Last updated: May 2008


The last remaining ancient forests in Europe are being logged by Finnish state-owned enterprise Metsähallitus. Behind the logging are two of the largest forestry companies in the world. Hanna Backman investigates.


In January 2007, Greenpeace tracked down wood that had been logged in ancient Finnish forests to mills that produced disposable paper products. Less than 5 per cent of Finland’s ancient forests remain, crucial for the protection of biodiversity.

Last year Metsähallitus started logging in intact forest landscapes, the most valuable of all ancient forests left in Finland and so far minimally disturbed by human economic activity.[1]

Stora Enso, whose majority owners are the Finnish government and Sweden’s Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Metsäliitto Group and fellow Finnish company UPM Kymmene are the only European companies in the top 10 league of forestry companies in the world. Their annual turnovers are between 8 and 12 billion euros.[2]

Metsäliitto Group is owned by Metsäliitto Co-operative, the biggest co-operative in Europe, which has some 131,000 members who are owners of about half of the private forests in Finland. The group’s mills process timber primarily from the members of the cooperative. The group is also owner of pulp manufacturer Metsä-Botnia, paper producer M-real and tissue-manufacturer Metsätissue.[3] 

Stora Enso is currently the biggest producer of newsprint and sawn softwood timber in Europe.[4]  According to Greenpeace, leading photocopy companies such as OCE, Canon and Xerox sell Stora Enso paper made from ancient forests under their own brand names.[5]


Campaigns against logging

Most of the Sami homeland in Finnish Lapland, where indigenous Sami people live, is owned by the state and large areas of it are supposedly protected under the Finnish Reindeer Herding Act. Greenpeace, along with local organisations, are demanding the end of the timber trade in old-growth forests mapped out by environmental NGOs and Sami reindeer herders. In November 2005 the UN Human Rights Committee called for a ban on logging in a quarter of the 100,000 hectares of disputed reindeer grazing forests in Sami areas.

South of the Sami area, protests have occurred for years, the most recent example being from February 2008 when an area of 700 square km of intact old-growth forest in Savukoski in Finnish Lapland was planned to be clear-cut and used for pulp and paper production by Stora Enso. Over 330 occurrences of red-listed species had been found in the area.

By the end of February 2008, 257 scientists, including all the professors of Ecology at the University of Helsinki, had signed an open letter addressed to the Finnish Ministry of Forestry which made clear that logging in old-growth forests in northern Finland was not sustainable. The scientists claimed that the logging was also in conflict with international agreements that Finland had signed to protect biodiversity.[6] 

A separate letter from Greenpeace sent to stakeholders of Stora Enso states that “even though all the three biggest paper and pulp companies in Finland are involved, the destruction of Finnish High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs) is largely fuelled by demand from Metsähallitus’ biggest customer, Stora Enso.”[7]


Stora Enso practices

Stora Enso does not buy from most of the disputed Sami forests, but as one of the areas is not covered by Stora Enso’s policy, the company has been able to buy wood logged by Metsähallitus in the area. Stora Enso requested Metsähallitus to provide an ecological analysis on disputed areas in Lapland and last year told its customers that it would make an assessment based on this analysis but refuses to publish the analysis.

The Finnish state and its logging enterprise Metsähallitus (Finnish for Administration of Forests), justify the logging in the Sami area by saying that forest workers are employed in a region where unemployment is higher than in the rest of the country.

“What they do not want to recognise is that logging also causes unemployment and social problems when it destroys and harms the possibilities for reindeer herding. From our point of view, it is insane to justify harm done to people’s livelihoods by saying that it creates jobs for others. Especially so when bearing in mind that the Sami reindeer herding is a traditional livelihood which is protected by human rights agreements and legislation,” says Matti Liimatainen, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace.[8]

In 2005 the Sami Council began to contact the largest ethical investment organisations in Europe, informing them about Stora Enso’s unsustainable logging practices. Ethical investors have since put pressure on Stora Enso to respect the Sami population. In a report published by the University of Stockholm last year, sociologist Rebecca Lawrence stated: “Stora Enso has actively initiated contacts with all groups involved [in the conflict], but it remains a challenge for the company to grasp that reindeer herding Samis have got special rights.”[9]


Company policies

Metsäliitto has responded to criticism stating that it only procures wood from legal sources and that it respects its own environmental policy.[10]  In its latest environmental policy the company claims to know the origin of the wood it supplies and to be working to reduce the adverse environmental impacts of its activities.[11]  However, according to Greenpeace, a major issue is that the Finnish forest industry does not have independent procurement policies which would demand more than legislation does.[12] 

