Sweden’s Old Growth Forests Used For Cardboard

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was signed in December 2022 after a final round of negotiations at the nature-focused COP15 event.  It requires signatories to commit to the restoration and protection of at least 30% of their territory by 2030.  Sweden’s ability to do this effectively has been called into question in new research carried out by Greenpeace into the country’s forestry industry.  The NGO’s Killed by Cardboard report published on 15 May 2024 links the fast growing e-commerce sector’s insatiable appetite for cardboard packaging with the destruction of native old-growth forests.

    According to Greenpeace, the Swedish forestry industry’s self-reporting cannot be relied upon.  The investigators therefore focused their efforts on gathering data via on-site observations, the use of tracking devices, and online research of company value chains and commercial relationships.  Cut timber was traced from forest to paper-and-pulp mills operated by companies including Smurfit Kappa, SCA, and Billerud.  The investigators identified areas of so-called continuity or old-growth forest from available mapping and then determined whether logging was taking place in those sensitive locations.  Continuity forest areas are those where no previous felling has occurred and in which native tree species have established themselves over a long period.  The investogators then either physically followed timber trucks or placed tracking devices on the vehicles. 

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    The next step in the research involved establishing links between these pulp and paper producers and the several hundred companies that were potential buyers of unsustainably sourced cardboard packaging.   These include major e-commerce firms like Amazon and HelloFresh, as well as packaging for traditional retail goods such as groceries and consumer electronics.  According to Swedish Forest Industries data, more than 60% of Swedish timber is used in paper manufacture, much of it destined for export to other European markets.

    Forestry certification weaknesses

    Consumers and investors rely on certification schemes as a means of identifying sustainable business practices.  However, the report highlights a number of weaknesses in the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) schemes, which sometimes fail to properly define vulnerable woodland areas and neglect the impact on the livelihood, culture, and traditions of Sweden’s indigenous Sámi population.  According to Greenpeace, the FSC guidelines as applied in Sweden are skewed in favour of the logging companies, who are typically afforded the final say in cases of conflict resolution with the affected Sámi people.

    In publishing the report Greenpeace is hoping to trigger a response from the markets, given the apparent failure of regulatory measures.  It expects the companies purchasing the paper and packaging products to take greater responsibility for the sustainability of their value chains.  A suggested first step is for them to firmly stipulate that suppliers only source timber from areas outside the continuity forests.  Information on the latter is freely accessible from publicly available mapping such as that provided by Swedish NGO Skydda Skogen.  Greenpeace would also like to see paper industry regulations strengthened to meet the standards required for the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework Agreement and the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030.  Finally, the NGO would like to see the runaway demand for cardboard packaging curbed by the elimination of single use items and a growth in reusable containers for the transport of consumer goods.

    Erika Bjureby, Programme Manager at Greenpeace Sweden, said: “I have lived in the Amazon rainforest, and I see a lot of similarities to what is happening right now in Swedish forests.  We are destroying some of Europe’s most important ecosystems to produce throwaway products like cardboard.  It is absurd.  To stop this, big players in the e-commerce sector must ensure that their suppliers stop providing them with raw material that originates from clear-cut old-growth forests. They must shift towards reusable shipping solutions and encourage the EU to protect these precious ecosystems before it’s too late.”

    Image courtesy of © Greenpeace
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