The efficient use of resources has inspired Metsä Group’s employees for a long time now. For us, using every part of a tree as effectively as possible and favouring end uses that create the most value are the normal way of working. We seldom discuss waste any more, given that by 2017, up to 92 per cent of the side streams generated in our production were directed into reuse as material or energy. Resource efficiency is the default setting of our operations, and adopting a circular economy way of thinking takes the use of materials to a more efficient level.
An even more inspiring dimension than resource efficiency is the possibility the circular economy offers for creating new, sustainable business models for a great many industries.
Towards common playing fields
Cooperation that transcends industries plays a key role in the creation of new business models based on the circular economy. Experience has shown that the best environments for the creation of new opportunities are industrial ecosystems and cooperation networks made up operators producing very different kinds of products. In these networks, the side streams generated in the production of one operator may prove to be valuable raw material for others. Therefore, the circular economy lures both businesses and research institutions out of their silos and on to common playing fields.
Led by the City of Lappeenranta and implemented jointly by the Lappeenranta University of Technology as well as various businesses and organisations, the Urban Infra Revolution (UIR) project, which seeks new kinds of solutions for the construction industry, is an excellent example of circular economy cooperation bringing together professionals from different fields. “The project is developing a new kind of material that could potentially replace concrete, for example. According to a study carried out by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, the production of the cement used as a raw material for concrete generates a significant share of Europe’s fossil-based carbon dioxide emissions. Metsä Group has had the pleasure to be involved in the UIR project from the very beginning”, says Sanna Pulkkinen, Environmental Manager, Metsä Group.
Open and inquisitive minds find solutions
At a glance, Metsä Group’s role in the UIR project could be thought of as that of a raw material supplier, but we consider our role to be broader than that. Since ready raw material solutions do not exist when developing innovations, the cooperation with our partners is more comparable to dialogue.
We work closely with researchers, thinking about which side streams of our production would contain the properties needed and how they could be utilised more efficiently. When the researchers ask for something, we look, investigate and ask questions. Sometimes, the most suitable combination of substances is found somewhere entirely else than in the side streams we think of first. In other words, the utilisation of side streams requires open-mindedness and inventiveness from the entire partner network. In addition, everyone must have a thorough knowledge of their own field.
“What we see great value in with regard to the circular economy is – in addition to keeping resources in the cycle – the strengthening of a cross-industrial, collaborative culture that brings together different operators. Innovations rarely spring up from closed silos”, states Pulkkinen.
The circular economy encourages us all to get to know our industrial neighbours and partners who, in terms of research, are riding the same wave as us. In addition to the fact that cooperation produces better innovations, doing things together is more fun than trying to come up with solutions in solitude.