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Spoiling the consumer. In a sustainable way.

Spoiling the consumer. In a sustainable way.

Personal indulgence and guilt-free consumption are two large but conflicting trends. People want to spoil themselves with nice products, comfortable services and experiences – without impacting the planet, society or even health in a negative way. Good food, modern homes, online shopping and world travel. But how can we indulge in these without feeling guilty?

Companies are responding to these concerns by increasingly informing consumers on the impact of their products, supporting them in their choices and educating them on the complicated issues of material selection, recycling and environmental footprint.

Good information is available in abundance and poured over consumers like milk over breakfast cereals! We are completely drowned in information often with clashing messages– resulting in complete confusion that makes us wary and insecure when making a purchase decision. Will our next move have a positive or negative impact?

The truth is, we as consumers want companies to do all the math and make the decisions for us, to help us to reduce the negative impacts of our own choices. We want to buy what we need and desire, and we want it to have value for the society we live in. We trust and reward companies who commit to social and environmental values.

And companies are listening and acting. For example, the American retail chain Walmart is dedicated to reducing food waste in the USA and recently launched the “I’m Perfect” initiative. This is a brand for apples that has traditionally been unsellable due to the damaged exterior, even though a perfect flavour and texture are maintained. Swedish retailer ICA launched a similar initiative this year, where unsellable fruit and vegetables are made into preserves and beverages. Other companies who have responded to consumer concerns are Intel, who has stopped using minerals from conflict zones, as well as Subway, who has removed a potentially harmful chemical from its bread.

For a proof point of consumer actions, just look at the high growth in sales of organic products.  It is my firm belief that consumers who want organic products will, in the future, have higher demands for a fully sustainable solution for a product – from the actual product to low emission transportation, social fairness for workers and a sustainably sourced and manufactured packaging.

In 2014, 72% of consumers said that companies are failing to take care of the planet and society as a whole (Ref: UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, 2014). The same study highlighted that two-thirds of CEOs believe companies are not doing enough to address the sustainability challenges. With all the sustainable initiatives reported from companies around the world, those numbers should hopefully have improved already by now.

For those of us who work in the packaging industry, this is all food for thought. Where can we make good choices for our business and society while still spoiling the consumer?  I can name a few to start, for example, continue reducing the environmental impact from production, develop even lighter boards to save on resources, and produce stronger boards to protect products and reduce waste. And there’s more to come.

Altruism, the willingness to do things that bring advantages to others and society as a whole, is a growing trend. I believe only companies that make this an integral part of their strategy will survive in the long-term.


This article reflects the personal views and experience of the author.

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Caroline Nilsson

SVP Strategy and Business Intelligence

Innovation, Communities, Food and Commercial Wood Production in southern Laos

Innovation, Communities, Food and Commercial Wood Production in southern Laos

The people and the government of Laos face many challenges, but probably none as great as poverty. Laos is fortunate to have a significant natural forest cover and a relatively low population density. However, there are large areas of underutilised, degraded lands in Laos, such as former forestlands which were cleared for agriculture and areas impacted by war. This is problematic for poverty alleviation, biodiversity and climate.

The government of Laos is determined to “turn land into capital” whilst protecting the rights and interests of its citizens. The aim is to link opportunities for commercial land use with communities and contribute to the national goal of poverty alleviation. How can this combination of goals be realised?

Stora Enso, for example, has taken a long-term approach to testing a new model of plantation investment, acknowledging the distinct social, political, environmental and historical settings in Lao PDR.

The project area is in some of the poorest districts in the country, where social and economic conditions are well below the Millennium Development Goals, with challenges for food security, nutrition, education and literacy, clean water, health and limited economic opportunities. The area was also subject to intensive bombing in the Vietnam War and has many unexploded bombs that make agricultural production and daily life dangerous.

The project starts by working directly with local villagers. Common practice up until recently in Laos has been to work with the government to identify land for tree plantations. However, without the support of the local communities, long-term security of planted trees is at risk.

Along with government consultation, permits and approvals, an intense process of community consultations identifies village boundaries, intact native forest, areas of spiritual significance, steep slopes and village agricultural lands. Potential planting areas agreed by the company and the community are presented to district officials for approval.

Malnutrition and food security are serious problems.  Could a commercial tree-planting project increase food availability? A new kind of planting design (9 metre-wide tree spacing) was tested, allowing the villagers to intercrop rice, cassava or maize between the trees. In other situations, such agroforestry systems are widely used. After nearly 10 years of testing, this system is supported by the community, producing timber while helping with food supply.

Development of new approaches to clearing of unexploded bombs from the farming and tree growing areas is making the region safer for the community and the company workers. The company trains and employs local people in a range of roles and provides a range of other social and community development benefits.

The project is also increasing carbon stocks, assisting objectives to reduce climate change. Experience demonstrates that the Stora Enso agroforestry model is attractive and farmers prefer it to cultivation of crops on distant swidden lands. This reduces shifting cultivation and pressure on existing forests. Planting degraded lands will increase carbon stocks in biomass and soils in the plantations and adjacent natural forests.

Responsible companies who see economic opportunities in Laos seek to engage communities to ensure that they remain an integral part of commercial investment. This approach can offer a win-win outcome where communities and companies can both benefit. For such responsible companies, this requires balancing between commercial realities, community aspirations and government goals.

