Forests as Feedstocks: The Finnish Approach

Nuuksio National Forest on the Outskirts of Helsinki
Nuuksio National Forest on the Outskirts of Helsinki

I’m on the eve of my return home to San Francisco from a lovely time in Finland.

Our wonderful hosts at Finnfacts planned a special last day for us in Nuuksio National Park where we hiked in the woods, smoked our own venison sausages over the fire, and dipped ourselves in a frozen lake and then raced into the sauna.

It was amazing. I gained a new understanding for the deep connection Finns have to the natural world. Don’t get me wrong, Metso the biomass company still has some work to do on its environmental initiatives, but on my tour today I felt like the woods would never end and I saw them as a source for fuel and life-sustaining energy in a way I haven’t ever quite before.

Just the way a husky is considered a beloved member of the family as well as a worker in his role as a sled dog, so too are the Finnish forests respected. That is to say they are beloved, but they also have work to do. For centuries they have been providing humans with heat, building supplies, and raw materials for productive timber, pulp and paper industries. On this trip, we’ve spoken with paper companies and biomass companies, and we’ve sat in wooden structures heated with wood. I’ve been struggling to understand how a country with more than $39B in net sales of paper goods (2008) can also be passionate about preserving environmental resources, but now I see. When you have a natural resource that appears to be limitless, it’s easy to take advantage of its gifts–both material and spiritual. It’s clear that Finns are doing just that. And who can blame them?

In the US we don’t have that luxury. We’ve reduced our forests by 30% in the last 250 years and rampant cutting isn’t really an option anymore. Trees have become veritable holy grounds for environmentalists–some of whom will actually sit in trees for years on end to protect them from chainsaws. This background colored my perspective on the Finnish approach to resource management.

Ultimately, forests are the classic example of a renewable resource that can quickly become non-renewable if it’s over harvested, and that’s not just true in the US. The forests of Finland were certainly a highlight of my visit and I hope the Finns continue to manage this wonderful resource in a way that maintains it for generations to come.

Jen Boynton

Jen is editor in chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and lives in Oakland with her husband and normally happy baby. 
Hit her up at on twitter @jenboynton to discuss diapering strategies or sustainability reporting methodology.