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 Boynton has been the editor in chief of TriplePundit for 8 years. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and a degree in Sociology from Pitzer College. She spent a few years in the non-profit policy sector as well, but we won't talk about that. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with her toddler overlord and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

11 responses

  1. I sure hope to see forests again sometime in the future. Nice post. It gives the reader a good feel of that fresh air, sometimes, as compared to urban city air, fermenting dung seems to be smell much better.

  2. Nice Post. I'm pretty sure the US cut down WAY more than 30% of our original forest, though a great deal has grown back… I can't find links. Anyway, the 'tree sitting' phenomenon (Berkeley notwithstanding) is usually about the teeny tiny bits of very old virgin forest remaining, so I think it's pretty justified. You won't find too many tree sitters in the vast forests of Minnesota which are regularly harvested, perhaps not coincidentally, by a lot of people of Finnish and Swedish origin.

  3. Oh give me a break. You obviously were too influenced by your hosts' to ask the difficult questions. Finland imports between 16% – 25% of their roundwood needs from Russia…, which it seems does not do such a great job of managing their forests.

    Sort of like complementing the USA for its forest management while it imports Canadian wood.

    1. Finland is one of the largest pulp/paper/wood product exporters in the world, so, IMO, it is bit naive to think that each and every year one small country's forests could supply 1/4 of the world's need for pulp, etc.And as there's often news about Finnish forest owners — typically Joe Averages in non-forest-related-real-life-jobs who own small bits of forest — being patient enough to wait, wait and wait for couple of more years in order to see if the wood price would go up. Thus — pulp mills need to get the supply.

      Then again, I'd imagine Finnish enivornmental organizations would raise their voices if the Russian wood Metso, etc buy wouldn't use the same standards the Finnish wood supply uses..

    2. Oh roger, you're just jealous. What's with the hating? I don't claim to be an expert on forest management- and as you can see from my Metsuo post, I wasn't influenced by my hosts- though they were very friendly!

      I just gained a broader understanding of the Finnish relationship to natural space during the forest visit, and I wanted to make sure that came through in addition to some of my other criticisms. Thanks for reading!

    3. Yes, we do import a certain percentage of our wood for pulp and paper production from Russia. However, our paper companies do take care that only PEFC and FSC certified wood is used, as a large part of paper and pulp are used for certified paper products. Check UPM and StoraEnso websites for more info.

  4. Dee

    Actually Finland supplies 6.2% of the world's paper pulp supply, not 25%, and that is decreasing YoY as Finnish-based paper companies invest in Latin American pulp mills using the fast growing eucalyptus fiber.

  5. Yes, we do import a certain percentage of our wood for pulp and paper production from Russia. However, our paper companies do take care that only PEFC and FSC certified wood is used, as a large part of paper and pulp are used for certified paper products. Check UPM and StoraEnso websites for more info.

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