A need for the right kind of energy

The seventeenth sustainable development goal of the Agenda 2030 addresses energy, stating that we must ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. This is an especially important goal, since energy is one of the largest contributors to climate change. And as such it is closely related to the other sustainability goals.

Looking further into the question of energy, there is little doubt that industries are one of the largest consumers. Some more than others. For instance, the pulp, paper and print industry represent more than 3% of the total European consumption. This is extremely energy intensive, but it’s still lower than for example the chemical industry (4.8%) and the steel industry (4.6%)1.

More importantly, the European paper industry is doing huge and continuous efforts to reduce their energy consumption. Between 2010 and 2015, the energy consumption was reduced by 11.7%. It’s actually at a lower level now than it was twenty years ago2.Today, more than half of the electricity used by the European paper industry is also produced on-site3. In Holmen, the use of fossil fuels at the mills has been reduced by 86% since 2005.

Looking at this from another angle, it is also true that the paper industry is one of Europe’s biggest consumers of renewable energy. When using renewable bioenergy we only release biogenic carbon. In fact, the emissions are effectively carbon neutral, and accounts for only 0.6% of the European greenhouse gas emissions4. In other words, even though we use a lot of energy, we do it in a responsible way, minimizing the climate effects as much as possible. One of our goals in Holmen is to use more of the renewable electrical energy that we produce (hydro power, wind power and bio-based electricity. By 2020 is should be at least 50% (in 2018 it was 45%).We want to offer carbon neutral products (according to the ten toes of CEPI) so we also make calculations on product level.

It’s not a question of fresh fibre-based paper vs recycled

If we add the fresh fibre to the sustainability equation, the picture becomes slightly more complex. Most people believe in paper recycling, and so do we! More than 72% of the paper consumed in Europe is recycled, and an impressing amount of more than 60 million tonnes of paper is collected in Europe every year. Theoretically, we can recycle as much as 78%, and the target for 2020 is 74%5. This is all very good (especially compared to the plastic industry which has a recycling rate of 29.7%), and something we definitely applaud. But, unfortunately, it’s also a common view that recycled paper is more environmentally friendly than a fresh fibre-based paper, which is a notion that needs to be challenged.

The fibre itself can only be recycled up to 5-7 times6, simply because the quality of the fibre deteriorates rapidly every time it is reused. So, for the most part, recovered fibre is used to produce paper products of lower quality7. Consequently, in order to fulfil society’s demand for paper and board products, we need an inflow of both types of fibre. The recycled fibre simply cannot exist without the harvesting of fresh fibre. In our recent Life-Cycle Analysis (made by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, IVL), we actually found out that fresh fibres actually have a lower environmental impact in several aspects.

We grow a sustainable future

Unlike what many people think, we do not harvest any trees to make paper. Around 50% of the harvest consists of large logs that are used to produce construction material and joinery products. The narrower top part of the tree, along with wood from thinning, amounts to about 45% and is used to make paper and paperboard. The remainder (branches, tops, bark and sawdust) is used to produce renewable energy. Nothing goes to waste, everything is used.

With our responsible and sustainable forestry, we can add even more positive effects from a climate point of view. As trees and other vegetation grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the forest acts as a carbon sink, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change8. During the period 2005-2015, our European forests grew by an area larger than Switzerland9. So by acknowledging fresh fibre as a raw material equally important to the recycled fibre, we are in fact growing a sustainable future.

 

Sources: [1] Eurostat 2015, [2] CEPI, Key statistics 2015, [3] The Association for Decentralised Energy, 2017, [4] European Environment Agency, 2015, [5] European Recycling Council, European Declaration on Paper Recycling, 2015-2020, 2017, [6] European Recycling Council, 2017, [7] WBCSD, Fresh & Recycled Fibre Complementarity, 2017, [8] UN FAO, Forest and Climate change 2003, [9] European Environment Agency, 2015