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Södra's Klara Helstad - Leading by example

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Södra's Klara Helstad - Leading by example

September 17, 2012 - 16:00
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BRUSSELS, Sept. 18, 2012 (RISI) -Klara Helstad's idea of fun is sailing around the Swedish archipelago or getting as close to nature as possible in her summer house in Kolmården (the forest, close to Norrköping). She is well placed to appreciate the beauty of Sweden's fauna and flora with a doctorate in forestry and several years' hands-on experience in the forest as Södra Skog's Environmental and Quality Manager. So it was no surprise when she was appointed the new Sustainability Director for the whole Södra Group.
Klara Helstad: Facts & figures
Born:Stockholm Age: 34
Lives:Växjö (5 minutes by bike from the office)
Education:Masters in Forestry Science from the Swedish Agricultural University, PhD from Växjö University focusing on wood procurement to sawmills
Employment:Joined Södra in 2005 as a trainee, worked on productivity programmes before becoming Environmental and Quality Manager at Södra Skog. Appointed head of Sustainability and Communications Director in May 2012.
Family:Married, one son, two dogs
Likes:being outdoors, especially sailing and spending time at her summer house.

It's a role that should not be underestimated and Helstad is aware of the challenges ahead. "The most important aspect of this role will be to ensure that we get our sustainability strategy right for the future, to make sure we are heading in the right direction. It's essential to have a good dialogue with the NGOs and to be proactive rather than reactive, to keep up to date with what they are thinking. For example, we led the way in TCF pulp and continue to offer customers this choice, but the NGOs have long moved on from this issue. Sustainability is ultimately about resource efficiency; how we take care of our resources for the future and try to get as much as possible from the forest with minimal impact."

Helstad is all too aware of the industry's mistakes when it comes to defensiveness in the face of environmental challenges and the public misconceptions surrounding the industry. She believes the big players need to lead by example and is keen to initiate more proactive moves such as Södra's involvement in a campaign to teach better water conservation practice to foresters. "We wrote a book with the other forest owner associations focusing on water," Helstad explains. "We borrowed some models from the WWF and established study circles for our members and other forest owners, having identified this as an important issue for the future. Södra's members represent the largest private forest ownership in Sweden so it was fitting that we should take the lead in this. Our members have responded very positively to this initiative and we will introduce water conservation into our forest management plans in 2013, taking into account all small water courses in members' forests, in line with the green management plans we put in place for members. This will change our way of working when it comes to drawing up green management plans (see box)."

Certification is near and dear

Certification remains high on Helstad's agenda and it's a subject close to her heart: She is a member of the board for both FSC and PEFC in Sweden and led the project at Södra to introduce dual certification (FSC and PEFC) for its members. "I think it will be a huge issue for some years to come," Helstad remarks. "We are working on it all the time and responding to customers' demands for more FSC and PEFC certified wood."

Some 57% of Södra's members are now dual certified, amounting to around 1.3 million hectares. "We are constantly working on our performance and conducting internal audits to see exactly what is going on in our members' forests", comments Helstad. "After the storms of 2005-2007, many members' practices were disrupted, but since then we've seen improvement in audit results and standards. One example is tracks in the forest (the damage caused to the soil by machinery). Efficiency and productivity go hand in hand with sustainability and we have based our practices on standards adopted by FSC and PEFC and seen some really encouraging results. We measure performance for thinnings, cuttings etc continually and conduct audits for both certified and non-certified members and results are improving."

Helstad's background, as environmental manager with Södra Skog, means that she is used to being out on the forest floor talking to forest members and workers. It's important for the new role, since sustainability involves all aspects of the chain, from nature conservation to FSC compliance and overseeing best practice in any joint initiatives Södra may become involved with. The company already has numerous environmental policies firmly established and works with external associations such as the Swedish Forest Industries Association on legislation, for example. But Helstad will have the job of formulating and communicating Södra's sustainability strategy into the future.

Within the focus on maximum resource efficiency, new products such as the biodegradable composite DuraPulp are important, but so too is the focus on improving the performance of existing products. "It's really about looking at what we can do to perform as well as we possibly can," Helstad says. "And while stopping deforestation is of course very important on a global scale, we need to get the message across that we are actually growing the forest in a responsible way. As well as best practice in the forest, it's also about continual improvement in the mills."

Currently, 57% of Södra’s members are dual certified
Södra’s Green Plan
As many as 3,500 forest owners could be delivering wood to just one of Södra’s operations at any one time, so keeping track of quality and environmental considerations is vital. With these aims in mind, in the early 1990s, the company developed its green management plans which aim to balance forestry production with biodiversity needs. These went on to become a role model now widely used in Swedish forestry practices.
The aim of the plans is to provide the forest owners with a comprehensive tool for managing their forests and balancing production targets with environmental ones. A new plan is drawn up exclusively for each individual estate and provides a detailed description of the forest relating to wood supply, tree age and species. For each area (compartment) of the forest, a long-term management target is drawn up which indicates which way a particular compartment should focus – production or the environment. The targets are then split into four further classes: Production with general environmental consideration (lower nature conservation value); combined targets, where wood production is still an important objective but where higher nature values (more than 10% of the area) also require specific objectives; nature conservation requiring treatment, set aside exclusively for nature conservation and requiring some form of treatment in order to be preserved and/or developed; and nature conservation untouched, such as swamp forests with natural water dynamics. The latter three classes are described in detail in each plan with set targets and proposed actions.
The plan typically contains proposals for action over a 10-year period based on the current state of the forest as well as its potential. Minimum set-aside land is 5% of the estate but for many it is considerably higher. Available to forest owners in digital format, the plan can be continually updated and easily communicated to authorities and environmental groups. Södra’s green management plans are now being implemented across 1.5 million ha of land in southern Sweden (land which was all used for grazing cattle a few generations ago) and they are a pre-requisite for Södra’s members receiving certification and a premium for certified wood.

Fossilfree future

Värö is already fossil-free for day-to-day operations and all five of Södra's pulp mills should follow this example by 2014. The company is already the largest supplier of green electricity in Sweden producing 1700 GWh per year, of which 150 GWh is sold on the open market. In recent years, Södra has invested SEK 582 million in new turbines for pulp mills to improve the efficiency of electricity production and enable mills to generate more electricity. Wind power is next with investments of approximately SEK 650 million in the pipeline, representing annual production of 140 GWh.

Södra's vision is that the entire group will be independent of fossil fuels one day. A decision has been approved in principle to acquire Europe's first LignoBoost installation at Mörrum. Initially, the LignoBoost technology would enable Mörrum to eliminate its dependence on fossil fuels by using lignin for green energy. But the real significance of this new technology is its potential to produce green chemicals from lignin such as carbon fibers for applications in the car and plane industries. (Carbon fibers are currently 100% fossil fuel-based.) The investment in LignoBoost would be another step on the road to a biorefinery style mill, with the potential to produce a host of new environmentally-friendly products for hitherto undiscovered markets.

Helstad says it will be crucial in the future to maximize synergies within Södra's various divisions, to derive the maximum potential from its wood and to find new ways of working to ensure maximum efficiency. Värö is one such example, and Helstad believes more of these initiatives will be developed in the future. "There's no choice, we have to work hard. We know we are working with the most renewable and sustainable of raw materials and we have to capitalise further on this, to ensure a truly sustainable future, whether that be in existing products or developing brand new ones."