One paperboard company in the north of Sweden is more environmentally-friendly than most, and they’ve got a big goal—they’re trying to reduce fossil fuels. Set in the small town of Iggesund, Sweden, Iggesund Paperboard makes Invercote and Incada, two brands of paperboard known for durability and versatility. Recently, their mill based in England, the Workington Mill, won the Rushlight Bioenergy Award at the Rushlight Awards, an annual award to promote innovation and initiatives in clean technology across the globe.
This award’s not without reason: after implementing a new boiler, the mill has cut down 85% of its carbon dioxide emissions. They’re also working with local farmers in England and Scotland to locally source raw materials for the Workington Mill as well.
More Farmers, Less Fossil Fuel
At the Workington Mill, their campaign to work with local farmers in Scotland and England is a way to harvest raw materials, and their goal is to continue reducing their use of fossil fuels.
“The whole mill was driven by natural gas, which is a fossil fuel,” said Staffan Sjöberg, a spokesperson for Iggesund. “In 2013, we built a biomass boiler so it could provide all the energy for the mill. One option was to try to encourage local farmers to start growing. We made a package where we offered them long contracts (up to 22 years) and an indexed price and services; we offered them planting services and took care of harvesting.”
“We have roughly 200 farmers signing up to this project; it helps them because it’s low labor intensity since we take care of the harvesting,” said Sjöberg.
Though farmers were initially skeptical, those that have chosen to start farming for the Workington Mill are helping the mill promote sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging and encouraging the use of paperboard and wood fibre, their invented bio-based product that “will soon be everywhere.”
“The energy crops the farmers grow for us is only used for fuel to the boiler, so we are driving the process with the energy crops they provide us,” he said. Because of their contribution, the biomass boiler has allowed Iggesund to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 190,000 tons a year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 65,000 cars.
Biomass is Best for Both
With the new generation of farmers flocking to urban areas, the older generation are keen to find low-cost opportunities in their locales. Iggesund had a target to get 25,000 tons a year of raw materials from farmers, which they are now exceeding. “It’s a question where it will end,” said Sjöberg.
“This all came about because fossil fuels are going to be punished over time. We see that everywhere; everyone is trying to get away from using fossil materials—except Donald Trump,” said Sjöberg. “This was a way to become more environmentally sound, really.”
The way paper is produced can count for a lot. According to the International Energy Agency, the printing sector accounted for 5.6% of industrial energy consumption in 2014. Fossil fuels account for 42% of energy consumption the same year. Switching to lower-carbon fuel could have a huge impact on air pollution.
Raw Materials at the Workington Mill
The Sitka Spruce serves as the raw material for the Workington Mill. These trees are commonly used for making paper, and the timber of the Sitka helps build boats, ships, and packing boxes and contributes to construction materials.
The benefit of the Sitka, says Sjöberg, is that it can grow on wetland even where no other resource can grow. “It’s a way of using marginal land to get something out of it,” he said, which in turn, helps farmers.
Local farmers also sell willow as biomass. “We supply them with planning materials,” said Sjöberg. “There are different kinds of variety of willow, and we are mixing different kinds of varieties of willows to keep up the biological diversity.”
“It’s less labor intensive than many other crops, that is what we hear from a lot of farmers,” said Sjöberg. “It is additional income, additional stream of income for the farm. We also learned this area Cumbria is often flooded. All debris that comes with flood is stopped by willow trees, which doesn’t get damaged. It helps with natural flood management.”
Win / Win
Ulf Löfgren, the Workington Mill’s director, says there are more positive effects than just the paper supply. “Cumbria and the parts of Scotland where we are active are dominated by agriculture,” he says. “Our interaction with farmers in working alongside them to grow energy crops, plus the fact that we meet with them at agricultural fairs, and they come to us on study visits, has meant that we now have a far better-defined identity in the region.”
“Nearly 1.6 million pounds flows annually from our paperboard mill at Workington to the local farming community,” says Ulf Löfgren, Managing Director for the mill. In January 2019 the project was given the Rushlight Bioenergy Award.
“We can give ourselves a joint pat on the back for being a good example of the United Nation’s sustainable development goal 17, a partnership for achieving one of the other sustainable development goals. In this case,” he said, “we have a collaboration between a large process industry and over 100 farmers to jointly reduce fossil emissions.”