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close this bookProceedings of the FAO Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products (1997)
View the documentAn example from a developed country - Sweden
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An example from a developed country - Sweden

Jan Remröd
Swedish Forest Industries Association, Stockholm

Originally, Sweden was a poor and small country up in the north which has in nowadays grown to a rather wealthy country. Forests are an important part of the cause of Sweden's prosperity.

The forest is important for all Swedes. When they grow up, they are fed with sagas and legends where the forest very often plays an important role. The trolls are living in the forests, the children are playing in the forests, the artists are painting in the forests, week-ends are spent in the forests, going mushrooming or hiking and so on.

This is also an environment, in which almost all Swedes want to live - in a red cottage close to the forest. The cottage is of course made of wood - this is the typical building material in Sweden, and, therefore, Sweden is more or less built of wood.

When the first inhabitants came to Sweden around 10 000 years ago, this was about the same time as the forests started to grow. As you may know, Sweden, like the rest of northern Europe, was covered with ice in the earlier days. Thus, the history of people in Sweden and the history of the forests in Sweden are of the same age.

The first Swedes were hunters and fishermen, today very few Swedes earn their living in that way. During the millennia they became farmers, they cultivated the land, but they also started to cultivate the forests: they increased their farming acreage by bum-beating, the cattle were grazing also in the forests and so on in a similar way as what today is happening in many tropical areas of the world.

The wealth of today's Swedes is also due to their ancestors that were pretty few - they were too few to be able to devastate the forests, as what has happened in many other parts of the world.

Ship-building was perhaps, with the exception of house-building, the most important part of wood utilisation in Sweden's medieval period, but its use for the mining industry was also vital: both for heating the ores and blast furnaces.

In the fifteenth century the first sawmill started in Sweden and the role of the forests for the development of the society had a real take-off. At that time the forests in Sweden were around 50 percent deciduous and 50 percent coniferous, but the coniferous part was steadily increasing, because of natural migration, and because oak, birch and other deciduous species were commercially more attractive.

At about the same time Sweden started to export some forest products - another important take-off. At that time the export was rather modest. The products were tar, charcoal, timber and later also potash. Production of potash, which increased to be one of the main export products in the eighteenth century, consumed large amounts of wood - mainly birch and beech, and was one of the reasons to the decline of these species.

The nineteenth century was also for Sweden the industrialisation era. The steam-engine made the sawmills more productive, the mechanical pulping methods were developed and later also the chemical pulping ones. The increased prosperity also increased the number of Swedes from 2 million in the beginning of the nineteenth century to 9 million today.

But this increase of the population also consumed the forests: 100 years ago we had much less forests than today, but since then the forests have been increasing: the growing stock is 3 billion m3 today and is still increasing. There has probably never been in Sweden more trees than today.

At the end of the twentieth century, forestry and forest industry have obviously played important roles in building today's society in Sweden, but, what is the situation today and how do we look upon the future?

The forest industry is still one of the basic industries in Sweden - when an industry is as large as the Swedish forest industry, it is a basic need for many activities, it is the hub in a much larger industry sector than the industry itself.

The mechanical industry is a major supplier to the forest industry: Kværner and Sunds Defibrator are developing and producing new machinery for mechanical and chemical pulping, Valmet in Karlstad is building new paper machines, BTG in Säffle new coating equipment, and these companies have reached their global positions as they have had the Swedish forest industry as a demanding home market.

The chemical industry is growing in importance as a supplier to the forest industry: they have made large contributions in solving many problems in the industry. Eka Chemicals is a leading supplier of both bleaching chemicals and paper chemicals. Kemira and Bim Kemi are other major chemical suppliers.

A modern paper machine is supplied with the same amount of computer power as a jumbo jet. Investments in the control and instrumentation parts are steadily increasing and for companies such as ABB, the pulp and paper industry is a major customer.

Investments in new pulp and paper mills are the largest industrial investments in Sweden, thus they are a main base also for construction and building companies.

Trade of forest products is also a basic factor, as export of forest industry products has been a main issue since the fifteenth century and today it is valued at 85 billion kronor or 15 percent of the total Swedish export.

Service industries, such as different types of consulting firms are also benefiting from the large forest industry in Sweden.

The forest industry is a sector that has the highest rate of transported volumes in Sweden. As a matter of fact, 22 percent of all road transport, 32 percent of all sea transport abroad and 33 percent of all rail transport are for the forest industry. This gives jobs to a large number of transport companies, from the national railway company to numerous haulage contractors, but has also been a major thrust for the truck producers Volvo and Scania, giving them a world leading position.

100 000 employed in the Swedish Forestry Sector

There are around 100 000 people directly employed in the industry and about the same number indirectly employed, which means they are involved in transportation or other activities connected to the industry.

In this respect, the location of the mills is also of great importance. The pulp and paper mills are located far away from the urban areas, and are, in most cases, the dominating employers at each location. The sawmills are mostly located in small villages close to the forests - in many cases the only employer in the village.

The number of employed people in the industry has decreased over the years and at the same time productivity has increased. Mechanisation of the forestry operations and computer control of the production processes are the main driving forces behind this development.

The structure of the forest owners is also of importance. Half of the productive forest land in Sweden is owned by private individuals or families. Just under 400 000 people own 250 000 holdings, giving them their major income.

But the forestry and forest industry are not the only that give the forest owners their major income, there is also Sweden as a country that does the same.

When the first figures on export values were reported in the middle of the sixteenth century, tar, charcoal and timber accounted for 12 percent of the total exports from Sweden. Since then this share has increased to 15 percent, but with another product range.

The forest industry products give the biggest export surplus

But even if the car industry has an export value which is double that of the forest industry, its export surplus (exports less imports) is only half. This export surplus pays for instance for the import of oil, petrol, food, clothes, computers and much more. In Sweden's export-based economy, the forest industry is the main motor.

The forest industry believes in the future. Investments have been of a high level during the past years: three large paper machines have been started since last summer. New sawmills are also under discussion. The research sector is backing up the activities with investments in new equipment for pressing, drying and surface treatment and a new programme for fundamental research in the printing and surface treatment sector.

Investments in the Forest Industry, mills in Sweden, 1980-97

Another important factor is that Sweden is a small country with a homogeneous population; consensus can often be reached in different issues; politicians, bureaucrats and people in the industry are traditionally acting in a rational, pragmatic way. One example is the environmental issues - the Swedish forest industry is one of the world leaders in this area. This position has not been reached because the legislators and the authorities have pushed the industry, but because industry, research institutes and authorities have together identified the problems and discussed how to solve them. Of course, the development is not totally idyllic! The environmental groups have sometimes disagreed and there are pressing demands from critical consumers. However, also this debate has developed from confrontation towards dialogue and consensus. The forest industry is no longer the main focus of the environmental debate.

Even if Sweden's situation seems bright, there are also clouds in the sky and they are mainly of a political nature. There are examples of how the traditional rational way of thinking and decision-making is replaced by a very loosely founded eco-fundamentalism. One example is the energy sector - the Swedish paper industry is consuming 13 percent of all the electric power in the country and they are therefore very critical to the plans to phase out the nuclear power plants and starting already next year with the first one. Some other areas could be mentioned where the paper industry has a different opinion than the government, but no other issue is as important as that one.

The basis for controversies is perhaps that the politicians claim that they have built this country and the forest industry claims that they have built it. However, it can be agreed that Sweden is built of wood.