In a part of the world that is experiencing great change and economic development, change is inevitable. The transformation of degraded forests and underutilized lands into productive assets through new agroforestry models and long-term private-sector partnerships offers benefits to local people and to the broader Lao society. Commercial wood production provides a sustainable land-use option and an opportunity to improve livelihoods, develop skills and decrease poverty, all the while benefiting the climate.


This article reflects the personal views and experience of the author.

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Stephen Midgley

Forestry consultant

Paper for recycling is a valuable raw material - not waste!

Paper for recycling is a valuable raw material - not waste!

Today, 52% of the paper industry’s fibrous raw material is paper for recycling. Paper is the most recycled product in Europe, and Europe is the global champion in paper recycling with a rate of 72%. We shouldn’t settle with this, however. By continuously working with a combination of educational initiatives, more favourable regulatory frameworks and higher environmental awareness, we can increase the collection rate further and ensure that the paper industry can continue being a role model for a circular economy – and a more sustainable future.

The paper industry, with companies such as Stora Enso, has been a driving force in achieving the high recycling rate in Europe. It brings us all closer to the EU goal of a ‘recycling society’. However, there is a gap between industry’s view of paper for recycling as a raw material and public policy, which regards it as waste. If recycling is to continue to move forward, this gap needs to be addressed.

The current revision of European waste policies gives the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) an opportunity to push for a regulatory framework that enables more recycling of paper, but also recycling of the production residues. It would help to advance the quality of paper for recycling available and remove unjustified red tape and related costs. At the same time, we are working on several fronts to achieve a better balance in policies that would otherwise favour the use of paper for recycling as an energy source and result in a distortion of the recycling market.

So, why should we recycle paper? Well, there are ecological and economic reasons:

Ecologically, recycling is the most preferred option of what to do with paper at the end of its life – instead of using it for energy or putting it on landfill. With recycling, we put the paper into a loop and avoid methane emissions from landfills, making sure the paper raw material has a new life. This, in turn, has social benefits since starting the life cycle again creates more jobs than burning paper for energy. This means an added value to the economy.

It also makes a lot of sense economically since paper for recycling represents 50% of the European paper industry’s raw material. The other half is wood, which is a renewable source and important to keep up the fibre loop – without paper made from fresh fibre there would not be recycled paper.

Did you know that with the current recycling rate we have in Europe, fibre is used 3.5 times on average? That is all qualities combined: newsprint, other printing and writing papers, packaging and tissue. Newsprint and packaging can make more than 3.5 loops.

Around 60 million tonnes of paper for recycling are collected in Europe each year. The collection rate of paper consumed is constantly increasing, and has annually exceeded 60% since 2005 to reach over 70% in 2009. Out of those 60 million tonnes, the European paper industry uses close to 48 million tonnes – and I know Stora Enso is one of the largest single consumers in Europe using 2.1 million tonnes of paper for recycling in 2015. Some volumes are imported by non-European paper companies, mainly in China, to be recycled in the paper industry there. Furthermore, paper for recycling is used as a sustainable insulation material for houses, in attics, timber frame walls, etc.

When it comes to paper collection, there are different systems in place in Europe. There are systems where paper and board are collected separately from other recyclable materials, i.e. in Belgium and Spain. There are even more sophisticated systems where there is a separation between graphic paper and packaging (Sweden, Switzerland). Almost any paper can be recycled, including used newspapers, cardboard, packaging, stationery, ‘direct mail’, magazines, catalogues, greeting cards and wrapping paper. It is important that paper is kept separate from other household waste, as contaminated paper is not acceptable for recycling. There are an estimated 22% of paper products that can not be collected or recycled, such as cigarette papers, wall papers, tissue papers and archives. Some countries are not yet collecting paper and board, here the risk is that it ends up as residual waste or on a landfill.

We are working intensively on this at CEPI. One important project we are partnering is IMPACTPapeRec, a European project to further increase the separate collection of paper for recycling and promote appropriate schemes to avoid landfilling and incineration. The project started earlier in 2016 and is financed by the European Union Horizon 2020 programme.

IMPACTPapeRec focuses on countries with below average paper recycling rates such as Bulgaria, Poland and Romania as well as countries where paper from households, small shops and offices is often collected in a commingled stream with other recyclables, as is the case in France and the UK. The participants have started to discuss the existing schemes as well as indicators to define best practice separate collection schemes.

We also need to continue to work on the recyclability of paper products, meaning that the producers of paper products use the material in such a way that it can be recycled. This could be about using the right ink, adhesives, etc. so it can easily be removed in the recycling process. Organisations, such as the European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC), are very useful in discussing recyclability along the whole value chain. The ERPC comprises collectors, paper producers, printers, converters, but also the producers of printing inks and adhesives.

In many countries, we need to teach consumers that used paper and board are a raw material and not waste, and that by recycling paper they contribute to the circular economy. Recycling is part of a sustainable development approach and closes the paper loop.

So next time you have read a newspaper or unwrapped a parcel, don't forget that used paper is a valuable raw material - not waste!


This article reflects the personal views and experience of the author.

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Ulrich Leberle

Raw Materials Director, CEPI

Stora Enso blog

Blogs on Renewable Future cover a range of topics around the impacts of climate change and other global trends, sustainable consumerism, development and advantages of various renewable solutions, packaging, building solutions, biomaterials, paper, forestry, the potential of a tree and our responsibility as world citizens.

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