Water – an important raw material for Holmen

Holmen uses water to transport and wash fibres at the mills. Water is also used for other operations, such as cooling and steam production. The water used is almost entirely surface water, that is to say water taken from lakes and rivers. The same water is often used several times. Water from the processes is treated in several stages before it is released. At Holmen sites this involves various combinations of mechanical, biological and chemical treatment. Flowing water is used to generate electricity at Holmen’s hydro power plants.

How Holmen tackles water issues

For the production facilities in Sweden and the UK there are normally ample supplies of surface water. 

Holmen has not established any Group-wide environmental targets regarding water use. The issue is dealt with at each site, and for some mills there are environmental targets under the environmental management systems.

There are conditions for the emission of various substances at the mills. These conditions are laid down by the environmental authorities. The conditions in the environmental permits regarding type of wastewater treatment are based on the unique water conditions in the vicinity of each mill. Holmen continuously monitors the status of recipient aquatic environments in close co-operation with the environmental authorities.

Holmen's forests contain lakes, streams and other water-rich environments, which are all sensitive ecosystems with a rich fauna. The waters in the forests are a priority area for Holmen, and active efforts are made in practical work. Ongoing training initiatives are being taken for field personnel and contractors as an important aspect of this work, focusing on water issues in practice.

Statutory requirements for water

The EU's Water Framework Directive is being implemented. Its target is to achieve a good status for all water in Europe. This means that the industry may face new requirements for measures so that all watercourses attain good water quality. The Group participates in local water conservation associations, which will have a key role when the Framework Directive comes into effect. Holmen is well placed to satisfy the requirements of the EU Directive with the measures being taken to reduce both water consumption and emissions.

New environmental legislation entered into force in Sweden on 1 January 2019, based on the Swedish energy agreement. The legislation means that hydro power operators will need to apply for a review under the Swedish Environmental Code before the end of 2039. 

Holmen's power stations are all well placed to meet the necessary environmental adaptations without any major impact on production. Holmen plants were registered under the national plan for revision of hydro power plant licences in 2019.

Water footprint

In line with increased awareness of the sensitivity of nature to climate change, there has been increasing focus on the availability of fresh water around the world. Methods are therefore now being developed to be able to calculate the water footprint of companies and products, that is to say water consumption from a lifecycle perspective.

An industry-wide project was carried out in Sweden to describe the use/consumption of water at industrial sites and water flows in forestry. Water consumption is often defined as the water that is withheld from other uses. The water that evaporates during forest industry manufacturing processes is withheld from other uses in the short term and can therefore be considered to have been consumed. Water in the products manufactured and in the resulting waste should also be seen as withheld from other use. The process water that leaves the mills, however, is of a quality that permits other use and has thus not been consumed. This quality is regulated through the mills' environmental permits and emissions regulations. In addition to use in processes, water is also used for cooling in process sections at the mills. This water is discharged, allowing for it to be used in other ways.

The conclusion of the project was that the impact of the Swedish forest industry and forestry on water access and quality is limited, and in some cases positive. The total consumption of water in the Swedish forest industry was assessed to be 6-7 per cent of raw water intake. More than 90 per cent of water consumed (water withheld from other uses) is in the form of steam.

Holmen has performed a corresponding calculation for the Group's Swedish mills. The results concur with those that emerged in the industry-wide project. Water consumption for the three mills was between 1 and 5 per cent of raw water intake. And once again it should be pointed out that the water used is almost entirely surface water, that is to say water taken from lakes and rivers.