Trees for tomorrow

Published 21 February 2019 by MINNA KALAJOKI PHOTOS BY STORA ENSO
Paper’s role is vital in Stora Enso’s contribution to the bioeconomy and journey towards being a major player in the renewables sector. The company’s CEO Karl-Henrik Sundström tells us how.

Megatrends around the world challenge every company in every industry.

Digitalisation, urbanisation, growing eco-awareness, expanding middle classes and global warming boost the demand for renewable solutions. “People expect a lot more from companies such as us, and we are happy to respond to that challenge. The paper industry can play a leading role in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. We’re sitting on a fantastic asset as our raw material is, by definition, renewable, recyclable and 100 per cent fossil-free,” points out Karl-Henrik Sundström.

Many see paper’s role declining in the digital age. “Paper is still very important for us, by volume and sales. Money generated by paper operations is fundamental in transforming the company into a renewables company with a more extensive, bio-based offering,” notes Sundström.

Fresh ideas replace fossilbased materials

Innovation teams at Stora Enso focus on finding renewable solutions to replace fossil-based materials in, for example, packaging, building construction and industrial intermediate chemicals. Sundström explains: “Our motto is that everything made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow. In the bioeconomy sectors, there is clear potential for using the world’s resources in a better way. We make every effort to use 100 per cent of a tree.”

Stora Enso, with its objective to become a leading provider of renewable materials, now works with biocomposites, such as DuraSense™, a wood fibre based alternative to plastics and Lineo™, an awarded, high purity kraft lignin to replace phenol in glues, to name a few. “Soon we will launch a cost-competitive carbon fibre from renewable resources, to be used for lightweight structures and energy storage. We also work intensively with microfibrillated cellulose, MFC, which is designed to outperform fossil-based materials in a variety of applications,” Sundstöm says.

Paper’s future is bright

For Sundström, digitalization is an opportunity, not a threat. The interest for paper-based products as a sustainable choice is increasing, and eco-aware consumers choose paper over plastics. “We still need paper in the digital era. No one has seen a paperless office yet,” Sundström says while peeking at his handwritten notes and the writer of this article is taking notes with pen and paper. “Secondly, paper and digital often complement each other. Printed advertising drives e-commerce and retailers still use flyers to catch consumer’s attention.”

Sundström believes in niche markets such as high-quality glossy magazines. Studies suggest it’s easier to take in information from paper than a screen, and learning is more efficient when you take notes by hand. Paper’s role will decline but it will never disappear. “If paper didn’t exist today I bet somebody would invent it,” Sundström says. His favourite bio-based paper product is Multicopy Zero®, the carbon neutral office paper.“It really speaks to office decision-makers because people do care. Choosing a zero emission paper is a tangible way to contribute to the wellbeing of our planet.”

The wind blows forward

“You have to go forward, all the time. Innovation must continue in paper products to improve performance properties and to reduce weight, costs and the environmental impact of the production process,” Sundström explains. Big data analytics plays a transformative role in this as it can reveal areas of waste and opportunities for improvement. Stora Enso uses analytics to, for example, minimise paper production’s impact on the environment and streamline raw material sourcing. “This technology has become less costly and we can now measure and adjust areas of production better than ever. It helps us to reduce the use of raw materials and energy.

However, to achieve this you need good people. Without our professionals we couldn’t make the difference in the eyes of the customers,” Sundström concludes.

“Our motto is that everything made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow.” Karl-Henrik Sundström

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“If paper didn’t exist today I bet somebody would invent it.” Karl-Henrik Sundström