Story | 11/17/2021 13:33:52 | 6 min Read time

Focusing on water related risks

David J. Cord


Over two billion people face water scarcity across the globe, a situation that is only set to get worse as the effects of climate change set in. Faced with such a crisis, big industries, including UPM must act now to make ethical and sustainable decisions about how they use and manage water in their operations.

Industry is the second-largest user of freshwater, after agriculture. In fact, industry uses more than households – 19% compared to 16% – and has a responsibility to be ethical in their water usage. Some industry sectors have come under justifiable criticism for how they use their water. The pulp and paper industry is no exception, but modern operations are designed to be more sustainable.

“Pulp and paper industry relies heavily on water, but I would not say we are ‘consuming’ water like agriculture does. We withdraw, use, treat and replace it,” explains Corinne Le Ny-Heinonen, Manager, Production Support, UPM Responsibility.

UPM seeks to be responsible in all its operations. “We are committed to support the SDGs and respective targets where we can have the biggest positive impact through our operations, products and solutions, or where we aim to minimise our negative impact,” she continues. SDG 6 which deals with the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all people is a notable guidepost that helps the company work on improving water efficiency and wastewater treatment.

The water UPM uses in pulp and paper production is for various purposes, such as fibers and chemicals transportation, pulp preparation and dilution, paper machines operation, equipment cleaning and cooling, as well as steam and electricity generation. All the water they pump in is internally recirculated and recycled as much as possible. Approximately 95% of that withdrawn water will be released back to the waterways after mechanical and biological treatment, and therefore only 5% is actually “consumed”.

“We have set challenging goals for responsible water usage,” says Le Ny-Heinonen. “By 2030 we intend to reduce our effluent load by 40% and wastewater volume by 30%, compared to 2008 levels. All nutrients used at effluent treatment will come from recycled sources by 2030. In fact, by the end of 2020, the company had already achieved a 10% reduction in wastewater volume and 33% reduction in effluent load for the average product.”

Assessing current and future water risks using WWF Water Risk Filter tool

UPM first evaluated their pulp and paper mills on Water Stress index maps a decade ago. A few years ago, they used the WWF Water Risk Filter – a leading, free, online water risk assessment tool used by over 6,000 users from a range of sectors including paper and forestry, food and beverages, textiles, retail, mining and finance. While UPM did not partner with WWF, the tool helped the company conduct, measure and interpret the results of their water risk assessment and their water work more effectively.

During 2021, the water risk analysis has been updated and scope extended to all UPM Plywood mills, UPM Raflatac factories and terminals as well as new projects in Uruguay and Germany, in addition to pulp and paper mills globally. As a result of this risk assessment, we can confirm that our production sites (mills and factories) are located in low to medium basin risk.”, continues Le Ny-Heinonen. “The Water Risk filter also provides 2030 and 2050 scenarios of water risks, based on climate and socio-economic changes, to enable us to understand and prepare for future water risks and opportunities. Based on those climate scenarios, our Changshu paper mill near Shanghai is expected to see the greatest rise in water basin risk by 2050”

“WWF is a strong advocate for responsible private sector engagement on water issues and a pioneer in the water stewardship space,” explains Ariane Laporte-Bisquit, Project Manager Water Risk Filter at the WWF. “WWF developed a free, practical online tool – the WWF Water Risk Filter – to raise corporate awareness on water risks and drive water stewardship action towards a sustainable water future.”

The WWF Water Risk Filter scenarios, based on climate and socio-economic changes, are aligned with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations to help companies and financial institutions apply scenario analysis to assess business resilience. These will then allow entities to identify potential risks and even possible opportunities and adjust their strategies accordingly. Whilst the tool is primarily aimed at private sector actors, its scenarios data has also been harnessed to raise greater awareness on water risks faced by cities - the top 100 cities that are expected to suffer the greatest rise in water risk by 2050 can be found here.


In 2020, the UPM Changshu paper mill decreased its process wastewater volume by 14% per tonne of paper compared to the previous year. Photo: UPM

Effluent load reduction of 40% at UPM Changshu paper mill in China

The UPM Changshu paper mill near Shanghai had the highest water basin risk of UPM’s pulp and paper mills, but in recent years they have made substantial improvements in water efficiency. In 2020, the mill decreased its process wastewater volume by 14% per tonne of paper compared to the previous year. They were also awarded State Level Water Efficiency Front Runner by the Chinese government.

“Most of our recent progress has come from about 30 simple efficiency improvements and operation optimisations,” says Wang Yue, Director, Energy & Utility at UPM Changshu Mill of UPM Specialty Papers.

Some examples include switching from using freshwater to super clear filtrate for both vacuum pumps and the defoamer’s dilution water. Ingenious ways have been found to reuse water, such as sealing water and hood condensate water.

Besides improving water efficiency, the mill has also greatly reduced its effluent load, by 40% since 2008. “Minor ideas can add up,” she says. “Sometimes one mill may have an idea that isn’t fully applicable to its own operation, but when shared, the idea may be adapted by several other mills.”

Sharing best practices

UPM’s water experts gather regularly in wastewater seminars where the best practices, as well as ideas that didn’t quite work out, are shared. These seminars are valuable as they offer an opportunity to network and learn from each other.

“I’m proud of our environmental performance,” Yue says. “This isn’t just about actions to improve our production efficiency, it’s also about the environmental footprint of our products and about collaboration. We focus on sustainable products and encourage our team members to engage with environmental issues. We set high expectations for ourselves and the company.”


Main image: Shutterstock

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