"Sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint"

Published 23 October 2015
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Noel Morrin joined Stora Enso as Executive Vice President for Global Responsibility in 2015. Here he shares his views on the future of sustainability and the way forward for Stora Enso.​

Who is Noel Morrin? How did you end up working in corporate sustainability?

I grew up in the countryside in Ireland. I started my career in the chemical sector, working with chemicals such as solvents, CFCs, and PVC which at the time was called the “devil’s plastic” by Greenpeace. During those early years, many heavy industry companies were beginning to realise their impacts on the environment. So did mine, and my work became more and more focused on environmental issues.

In 1991, I wanted a change in my career so I moved to a leading environmental NGO in London. From there I went on to the UK national environment and energy technology centre, and then into the sustainability functions of major companies in the heavy materials and construction industries. From there, I came to Stora Enso. I have been working on sustainability issues since 1987, so I suppose you could say I am one of the dinosaurs on this topic.

What are the megatrends that will shape the industry in 2016 and beyond?

I think urbanisation comes with some very interesting trends like less fresh food and more packaged food. Stora Enso can provide renewable, recyclable, and safe packaging for that food.

Climate change impacts Stora Enso operations in Europe and elsewhere. Big storms such as typhoons in Asia, for example, increase the risk of tree loss, and we need to be aware of and prepared for this. But Stora Enso is also in a great position to combat climate change. Many of our mills are already more than 90% fossil fuel free, and I believe that with the right commitment most of our pulp mills can be independent of fossil fuels within ten years.

Changing demographics is another very interesting megatrend. Populations in Western markets are getting older, and that shapes a lot of things. This brings many opportunities to companies like Stora Enso. What kinds of products can we provide for these ageing “baby boomers” who have money to spend but might struggle to open poorly designed packages, for example?

What makes a truly sustainable company?

In my opinion, balancing the environmental, economic, and social impacts of your operations - the so called triple bottom line - is key. It’s the value that comes from values. You cannot practice environmental and social sustainability without being profitable. But if you only run for profit, eventually something will come and bite you in the backside.

Stora Enso has all the components to be a leader in sustainability. We have passionate people at all levels, important investors who think long term, and a raw material base that keeps growing. We have a sustainability Executive Vice President reporting directly to the CEO, which is very rare, and sustainability is increasingly embedded in the company strategy. This is a fantastic situation to be in.

Sustainable development is about long-term commitment. Combating climate change is an example of such a commitment – it’s not something we can cover in a quarter, a year, or even a decade. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Parts of Stora Enso are 800 years old, we have mills that have been operating for decades, and even our raw material can take up to 100 years to mature. If we can’t do it, who can?

What are Stora Enso’s biggest sustainability challenges?

I would say the majority of our sustainability challenges are related to our supply chains. We need to have tight control over our suppliers. Getting them to sign our Supplier Code of Conduct is a very important first step, but we need to walk the talk and make sure suppliers really know what they are committing to. It cannot be business at any price.

Another challenge is to attract talent into Stora Enso’s operations in rural areas that are losing young people to urbanisation. We need to hand experience over to the next generation, otherwise who will manage our forests and plantations? Who will operate our mills?

I think we also need to position ourselves as part of the solution to climate change. Our raw material, wood, absorbs carbon dioxide and can be re-grown. This gives us a natural advantage.

By doing these things, we can become part of the sustainability ambitions of our customers. We should be able to make our customers more sustainable than any of our competitors can. If a customer is committed to sustainability, we must become their first choice.

What makes renewable materials superior to others? Do consumers see this?

Our renewable materials can replace materials made from fossil oil. This is a great property, but it’s not enough. Most consumers, even committed ones, primarily look at price and quality. If we can give them a product that is around the same price, and has around the same or higher performance than a competing fossil product, and is green – of course many will prefer that.

Do you think Stora Enso can make a difference in the lives of people living in the communities around its operations? How?

Absolutely. We need young, talented people who are happy to live and prosper in the countryside. How many other companies can make that statement? Stora Enso can help people stay in rural areas and provide a career that’s just as valuable as some city careers. We have selfish reasons for doing this as well: we need people who will take care of our trees.

What will it take to make Stora Enso a leader in sustainability?

I think Stora Enso is already a leader in environmental sustainability, and has been for a long time. We have taken our medicine on human rights issues in places like Pakistan. Important building blocks are in place, so now we have to deliver – and my ambition is to have all of our 27 000 people working on that. Stora Enso’s leadership in sustainability is in the hands of anybody who has a Stora Enso contract, and also anyone who provides us with products and services. We are only as strong as our weakest link.

Page updated 8 August 2017.

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