"We want to interact with our stakeholders, tell them about our own operations, and better understand their needs and viewpoints. It's important to us that we're an open and good neighbour to the local people," says Riikka Liikanen, Communications Specialist at the Äänekoski bioproduct mill.
The mill seeks to actively participate in events related to its industry, such as forestry fairs and career and recruitment events.
"We also participate in other local events to be close to the general public. In addition, we cooperate closely with other Metsä Group units in the region."
Alongside stakeholder visits, events which are open to everyone are regularly arranged. For example, several public events were held during the new bioproduct mill construction project at which local people were provided with updated information on the progress of the project and given the opportunity to exchange ideas with Metsä Fibre's experts.
Metsä Group's Pro Nemus Visitor Centre, located at the mill, also offers tours for the general public. Anyone who is interested can register and see the opportunities offered by northern wood and the forest industry.
Investments in road safety
According to Sari Åkerlund, Project Director at the town of Äänekoski, cooperation with the bioproduct mill is very fluent, commenting "we meet regularly and discuss current matters."
Due to the bioproduct mill, heavy traffic has increased in Äänekoski, and 240 timber lorries alone drive through the town every day. Because of this, Åkerlund believes the road safety campaigns that Metsä Fibre arranges for local primary school children are very important.
The mill's experts visit schools and talk about how to move safely in the traffic. Children are given the opportunity to climb onto the driver's seat in the lorry to see the areas the driver can see well and where the blind spots are. The youngest schoolchildren are also given high-visibility vests to wear on their way to school and other trips.
With increased traffic, the logistical arrangements have also been developed further. The lorries no longer drive through the town centre, and chemicals and product transports use different gates at the mill than timber lorries.
"We are also balancing vehicle traffic with the aid of a new application aimed at timber lorries so that transports arrivals at the mill are spread out evenly through the day, and no major congestion occurs," Liikanen says.
To increase road safety, Metsä Group has had flashing lights that warn about pedestrians and cyclists installed at the crossing through which the mill's wood transports arrive at the mill area.
"The bioproduct mill keeps Äänekoski vibrant"
According to Sari Åkerlund, the bioproduct mill is an inseparable part of the everyday life of the people living in Äänekoski, keeping the town vibrant.
"Without the mill, Äänekoski would be a very different place, and the economic life would also be quite different. The bioproduct mill has increased people's trust in the future and attracted interest to the whole region. As a town, we strive to create new opportunities for business and living," Åkerlund says.
One example of this is the Plänet B project, which has Metsä Group as one of the partners. The project's goal is to build cooperation whereby companies in different industries and in different development stages make use of the pre-existing infrastructure in Äänekoski.
"We're constructing a world-class bioeconomy hub in Äänekoski together. We're looking for investments and placement decisions for the region, and are striving to connect companies operating in different sectors to create new businesses and innovations."
According to Åkerlund, the goals also create a need for new kinds of competence that require regional investment.
Children and the young will be the professionals of the future
Indeed, schools and students are one of Metsä Fibre's important stakeholders. In Äänekoski, as in other localities where pulp mills are located, year nine pupils are invited for a visit each year. Close communication also takes place between students and educational institutions focusing on the industry.
The goal of educational collaboration is to inform young people and their teachers of the daily operations of the bioproduct mill and share information about the forest industry, and the career opportunities that it offers. At the same time, educational institutions receive information regarding the competence needs of the field.
"We operate in a continuously developing sector. Cooperation with educational institutions is an investment in the future, because current students will be the professionals of the future. During an internship or when writing a thesis for us, students get a view of working life, and we get fresh knowledge in return," Liikanen says.
The well-being of future professionals is also advanced by supporting sport clubs and cultural services. The mill has also participated in a local initiative against bullying at schools.