Wooden wall

Four ways renewable materials help combat climate change

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Our choice of raw materials matters when looking for ways to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Stora Enso can help as a provider of renewable materials and solutions. How exactly can renewable materials help combat climate change?

The use of fossil-based materials is growing fast, and while many of them can be recycled, they come from a finite resource – we will run out of them and will not be able to renew them in our lifetime. Renewable materials, such as wood, are recyclable and actually get recycled more than fossil-based plastic, for example. They even help us move from carbon emissions to carbon storage.

“We cannot continue with the current linear fossil-based economic model,” says Marc Palahí, Director of the European Forest Institute. “The future economy needs to be renewable, biobased, and circular. This requires reinventing business models, the way we consume, and addressing the past failure of our economy to value nature. We need a new economy system powered by and thriving in harmony with nature. To scale up this change, we need innovation, finance, joint ventures, and regulatory frameworks that provide a predictable environment.”

Renewable materials help fight climate change in at least the following ways:

1. Trees grows back and absorb carbon dioxide while growing

When forests are managed sustainably, more trees are planted than are harvested. When trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In comparison, fossil-based materials cannot be renewed. When consumed, they release fossil CO2 into the atmosphere and heat our planet.

2. You can choose products that store carbon

When trees and their fibers are made into different products, like packaging, paper, and clothing, the carbon remains inside them, even through recycling. Fibers can be recycled at least 5-7 times and, at the end of their lifetime, they can be used to produce bioenergy.
It’s even better if you can choose to live in a house made of wood. Your home will thus store carbon around you, while also being healthy to live in.

3. Don’t settle for fossil-based products when products with a lower carbon impact already exist

In 2019, Stora Enso’s products saved an estimated 20 million tonnes of CO2 by substituting for fossil-based materials. This amount of CO2 is comparable to the annual emissions of over 5 million cars.

When renewable materials are used to replace fossil-based ones, it reduces the overall climate impact of the product. Lifecycle analyses show that paperboard trays, for instance, have up to a 67% lower carbon footprint than traditional plastic trays.

4. The more we choose renewable materials, the bigger the impact

Industries that matter should use materials that matter. For example, big investments in renewable cartons rather than plastic or glass bottles have already made a difference in the packaging industry. To continue leap-frogging towards a climate-neutral economy, fossil-based materials also need to be replaced in big sectors, such as construction and the textile industry, who still rely on fossil-based materials.

The construction industry is responsible for about 40 percent of global carbon emissions. Wood will play a crucial role, as wood results in less carbon emissions than manufacturing concrete and steel, and buildings made of wood store that carbon. One tonne of carbon is stored per every cubic meter of buildings engineered with wood. Essentially, buildings and cities can become carbon-storage infrastructures.

The textile industry is responsible for more emissions than aviation and maritime shipping combined. More than 70 percent of the fabrics we use today are oil-based plastics, such as polyester. Wood-based textiles are the only notable material that can replace materials like polyester – and even cotton which, while biobased, consumes a lot of water in production.

New solutions available

Some fossil-based materials are hard to replace, but new solutions are available or in the pipeline. Lignin, a part of wood still largely unutilised, can replace fossil-based materials in glues and even batteries. Bio-barriers already replace plastics in packaging as highly functional renewable materials. In the future, entire cars could be made from wood-based materials, such as bio-carbon fiber. It is time to gear up for the future. Join the eco-evolution with us.

Marc Palahí
Director of the European Forest Institute

Marc Palahí