Production and manufacturing

Photo: Torbjörn Bergkvist

Work environment, equality, use of materials, emissions to water and air, energy usage – the sustainability work at Swedish mills is extensive. Here is a short overview of some key issues.

Systematic and long-term sustainability work is being conducted at Swedish sawmills and pulp and paper mills. The focus is on the big picture, which allows for consideration of both employees and the local community, as well as the use of resources and the environmental impact of production. By extension, it involves the companies’ suppliers. The big picture view necessitates constant consideration, and balancing, of different sustainability goals. Financial resources are, for example, a prerequisite for investments in environmental technology.

Here are some key aspects of the forest industry’s important sustainability work:

  • Equality and diversity

Competitiveness, growth and the working environment are all factors that benefit from diversity in a company. The number of women in the industry must increase. This requires long-term work concerning norms and values as well as efforts to make educational routes and professions more attractive to everyone. The industry also takes a clear stand against all forms of discrimination. We talk more about this here [link].

  • A safe working environment

Safety is essential in a workplace, as it allows people to feel confident and content, and enables high staff retention. The forest-based industry works systematically to ensure that the working environment is up to standard, with follow-ups and reports of incidents, potential hazards and accidents. 

  • Environmental consideration

Environmental consideration has been a key aspect of the forest-based industry’s sustainability work. Despite production expanding significantly, today’s emission levels are at a fraction of what they were in the 1970s. Through efforts such as the research of the Swedish Forest Industries’ Water and Air Pollution Committee (SSVL), the forest-based industry was heavily involved in developing the technology for cleaner production. In addition to the move towards renewable fuel, the development of non-chlorine bleach was probably the most important environmental improvement. The emissions from production are generally low today, but work on improvements is ongoing.

  • Use of materials

During harvesting, the entire tree is utilised. The highest possible added value dictates what will be made from the trees’ different parts. The sturdiest part of the stem becomes timber for buildings and furniture. The thinner part becomes pulp for the production of paper, board and textiles. The treetops and branches, as well as waste streams from the forest industry, are used for products such as bioenergy, biofuels and other chemicals. How to best utilise the material is an ongoing effort, with both innovation and demand playing an important role.

  • Energy usage

A great deal of energy is needed to refine forest material into products. The forest-based industry is, in fact, Sweden’s largest energy consumer. However, 96 percent of that energy fossil-free. This is due to a switch from oil to bioenergy made several years ago

Electricity makes up about a quarter of the energy usage, with heating accounting for the rest. This translates to almost 15 percent of Sweden’s electricity usage.

At the same time, the industry is a major energy producer, with 40 percent of the electricity used being produced by the companies themselves in the form of backpressure, hydro and wind power. Heat is also produced internally and generates a big surplus that can be delivered to surrounding heating plants.

Within the forest-based industry, work to streamline energy use continues. Most often, the big gains in energy efficiency are made through investments that improve the business as a whole.

  • Emissions to air

After successful efforts to decrease the emission of sulphur oxides to almost zero, today’s focus is on decreasing the emission of nitrogen oxides through new technology. The emission of sulphur oxides decreased because of the switch to biofuels. However, the nitrogen in those same fuels has led to an increase in nitrogen oxide emissions.

  • Water usage and emissions to water

Water is an important part of production. The industry is constantly working on lowering the use of water in production and making the use more circular. Increasing the reuse of already heated water also has a positive impact on energy usage.

The production of paper mass in the 20th century resulted in emissions of wood fibres and environmental toxins into nearby watercourse. These have been gathering on the bottom in so-called fibre sediments that have absorbed environmental toxins from nearby communities and industries. The latest research shows that the spread of environmental toxins from the fibre sediments has decreased greatly and continues to gradually fall. The debate about whether fibre sediments should be left alone or decontaminated is very much alive. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has developed a control system that  the forest-based industry supports.

Read more about this on the IVL website.

  • Industrial noise

Large-scale industries never rest, running around the clock. This means that they generate noise at all hours of the day, with the threshold values for night-time operation being perceived as most problematic. There are several examples of decreasing tolerance towards noise from production and the necessary transports. The industry has been working for a long time to limit the noise from its activities. At the same time, the effects of the measures must always be weighed against their costs.

  • Industrial odours

Wood has a smell that many notice when they pass by forest-based industries. Bad odours are mainly associated with pulp mills that use sulphate, although they can also stem from sulphite mills. The emission of these odours has greatly decreased because such gases are now being collected and burnt off. Today, the smell occurs largely in connection to a mishap or when the production starts or stops.

  • Use of chemicals

The release of chemicals from the forest-based industry are currently very low. At pulp mills and sawmills, chemicals are recycled multiple times. Chemicals that burden the environment are also constantly being replaced. This is done collaboratively with the chemical industry and by using databases with relevant information concerning the usage chemicals.