Casimir Ehrnrooth: Finland Lives From Forests
Finland and Finnishness are rooted in the forests. One need not go very far back in time to find peoples who inhabited the coniferous forests of the North, who lived from the game and other bounty that they provided, and for whom the forests were steeped in myth. The forests were revered and respected, being seen as the sustainer of all life. Success in everything from marriage to hunting was sought by offering sacrifices to the forests and by means of spells and incantations to appease them.
The Finns of today no longer offer sacrifices to the forest spirits, but forests remain important to us. They are a national resource, one of the pillars supporting our prosperity, a reservoir of raw material for the wood-processing industry and a key factor underpinning the success of our engineering sector. Also in our new role as a member of the European Union, forests remain part of our national identity, because we Finns love nature and still live close to it.
Forests provided the materials for the initial stages of Finland's industrialisation and the country's eventual success on global markets was thanks to its wood-processing skills. Tar was the first commodity of which Finland was an important source. It was also the first Finnish forest product for which there was strong international demand and exporting it linked our country to the economic development of Europe in general, especially Western Europe. The men of war of the great European powers were built of oak, but it needed tar from the pine forests of the North to protect it.
Wood, currently enjoying a strong renaissance as a building and interior decoration material, has been an important element in our civilization's material culture and art for many centuries.
After tarmaking had passed its peak, lumber became our forest sector's premier export article in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only in the present century was it, in turn, supplanted by paper.
Thus her forests and the industries that have grown out of them have been giving Finland a livelihood for centuries. The forest products industry also contributed to the genesis and development of a large part of the other economic activities in this country. To take one example, our mechanical engineering industry has developed into the world's leading manufacturer of paper- and pulpmaking machinery. Finnish paper machines and their associated state-of-the-art automation systems are in demand worldwide. Tree-harvesting machines and the technology used in them are another example of products that owe their birth to the forests. When the silvicultural skills, consultancy services and planning that the forest-products sector needs as well as the contributions of the universities and research establishments to ensuring a technological lead are added, a clear picture emerges of forests and wood as the beginning of a chain of know-how that today forms the backbone of the Finnish econom y. International observers have seen the emergence of this economy, based on complex networking between different sectors, as a remarkable development. It certainly is remarkable that a country with a high dependence on just one natural resource, thinly populated and in a remote location, and which gained independence only in the second decade of the 20th century, has become one of the most developed states in the world. That has been accomplished thanks specifically to the forest products industry.
Demonstrating the major role of forest products as the locomotive of Finnish prosperity is the fact that the industry's output has grown at an annual average rate of 4.5 per cent since the beginning of the present century, thereby making the main contribution to annual GDP growth of around 3 per cent. After Canada, which has 16 times the forest area and about 6 times the population of Finland, we are the world's second-biggest exporter of paper and paperboard. Relative to population, we export more forest products per capita than any other country.
In recent years the forest products sector - like industry in general - has come in for strong criticism on account of its environmental emissions. In the 1960s and part of the 1970s, when anti-pollution technology was still undeveloped, environmental problems increased as bigger mills came on stream and production volumes grew. Today, however, the situation is quite a different one: environmental protection is an essential aspect of all of the industry's operations. It is taken into consideration already in the design of products and in planning the processes used to manufacture them, the aim being to ensure that the products' impact on the environment is minimised at every stage of their life cycle. Quite apart from all the other reasons for keeping emissions to a minimum, responsibility for the environment has become an important new competition factor alongside the traditional ones of price and quality. Indeed, market forces have been assuming an increasingly dominant role in environmental protection, whilst official regulations have been losing some of their significance.
The Finnish forest products industry has invested heavily in ultra-modern technology, which has enabled its impact on the environment - both on the air and on water bodies - to be quickly reduced to a small fraction of what it used to be. Modern paper mills are clean both inside and out. Their raw material, wood, is a renewable natural resource. The end product, paper, is also recyclable. The best part of it can be used to make more paper, and the remainder to generate energy. The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when paper is burned is bound again by the growing forest, for which it is just as important a source of life - alongside water and sunlight - as oxygen is for people. To the best of my knowledge, no other industrial process comes as close to corresponding to the natural cycle. What remains a mystery is why the forest products industry has become so clearly a focus of criticism by environmental movements. At least where Finland is concerned, there are few real reasons for this.
Now that the industry has itself largely solved its emissions problem, new demands are being focused on the forests - their sustainable development and species diversity. In my view, Finland has nothing to be ashamed of in this respect, either. Indeed, we are pioneers also in forest management.
There is an old tradition of sound forest management in Finland. As long ago as 1887 we enacted legislation prohibiting the destruction of forests. In the 1960s, despite growth in the volume of wood being used, the goals set with respect to forests and their use were premised on the principle of sustainability. That laid the foundation for the situation today, where measures to ensure diversity of species and habitats are under way. Legislation currently on its way through Parliament, and which would stand any international comparison, will provide the legal basis for those measures.
Finland is one of the world's most-forested countries. The pattern of ownership - many small parcels mainly owned by families - has traditionally ensured that the forests are managed on a sustainable basis. Nor have fences been built around individual holdings. Ancient Nordic customary law, confirmed in present-day statutes, gives everyone the right of sojourn in the natural environment, where they may also pick wild berries and mushrooms irrespective of who owns the land they are on. In addition to the animal and vegetable kingdoms, therefore, also people in Finland have the right to avail of the forests and benefit from its diversity of uses.
More than five-sixths of Finland's original forest area remains, a luxury that is rare in today's world. The tree species are indigenous. We have had managed forests for well over a century and their nature has not changed. Nor has the volume of wood reserves declined in Finland as has happened in many parts of the world; on the contrary, it is increasing, from 1.5 to nearly 2 billion cubic metres in the past 25 years. The annual growth increment is clearly in excess of the amount taken from the forests. In my view, all of these facts clearly demonstrate that Finland has managed her forests well and continues to do so.
As the European Union's "paper store" and also as a globally important paper exporter, we are bearing our share of the responsibility for ensuring that our Western cultural tradition will continued to be passed on to future generations through the medium of printed products.