Sweden is so heavily forested that open areas are the exception.
It’s the opposite of continental Europe, where Germany’s well-known Black Forest or France’s Bois Des Landes are deviations in the landscape, which was deforested centuries ago.
In Sweden, the slatten, or “plains,” are distinct. They carry geographic names recognizable to the average Swede, such as Uppsala-slätten or Västgöta-slätten.
Not surprisingly, the huge swaths of forest in Sweden are central to the culture and economy, both of which have lofty reputations globally for sustainability.
Here are six more things that make Sweden’s forest economy unique, according to Iggesund Paperboard.
Legal Forest Protection Began in 1903
The Swedish Forestry Act of 1903 is considered one of the first pieces of environmental legislation in the world. Essentially it states that anyone harvesting forest is obliged to regenerate it.
Iggesund is part of the 400-year-old Holmen Group, which also produces newsprint and sawn timber, and is one of Sweden’s biggest private landowners, with forest holdings of 1.3 million hectares.
The company’s forestry operations, which are certified in accordance with both FSC and PEFC, process about 10 million cubic meters of raw timber every year, the equivalent of almost the entire quantity of timber felled in the UK annually.
Holmen Group says it plants 20 million seedlings every year and that for at least the past 60 years (for which records are easily available) it has never harvested more than the annual growth.
In fact, from 1930 to 2030, the Swedish Forest Agency projects that the country’s standing stock of timber will nearly double as a result of the commitment to replanting.
Unlike in the U.S., landowners in Sweden do not restrict public access.
Allemansrätten is the concept that nature and the outdoors are an open, shared resource. According to Iggesund’s public relations manager, Staffan Sjöberg, it’s an unwritten law with a set of etiquettes that can be summed up by the phrase: Don’t disturb — don’t destroy.
The public is expected to be respectful of landowner activities. At the same time, the thousands of Swedes who hike, bike, ski, camp and forage on timberlands keep a close eye on the operations of forestry companies.
Any time Iggesund wants to harvest a section of forest, it must first submit a permit plan, which is then open to public criticism and debate. If the public objects, the Forest Agency will step in to consider arguments and make a ruling. The plan also is required to include provisions such as deadfalls and standing stumps to help insects and birds make the transition from mature forest to new growth.
Sjöberg said public access and transparency is most evident as it relates to the popular sport of cross-country skiing. Each year Vasaloppet, a weeklong cross-country skiing event, draws 67,000 participants from across Sweden including 17,000 elite racers who complete a 90-km course.
Where do they all train throughout the year? In the forest, of course.
Sweden Is the Third-Largest Exporter of Forest Products
If you want to understand just how important the forest economy is in Sweden, consider that the country’s exports of pulp, paper and sawn wood are nearly on par with those of the U.S., yet the country is only one-twentieth the size.
The forest industry accounts for between 9 and 12 percent of Swedish industry’s total employment, exports, sales and added value.
Iggesund sells its paperboard products in 100 countries, including the U.S., where on September 4, it celebrated 30 years of incorporation. Recently, Iggesund opened up West Coast operations in Pomona, California, making its products available nationwide. The company says its multilayer Invercote paperboard is distinct from single-layer products typically sold in the U.S. and resists cracking in sophisticated packaging designs.
Chanel, Guerlain, Dior, Veuve-Clicquot, Johnny Walker, Macallan, Bulgari and Issey Miyake are some of the brands that have used Iggusund products as the basis of their packaging.
There’s Plenty of Water in Sweden
Half of Sweden’s local water supplies come from surface water, including approximately 95,700 lakes.
The production of forest products is notoriously water-intensive, yet Iggesund’s main mill uses only six percent of the water that passes through its local system of lakes to the coast. In 2016 the mill will mark 100 years of consistent operation, and according to Sjöberg, it has never experienced a water shortage.
Climate change models show water supply increasing in Sweden on average by 5-25 percent, so it’s unlikely that water supply will become a concern for the industry.
Of course, water quality is a separate issue.
In 1999, Swedish Parliament adopted 15 National Environmental Quality Objectives that set forth the state of Sweden’s environment deemed necessary for sustainable development. According to a U.N. analysis, many of the objectives concern sanitation: zero eutrophication, a balanced marine environment and flourishing coastal areas, flourishing lakes and streams, good-quality groundwater, and a non-toxic environment.
The non-toxic environment objective was further outlined in the Swedish Chemicals Policy, adopted by the Parliament in 2001. This policy aimed to achieve within one generation that the environment would be free from man-made substances and metals that represent a threat to health or biological diversity.
Iggesund built its first mechanical-filtration water treatment facility in 1969. Seven years later it added a second layer of biological treatment that uses microorganisms to reduce organic content in the mill’s wastewater. Then in 2009, the company added a chemical process to return all wastewater to drinking-quality standard.
According to Sjoberg, regular chemical analysis finds no difference in fish caught just off the coast of the Iggesund mill when compared to fish caught in other areas of the Baltic Sea.
Sweden’s Forest Economy Is Nearly Fossil-Fuel Free
Through steady investment, Sweden’s pulp and paper industry has become almost entirely powered by renewable resources.
Since 1980, the industry’s annual consumption of oil has by cut by roughly 80 percent, from around 1,200,000 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) to less than 200,000 toe, according to the Swedish Forest Industries Association. This has been achieved primarily through expanded use of biofuels and wind power.
For example, in 2012 Iggesund started up a new $285 million recovery boiler that powers the company’s Swedish mill with the very trees it’s processing. After the cellulose fiber has been removed from logs, the remaining lignin (which makes up about 50 percent of the mass) is burned to produce the required heat and electricity.
With the new boiler, the mill is now 95 percent energy-self-sufficient and expects to reach 100 percent with increased production over the next few years. Technology investments also helped cut Holmen Group’s CO2 emissions drastically — from 123 kilos per metric ton of manufactured paperboard and paper products in 2013 to 67 kilos in 2014.
Holmen Group reports to CDP and is on its 2014 A List of 187 companies “doing the most to combat climate change.” But the story doesn’t end there.
The company’s reported emissions figures are based only on manufacturing through distribution phases, and do not take into account the carbon sequestration benefits of the industry, or avoided fossil emissions. Taking into account the bigger picture, Iggesund calculated its net positive climate effect in 2013 at 880,000 tons of CO2.
Virgin Fiber Has to Come From Somewhere
It would be nice if paper products could be recycled indefinitely. But they can’t.
Pessimists in the industry say it can be recycled three times, while optimists say seven to eight. Regardless, there needs to be a fresh (and responsible) supply of virgin fiber into the system.
Iggesund Paperboard manufactures only with virgin fiber. This allows the company to produce high-performance packaging solutions. However, according to the company, this positioning in the market is ultimately a result of its access and commitment to raw materials.
Holmen also participates in the recycling of paper products in Sweden, where the recovery rate was roughly 68 percent in 2013. Holmen is part owner of Sweden’s largest recycling company for fiber-based packaging.
Regarding responsibility, Holmen is a UN Global Compact signee and reports to the Global Reporting Initiative’s A+ level. Learn more in the company’s integrated annual report.