Renewable strength from the north – Why northern wood fiber makes for exceptional packaging

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If you ask consumers, fiber-based cartons are the go-to material for food packaging.

For the quality and sustainability of the packaging material, where the fiber comes from also matters. Here’s a look at the key benefits of using northern wood fiber as the raw material for consumer packaging.

Did you know that 73% of consumers prefer fiber-based cartons over plastics in food packaging? This indicates the growing preference consumers have for more  conscious packaging choices. This shift is driving consumer brands to adopt more sustainable packaging materials, such as renewable carton board made of wood fiber. 

To ensure high quality and sustainability of packaging materials, it’s key to know where the fiber comes from. 

Stora Enso is building new consumer board production capacity at its Oulu Mill in Northern Finland, where the availability of high-quality northern wood fiber plays a key role in production. 

Let’s look at what makes northern forest fiber an exceptionally great raw material for consumer packaging, and how Stora Enso ensures the sustainability of its wood supply at the Oulu Mill: 

1. Quality and strength from northern forests 

Due to harsher and colder growing conditions, fiber from northern forests has special characteristics. As winters are long and dark and growth seasons short, trees in the north grow, resulting in denser wood. 

Thus, pulp made of northern fiber can be very strong, allowing Stora Enso to produce high-quality carton boards that are rigid at a lightweight. 

For customers, this means strong yet light packaging material that protects the products perfectly and offers consistent visual appeal on the shelf, while also delivering greater material efficiency. Strength combined with light weight means less packaging material needs to be used, meaning greater cost effectiveness. 

“The quality of the packaging starts from the fiber”, says Eva Lundqvist, Senior Product Manager in Packaging Materials at Stora Enso. “Fresh fiber from northern forests allows us to create ideal packaging materials for our customers in the food and beverage segments. The carton boards are visually appealing with natural aesthetics, while also enabling great performance, strict food safety and solid sustainability credentials.”

To make the most out of northern fiber’s natural qualities, Stora Enso also uses a patented fiber treatment technology, called FiberLight Tec™, to reach the optimal balance of lightness, strength and visual appeal, while also saving energy and raw material.

2. Sustainable fibers from forestry side streams 

So, what about the sustainability of northern forest fiber? How can customers know that the raw material in Stora Enso’s carton boards is sourced responsibly, taking into account the healthy growth and biodiversity of forests?  

In fact, for the upcoming consumer carton production at the Oulu Mill, most of the raw material will come from forestry side streams: trees and parts of trees that are collected during forest management and wood processing.   

“We’ll be using birch fiber from forest thinnings, where young trees are selectively harvested from forests to enable remaining trees to grow better. In addition, fiber will come from sawmill side streams: treetops and woodchips collected as logs are made into construction materials”, explains Janne Partanen, Stora Enso’s Head of Wood Supply Finland.  

Utilising every part of the tree from forestry side streams enables Stora Enso meet growing market demand for renewable carton boards with minimal increases in forest felling in the region. 

“So even though we are opening a new, high-volume production line at the Oulu Mill in 2025, our impact on felling in the region should not increase from what it was about 5 years ago”, Partanen says. “All in all, wood supply in the region around the Oulu Mill is reliable and sustainable.”

3. Northern forestry traditions ensure traceability and sustainability 

Stora Enso has strict standards when it comes to sourcing and sustainable forest management. The company knows the origin of all the wood that is used in its materials and guarantees that 100% of the fiber comes from sustainably managed forests. Furthermore, Stora Enso is committed to having a net-positive impact on forest biodiversity within its own forests and plantations by 2050. 

In Finland, ensuring sustainable forest management means working together with private forest owners. 

“A factor specific to Finland is that most forests are owned by individual Finnish families. We cooperate closely with forest owners and our sourcing partners to make sure forests are managed sustainably, enabling healthy growth and biodiversity,” Partanen says. 

Over all, sustainable forestry has a long history in Finland and the Nordics. “Forestry is one of the biggest industries in the region, so we have hundreds of years of experience as well as high-level research and development into how to best ensure the vitality, growth and sustainable use of forests: how to plant, how to harvest, how to utilise every part of the tree and create the best quality in fiber-based products”, adds Lundqvist. 

In recent years, the focus of sustainability work has increasingly been on improving biodiversity. Stora Enso’s biodiversity action program in Finland supports forest owners to increase biodiversity in their forests. Goals include having higher levels of living, sturdy retention trees, decaying wood, thickets, and mixed tree cover with broad-leaved trees. 

Sustainable forest management is tracked with different tools, including forest certification and third-party traceability systems such as the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) certification and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certification. 

“By far the majority of the forests we source from in Finland are certified, and we treat all forests according to certification standards nonetheless”, Partanen says. “Safeguarding biodiversity is essential for healthy, growing forests – so it’s a prerequisite for our business, for the continuation of Finnish family forestry, and for making sure we can offer our customers sustainable, renewable packaging materials.”

This article is part of a series highlighting the key advantages of Stora Enso’s growing consumer board production capacity at the Oulu Mill, in northern Finland. Read the previous installment on why the demand for renewable packaging materials is stable.

Part of the global bioeconomy, Stora Enso is a leading provider of renewable products in packaging, biomaterials and wooden construction, and one of the largest private forest owners in the world. We believe that everything that is made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow. Stora Enso has approximately 20,000 employees and our sales in 2023 were EUR 9.4 billion. Stora Enso shares are listed on Nasdaq Helsinki Oy (STEAV, STERV) and Nasdaq Stockholm AB (STE A, STE R). In addition, the shares are traded in the USA as ADRs and Ordinary Shares (SEOAY, SEOFF, SEOJF).

Source: Stora Enso