Sustainable development was the main theme of the Key Customer Event hosted this April by Metsä Fibre, and also one of the pulp giant’s basic strategic concepts.
“Building sustainable development and being a respected global leader are strategic visions of Sun Paper as well,” says Li Na, Vice Chairman of Sun Paper.
Li Na’s father, Li Hongxin, is the founder of Sun Paper, a leading paper company in China and one of the biggest clients of Metsä Fibre. Li Na was among the dozens of guests invited by Metsä Fibre to visit its state-of-the-art bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, Central Finland.
When arriving in Helsinki after a ten-hour flight, Li Na was straight away greeted with a feeling of efficiency: “Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is more convenient than most of the airports I have visited. The attitude is pragmatic and creates a good customer experience. In a way, it is Finnish business in miniature. Metsä Fibre has given me the same impression during our lengthy cooperation."
Headquartered in Ji’ning City, in the Shandong Province of China, Sun Paper was founded in the early 1980s. The company started from scratch, employing only some 30 people in the beginning. The decade ushered in the era of reform and openness, and Sun Paper decisively seized the opportunity to attract foreign investment and set up four joint ventures in the United States, Canada, and Hong Kong. The strategic move secured the funds needed for further development.
Subsequently, the group expanded rapidly through mergers and acquisitions and gradually gained a firm foothold in the market. In 2006, Sun Paper went public in the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, and began to set its sights on the overseas market. Sun Paper had a subsidiary in Laos in 2010, and later on, a bio-refinery project in the US in Arkansas. Thirty years after its establishment, Sun Paper has grown into a leading company in the competitive Chinese market, with a production capacity of 7.5 million tonnes of pulp and paper.
Since the turn of the century, the company has shown more persistence and a stronger commitment to the concept of sustainable development. Sun Paper's wastewater COD outflow quality has reached 30 mg/L or less, and a zero emission level has been guaranteed in all chemical pulp wastewater, furthering the balanced development of economic, environmental and social benefits.
"Metsä Fibre and Sun Paper have operated side by side for more than a decade, and the initial procurement relationship has evolved into a long-term strategic partnership. In fact, Metsä Fibre has witnessed the growth of Sun Paper all along."
SHARED VALUES YIELD EXCELLENCE
The quality of products depends to some extent on what values the producer has.
“For the sake of the credibility of our brand and the quality of our products, our main criteria when choosing suppliers are the stability of their brand reputation, their core values and product quality. Therefore, Sun Paper and Metsä Fibre are well-positioned to maintain a good cooperation. We both regard sustainable development as a long-term strategic goal and share the common ambition of building ourselves into green, intelligent and ecological enterprises.”
During Metsä Fibre’s customer event, Li Na was introduced to the company’s sustainable forest management system and the bioproduct mill in Äänekoski. Like many of her peers, Li Na was deeply impressed by the ecological protection of forests, the digitisation of operational processes and the traceability of wood raw material. Although Sun Paper has been using Metsä Fibre’s products, this was the first time that Li Na witnessed the entire production with her own eyes. She believes that the forest management system and bioproduct mill serve as examples of a methodology and concrete practices related to the concept of sustainable development.
“The bioproduct mill is highly developed, not only reducing costs and increasing efficiency, but also guaranteeing the stable quality of pulp products, which all buyers are mainly concerned about," Li Na points out.
As part of its sustainable forest management system, Metsä Fibre’s entire logging process is transparent and the origin of all harvested wood is traceable. The process can be viewed anytime, anywhere via a mobile phone application, and harvesting and timber selection are also highly automated.
“This improves the stability of quality compared to manual operations, and is something that we need to learn,” Li Na says, adding that Sun Paper is currently investigating how to integrate artificial intelligence with the paper making process, and may be testing “smart feeding” in the near future.
Li Na points out that quality products are made from quality pulp: “This product, for example, is from our additive-free tissue series. The series has been made of pulp produced in the mill that we visited today,” Li Na says, handing out a Sun Elements branded handkerchief tissue from her pocket. The package states that no dry strength agents, wet strength agents, softeners or fluorescent brightenershave been added to the product, and displays all the major environmental certifications.
Metsä Fibre’s pulp is used in almost all of Sun Paper’s products, including various products for office use, such as printing and writing paper, coated paper, folding boxboard and household paper. Li Na sees that the cooperation between the two companies has enhanced the competitiveness of Sun Paper and increased the awareness of Metsä Fibre in the Chinese market.
MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL COOPERATION
Envisioning the situation in the next few years, Li Na says that Sun Paper will continue to upgrade its facilities, optimise the formula of raw materials, and improve its processing technologies. In her view, the ties between Sun Paper and Metsä Fibre should be strengthened even further to allow the companies to complement each other’s strengths.
"Metsä has a history of over one hundred years, and Sun Paper has existed for more than 30 years. We are a relatively young company, with many things worth learning," Li Na says.
The year 2018 marks the first year of the 19th National Congress of China and the 40th anniversary of China's economic reform. Li Na believes that China's paper market will soon revise its philosophy, and the industry will shift its focus from high-speed to high-quality. The competitive scene will be such that small companies that do not pay sufficient attention to environmental protection and sustainable development will be phased out.
“Sun Paper’s core concept of environmental protection and sustainable development will make us a beneficiary of the stricter environmental protection policies.”
A more stringent Chinese import policy on waste paper has led to a shortage of raw materials, and the situation is expected to continue this year. Facing the challenge, Sun Paper will adopt a “4-3-3” strategy, meaning that 40% of the future profit will come from traditional paper, 30% from bioproducts and 30% from fast-moving consumer goods. “In addition, we will increasingly step up the internationalisation of the company, integrate the businesses of pulp and paper, and secure the supply of raw materials,“ Li Na adds.
Sun Paper will not proceed with this plan without the backing of its major supplier Metsä Fibre, whose persistence in quality production and technology optimisation will be of great importance to Chinese clients. Li Na maintained that a friendly customer experience is a key asset of Metsä Fibre.
“This Customer Experience Day event is a good example. The itinerary is very well planned,” Li Na says, adding that Metsä Fibre has performed uniquely well with regards to offering tailor-made services: “Becoming an indispensable partner for customers will surely improve their loyalty to Metsä Fibre."