagers. I found it very moving how young boys were given such an opportunity to establish a relationship with the forest and nature,” said Wang Bo, COO of Vinda Group, whose main business is manufacturing personal hygiene care products. The company has been working with Metsä Fibre for over a decade.
After the on-site visit in the forest, Wang Bo said she was impressed by the accuracy of wood selection. For example, timber thinner than 15 cm in diameter is used to make chips and pulp, and larger ones can be made into wood boards.
“This is the way to harmonise the relation between the paper industry and the forest. There are similar species in Daxinganling in Northern China, and there are many things that we can learn from Finland,” Wang mentioned.
Wang argued that afforestation has been promoted as a precaution measure for breaking wind and fixing sands in China, whereas Metsä Fibre focuses on the balance between human and nature, which could also be introduced in the Chinese market.
“Mentioning that our products are made of Metsä Fibre's pulp will further the image of sustainable forest management. It will help to increase the brand value, and the sales of Metsä Fibre’s products as well," she added.
In addition to the sustainability, Wang Bo was impressed by the efficiency of Metsä Fibre’s management system. "100% traceability of wood raw material has been achieved under the sustainable forest management system, allowing us to know the source of fibre in wood chips. Although there are similar coniferous forests in China, we lag behind in terms of management and added value."
ENERGY EFFICIENCY SUPPORTED BY TECHNOLOGY
After visiting the forest area, the delegation headed for the bioproduct mill in Äänekoski. Zhong Yaoxin was especially interested in the mill’s level of energy self-sufficiency.
“I have visited many pulp mills around the world, but I have never seen how the energy is supplied without the use of fossil fuels,” Zhong said. He took note of the fact that the bioproduct mill generates 2.4 times the amount of energy that it consumes. “After consuming what is needed in its own production, the excess energy output can be delivered onwards, which is definitely an example of world-leading technology,” he added.
For Wang Bo, the visit offered new information on the technology for the bark gasification. “This is a new concept for me. Providing energy for the entire plant through biomass is extremely advanced within the industry.”
The start-up of the Äänekoski bioproduct mill took place in August 2017. As the largest ever investment in the history of the Finnish forest industry, it has a yearly production capacity of 1.3 million tonnes of pulp and other bioproducts. The bioproduct mill adopts the latest designs and technologies to secure outstanding performance in terms of process automation, energy efficiency and low emissions.
“It was exciting to see so many new technologies and innovative systems,” said Wang Bo, expressing a desire for further support from Metsä Fibre. “Firstly, we hope the company will maintain its high quality, and secondly, we are interested in establishing new cooperation efforts related to digitisation.”
The brief field trip offered surprises for the Chinese guests, and a promise of enhanced cooperation in the future.
“I became convinced of the stable quality of the products, and will certainly use Metsä Fibre’s pulp in the long run. This is the greatest offering for me after the trip,” said Zhong. For her part, Wang said the scientific approach and rationality of sustainable forest management offers better credibility for future cooperation with Metsä Fibre: “Everyone in the industry is talking about sustainable development, but Metsä Fibre is really good in practice.”