Last year marked the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence. In the first years of the new state’s existence, forests formed the basis for developing a largely agrarian society. Around 30 million cubic metres of forests were felled per year, with 20 million cubic metres of this used as firewood. However, wood-processing plants established partly through foreign investment were already gradually starting to create a foundation for growing economic and social wellbeing. Private forest ownership and the creation of jobs in the forest industry brought income directly to the people while business, capital and income taxes swelled the state budget, aiding the development of education and healthcare.
Today –100 years later – the forest industry is still the driving force behind the Finnish export sector and one of the sources of national affluence. In addition to its economic success, Finland tops global studies comparing the state of the environment, happiness and safety, and is one of the leading countries in OECD reports on education. The volume of forests felled has more than doubled compared to the figures from 100 years ago, but the total forested area and the number of protected zones have increased. The volume of wood used directly as an energy source has halved, whereas there is much more processing of wood and its economic benefits to society have multiplied.
The requirements of a circular economy combined with the challenges brought by climate change will further emphasise the sustainable use of renewable raw materials in future years. Forest-based industry will be a cornerstone of the Finnish bioeconomy. As an export-driven industry, it is also a way to meet growing needs on a global level. A growing world population and rising living standards also mean growing demand for fibre, food and energy. Finding socially and ecologically sustainable solutions to these challenges is essential. For example, wood-based products will replace fossil raw materials and cotton.
Finland has come a long way in 100 years. Along the way our responsibility for developing our own society has changed to a global, collective responsibility for the wellbeing of the Earth and its population. This is an area in which forests and the forest-based industry have a strong role to play.