A fact sheet on HCVFs published on Stora Enso’s website states that the company ensures that its forest management does not threaten HCVFs.[13]  After an instance of logging in a HCVF in Puolanka in southern Finland in February 2008, however, Stora Enso’s environmental manager refused to comment on whether the company is sourcing from that area or not.[14]


No sustainable paper

The Finnish forest sector has for many years been resisting joining the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and its process of certifying sustainable timber. Only last year Stora Enso and the Finnish Forest Industries Federation joined the Finnish FSC working group and a Finnish standard is under development. FSC is currently the only scheme that guarantees virgin fibre from well managed forests.

In January 2008, JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, decided to stop the Finnish translation of her latest book from being printed on local paper as it lacked FSC certification.[15]  According to Greenpeace, there is currently no respected sustainable forestry logo used on Finnish-logged pulp as Finnish forestry is unsustainable.

“If Finland has been known for sustainable logging it might be because of the myth of economically sustainable forestry, i.e. that new forest is always planted after logging. This, however, is different from ecologically or socially sustainable logging. Research has shown that majority of threatened species in Finland are forest species, and the main reason for extinction is forestry. According to scientists there are not enough protected forests in in Finland. These are strong indicators that Finnish forestry might not be sustainable,” says campaigner Matti Liimatainen. 


Investigations into audits

The Finnish FSC working group is currently trying to agree on a standard for Finnish forests. This does not yet mean that Stora Enso’s products from Finland would become FSC-certified. On its website Stora Enso claims that Metsähallitus’ deliveries to Stora Enso meet the requirements of FSC Controlled Woods, a category aiming to exclude unwanted sources, such as HCVFs, from the supply chain of those companies who are producing FSC labelled products.[16]  The FSC’s auditing in Finland is outsourced to a Danish consultancy firm.[17]

“This has raised serious doubts on the credibility of the whole FSC controlled wood system. It is obvious that this is only an attempt to greenwash the HCVF logging by Metsähallitus. I don’t know if the problem is poor auditing, or Stora Enso’s way of interpreting and advertising the results, or both. Based on what we know, we are really unhappy with the way the auditing company Woodmark/Soil Association has done the auditing for Stora Enso,” says Matti Liimatainen at Greenpeace.[18] 


Forestry in other countries

Via Finland, according to the paper industry, paper is also being sourced from Russia where it’s estimated that at least half of logging is illegal.[19]  The world consumption in paper will double in the next 25-30 years, but this can’t be sustained by traditionally managed forests only.[20] 

Intensely managed planted forests may therefore play an increasingly important role for companies such as Stora Enso, which owns and operates facilities in more than 40 countries worldwide, such as China. Stora Enso and Metsäliitto are continuously investing in large-scale tax subsidised and World Bank-funded eucalyptus plantations and pulp mills in Uruguay despite allegations of bribery that caused uproar in 2005 and 2006 and a growing water shortage caused by eucalyptus plantations.[21] [22]


Take Action:

  • Greenpeace urges supporters of its campaigns to buy only FSC certified wood products. Support campaigns for sustainable forestry with Greenpeace and WWF


    1 viewed on 27/2/08

    2-4 accessed on 27/2/08

    5, published on 22/3/08

    6 viewed on 28/2/08

    7 Letter received by Ethical Consumer on 22/2/08

    8 Email from Greenpeace Forest Campaigner received on 22/2/08

    9 Press statement, University of Stockholm, published on 24/5/07

    10 Email from the Environmental Vice President of Metsäliitto sent to Greenpeace on 16/11/07

    11 2006 Environmental Policy,, viewed on 27/2/08

    12 Email from Greenpeace Forest Campaigner received on 22/2/08

    13 Sustainability facts dated 07/07, viewed on 27/2/08

    14 Email from Greenpeace Forest Campaigner received on 22/2/08, email from Stora Enso received on 13/2/08

    15 JK Rowling stoppar finska upplagor,, viewed on 18/02/08

    16 viewed on 26/2/08

    17 National representative – Finland: Danish consultancy Orbicon viewed on 28/2/08

    18 Email from Greenpeace Forest Campaigner received on 28/2/08

    19 viewed on 18/2/08

    20 Forestry & Paper sector report,, published in 06/07

    21 Uruguay: Pulp Factions by Raul Pierri, published on 16/1/06

    22 2006 Environmental Policy,, viewed on 27/2/08



    From Ethical Consumer, Issue 112, May/June 2008