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The unique collaboration between Ahlstrom, Metsä Fibre, 3M, and Earthworm Foundation strives to identify and implement best practices that support responsible forest management. An essential part of the project is to gather feedback from a broad spectrum of forest stakeholders, encompassing both private sector entities, governmental bodies, and civil society representatives.
Ahlstrom is constantly innovating sustainable products by developing fibre-based speciality materials that facilitate customers' journeys to improve the sustainability of their operations and offerings. The most important raw material used in the production of Ahlstrom’s goods is wood pulp. For Ahlstrom, it is of utmost importance that the whole value chain from forest to customers is responsibly managed. This necessitates a solid and enduring collaborative effort.
With this in mind, Ahlstrom joined forces with its’ customer 3M and wood pulp supplier Metsä Fibre, along with the non-profit organization Earthworm Foundation in 2019 to focus on responsible wood sourcing from forest to end products. One of the first steps of the collaboration was to organize a visit to Finnish Lapland to meet relevant stakeholders. The focus of the visit was Metsä Group's wood procurement practices and its impacts on indigenous people. This visit served as a promising launch for the partnership, underscoring the critical nature of open dialogues with all stakeholders when striving to improve responsible practices.
After the initial visit in 2019, a significant amount of dialogue and preparation took place, and in 2022, the collaboration deepened when the parties embarked on a joint project in the Kainuu region in Eastern Finland. The goal was to conduct research on current forestry practices and future practices linked to Metsä Group’s mill expansion in Kemi. Most of the wood for the new mill in Kemi comes from nearby regions, including Kainuu. Based on the research findings, the three companies will refine their operations related to sustainable wood sourcing.
The research was conducted by Earthworm Foundation, and it included interviews with non-profit organisations, government, and civil society entities linked to the region and wood sourcing. The outcomes have provided valuable insights into the perspectives and concerns of different stakeholders in the area.
Although Finland has proportionately the greatest forest coverage (approx. 75%) of any EU country, some stakeholders interviewed by Earthworm Foundation raised concerns about the impacts of current forest management practices on forest values. Most concerns are related to forest carbon storage and biodiversity. The modern Finnish forestry model cultivates young, fast-growing, and densely stocked forest stands that sequester carbon relatively quickly but store less carbon than older forests do in the long term. Preserving these stands and fostering climate-smart approaches are key to helping safeguard Finland’s forests' capacity to offset emissions in the broader land use sector. Some interviewees also highlighted the risk of diminishing biodiversity as Finland's forests are managed more intensively for commercial production, and the forest landscape becomes more homogenous.
These findings have laid the foundation for the next steps in the collaboration.
“We have carefully reviewed the report received from Earthworm Foundation and initiated discussions with our partners on the way forward in developing our operations. One significant step taken last autumn was when we collectively spent time in Kainuu, working on a shared agenda focused on biodiversity restoration and enhancing carbon storage capacity,” tells Emilia Moisio, Head of Procurement at Ahlstrom.
Part of the visit to Kainuu involved meetings with local forest owners from the private and state sectors.
“It was immensely valuable to meet various stakeholders face to face. We engaged in interesting conversations and heard examples from forest owners already involved in shaping more biodiverse forests for future generations while preserving carbon storage capabilities. As a product manager, this collaboration provides me with invaluable insights into the full value chain to better align our value proposition with customers’ aspirations. There is still a lot to do to make the good practices heard and understood by everyone, but we are on the right path,” says Sebastien Ferrari, Product Manager and Sustainability Leader Tape Business Unit at Ahlstrom.
“3M works with partners across the paper supply chain - from forest managers and pulp mills through to paper mills and converters - to ensure that every link in the chain shares our philosophy and guidelines for responsible sourcing, including respecting the rights of indigenous people living in the forest and protecting biodiversity and trees with high carbon storage to prevent CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. Ahlstrom and Metsä's proactive engagement with 3M on this transformative project illustrates forward thinking, a commitment to innovation, and the power of collaboration. Real progress is achieved when companies take the initiative to forge meaningful partnerships and drive change together,” said Geertje Pollaris, Responsible Sourcing Leader for 3M EMEA Region.
Ahlstrom, 3M and Metsä Fibre aspire that their collaboration with local stakeholders will yield a robust framework of best practices, encompassing concrete measures taken from the ground up and followed over time.
Bringing together all the key stakeholders in the supply chain and setting common sustainability objectives holds the potential to safeguard both adequate carbon storage and biodiversity for the future.
Alastair Herd, Senior Manager at Earthworm Foundation has supported this process between 3M, Alstrom and the Finnish forestry company Metsä to accelerate better environmental outcomes in their packaging supply chain from the outset.
“Following the stakeholder consultation process, we convened this visit between the partners, who took time out of their busy schedules to get out into the field, see how wood fiber is produced, listen to the people living in these forest landscapes, and discuss critical issues directly with key stakeholders, such as the national forestry company Metsähallitus. This was essential to further strengthening the partnership, and helped focus discussions on practical next steps to improve outcomes and demonstrate the positive value of the supply chain in driving transformation.”
Ahlstrom strongly believes in the power of collaboration. Inspired by the outstanding cooperation with Metsä Fibre, 3M and Earthworm Foundation, the company aims to apply the model and insights gained from this project to future endeavours in various supply chains.