Finland: In the Land of Forests
About 25% of Finland’s population live in the urban area of Helsinki. When you drive out of Helsinki, pretty soon there will be nothing but trees as far as the eye can see. Almost 80% of Finland’s total land area is covered by forest. It’s used as recreational area, but at the same time the forest is one of the pillars of the Finnish economy.
When you walk around Helsinki, it becomes clear that there’s a lot of space in this country. Even the capital, which is the most populous part of the country, is characterized by wide, open spaces.
The architecture in Helsinki is very similar to that in the Czech Republic and Poland and reminded me that Finland is not only a Nordic country, but is also very close to Eastern Europe and has been strongly influenced by its neighboring country Russia.
A 4-hour drive from Helsinki through the vast forests of southern Finland lies Äänekoski, which is home to a large bioproduct mill that was opened last year. At the center of this mill is a pulp mill, which turns wood into wood pulp, which in turn is the basis for paper and various paper products. However, this mill, which belongs to the Finnish forest industry group Metsä Group, does not only produce wood pulp, which is why it’s called a bioproduct mill rather than a pulp mill. The goal of this multipurpose mill is to use all raw material coming from the wood as well as all sidestreams, reducing waste to a minimum. In addition to birch and softwood pulp, the Äänekoski mill produces tall oil, turpentine, bioelectricity, product gas, sulphuric acid, and biogas, among others. It produces 2.4 times more bioenergy than it uses. The excess amount is fed to the grid.
For Metrohm Nordic’s Finnish branch, the pulp industry is an important group of customers. The dimensions of pulp production in Finland become immediately apparent when you set foot on Metsä’s Äänekoski site. The mill processes 6.5 million cubic meters of wood every year. A modern visitor center explains the products and the workings of the mill using modern technology, including virtual reality and simulations. There are even train tracks bringing wood directly onto the site.
The digital era hasn’t harmed the pulp industry in Finland. While the demand for printing paper is on the decline, the overall demand for pulp is increasing. Among other reasons, this is because wood pulp is a starting material for sustainable materials, which can replace plastics, for example.
The modern concepts applied at Metsä’s Äänekoski site extend to the personnel management, too. Hierarchies have been minimized, so working groups operate without a boss. They lead themselves based on co-operation and negotiation.