In between Lake Läen and Lake Öjen, among the dense forests of the inland region of Småland, you can find the Lessebo Paper AB mill (Lessebo), which has been standing for over 300 years. Originally founded by Erik Knutsson in 1658, as an iron mill – in keeping with the forest’s 2000-year history of attracting workers and tradesmen with its iron-rich lakes – Lessebo’s was the first form of industrialization to utilize the area’s iron ore, timber and available hydropower.
Come 1693, the mill’s production of handmade paper took over as its mainstay, with the majority of the company’s output being catered to its primary customer: a newly established naval base in Karlskrona, some 80 kilometers away. Around thirty years later, Lessebo gained permission to produce and sell paper from the Swedish National Board of Trade. This heightened the business’ military ties, as it prompted the Swedish Navy to guarantee the quality of its produce, to the highest standard, with their seal of approval.
The end of Sweden’s Golden Age coincided with the beginning of Johan Lorens Aschan’s ownership of the mill, and although the country overall may have seen a slight decline, the business was entering a key period of its formulative years. Johan’s reign as leader ran from 1802 until 1856, and during this time he not only facilitated healthcare and education for all of the paper and iron mills’ employees, as well as the adjacent businesses, but he also purchased the company’s first paper machine from England.
“Today, we are exclusively a paper mill,” Ebba Ingvarsson, Communication Manager, opens. “I believe the iron side was laid to rest in the late 19th century. We have three paper machines that are operational 24 hours per day, seven days a week, for the entire year… maybe not on Christmas Eve, actually. Two of the machines produce white paper and the other is for our colored products. We also have heat cutters, packing lines and a new embossing machine.
Planet friendly paper
“The embossing machine has been a major investment for the company, along with the new line of colored paper that we have released. These are both actively contributing to our capabilities within the luxury packaging sector, which is where we are currently seeing our largest growth in sales. We now offer our customers the options of five shades of white under the Lessebo Design range and 48 different colors under the Lessebo Colours range, from bright-electric yellows to dark-forest-like greens. Any of which can be accentuated by the special surface treatments and textures facilitated by the embossing machine. We can create specialist products for individuals from an even wider palette of colors in the Lessebo Colour Lab too.
“We are aware that within the luxury packaging sector there is a huge demand for high-quality paper-based products,” Ebba continues. “The choice of color is key to modernizing the offerings and giving them a more contemporary feel, whereas the physical feel of them enhances the sense of quality, whether it’s a linen surface or something a bit coarser. We’re also enabling far greater use of luxury packaging applications that do not rely on plastics in their production, something that coincides with our inherent, environmentally friendly approach to conducting business.
“We have been working hard over the last 30 or so years on improving our overall environmental profile. We were one of the first paper mills to abolish the use of chlorine within our practices in the 1970s and 80s, and through focusing our efforts on reducing our CO2 emissions, we have actually been named as one of the most environmentally friendly paper mills in the world. We were also the first paper mill, globally, to achieve the Cradle to Cradle Certification at gold level, an environmental initiative that analyzes the entire scope of a company’s operations, actions, waste, water stewardship and emissions for the circular economy. It’s a great source of pride for us.”
Furthermore, Lessebo cleverly implemented heat-capturing technology around fifteen years ago, to prevent any unnecessary wastage from its boiler. The manufacture of paper relies on a great deal of heat during the drying stage of the process, requiring the production of steam. Lessebo’s boiler is not only powered by biomass fuel, made up of branches, tree bark and offcuts from a number of local saw mills, it also transfers its residual heat to the district’s heating networks, which is subsequently distributed around the local area. The business’ contributions amount to it being the sole supplier of heat to the homes within the village, an initiative that benefits the entire community.
In moving towards a greener future, many consumers are shifting to the idea of replacing plastic packaging with bespoke paper alternatives. Between the alignment of Lessebo’s ethics and practices with this change, and the extensive range of certification it has received, it’s of no surprise that the company’s customer base stretches across the global platform. Although its largest market remains around Europe, it also currently serves Canada, Mexico, the US and Asia. Besides its gold recognition from Cradle to Cradle, the business has also been certified by EU Ecolabel, FSC, and PEFC.
Ethical paper production
Alongside many other companies across Sweden, as well as across Europe for that matter, Lessebo was challenged by a stark increase in its energy prices earlier this year. The company took the decision to halt production on the 31st August, as a result of its daily electricity cost climbing to more than six times the normal cost. This effectively increased its annual bill of €3 million by six times, to over €19 million. Fortunately, the halt was not set in stone, and the owners chose to operate on a day-by-day basis, and as Ebba confirms: “We are producing paper again now; however, we are waiting for further information and support from the government, which has already been postponed once. This will hopefully be announced in the not-too-distant future.”
With the likes of Lessebo paving the way, ensuring the continuation of the 211 percent forest growth that Swedish forests have seen in the last 100 years, there is truly hope. As its global expansion continues, and the company forges ahead in the field of responsible and ethical paper production, it’s only a matter of time before the masses follow in its footsteps.