In 1916, Iggesund Paperboard - producer of paperboards Invercote and Incada - opened its first pulp mill, which became an integrated pulp and paperboard mill in 1963. This year, Iggesund looks back on a century of sustainability efforts.
Environmental legislation as we know it did not exist in 1916, leaving companies essentially free to release fibre waste and chemicals into the air and water. As a result, in its first 50 years, Iggesund Paperboard's Swedish production facility Iggesund Mill had a significant impact on its local environment. But today, says Anna Mårtensson, environmental manager at Iggesund Mill, its environmental impact is "almost zero".
"By the mid-1960s, our emissions of process chemicals and cellulose fibres had turned the nearby seabed into a desert," Mårtensson says. "The water smelled bad and was a brownish hue. Sensitive species at the top of the marine ecosystem had disappeared." But thanks to sustainability efforts and regulations, this is no longer the norm: "Since the 1960s, Iggesund Mill has steadily reduced its local environmental impact, and now operates almost solely on fossil-free energy."
The first emissions limits were set in 1963 and, since then, the mill's environmental record has continually improved. Modern processes are more efficient, which means less organic material is released, and over 99% of the process chemicals are now recycled. The mill also has a three-stage water-purification process almost identical to that used to produce drinking water.
"Experts say our technology is the best available today," adds Mårtensson. "It has radically reduced our emissions of sulphur and phosphorus; this is critical, as our water goes out into the Baltic Sea, which suffers serious over-fertilisation."
The mill's airborne emissions have also fallen. Today's annual sulphur emissions per ton of paperboard produced are about 6% of 1988's levels; and sulphur and nitrogen levels are now so low that their local environmental impact is hard to measure.
"Edible fish caught in the water by the mill are indistinguishable from those caught far from industrial sites," says Mårtensson. "We're thrilled that species like sea eagles and seals, which had disappeared, are now back."
In the past five years, Iggesund Paperboard has invested €360 million to make its mills in Sweden and the UK almost entirely fossil free by switching to bioenergy. The company also recently applied for a new operating permit in Sweden, hoping to increase its pulp production by 40,000t a year and, later, by another 40,000t; it also aspires to increase its annual paperboard production from 400,000 to 450,000t.
"I believe we can make a strong case to the authorities," Mårtensson comments. "Not least, because we can point to half a century of continual environmental improvements. I'm proud to work for a company with a long-term, responsible track record on the environment."