Future-Proofing Green and Digital Growth in the European Paper Industry


Innovative solutions are needed to support green and resilient growth in Europe and “restart” the European economy. The use of new digital technologies and the burgeoning availability of data are transforming businesses and decision-making, in addition to building new growth and employment. The paper industry’s digital approach supports sustainability, resilience, and growth throughout its ecosystems.

In the European paper industry, new digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and blockchain are already used to enhance, for example, resource efficiency. Companies utilize each fraction of material from a tree for the greatest value, all the way from fibers to lignin. This is enabled by a variety of digital tools that improve resource-efficiency both upstream in the supply of raw material, logistics, and production as well as downstream in converting distribution, use of products, and their end-of-life. Digital twins, for example, can be used to increase efficiency, optimize the use of resources, and reduce waste.


The paper industry is paving the way for more versatile use of data for the benefit of a circular economy, aiming for smart use of resources. We can see the significance of data as a driver of a circular economy in the relationship between the EU Green Deal and the European strategy for data. An in-depth understanding of resource use across product life cycles, value chains, and ecosystems helps to exploit excess side and waste streams, optimize product lifetime and material flows, and discover synergies between unmet demand and surplus supply.

Forest in Lapland, northern Finland.

Examples of the use of data include using RFID (radio frequency identification) and NFC (near-field communication) technologies in collecting data throughout the lifecycle of the product, allowing an unprecedented amount of valuable information from supply chain performance to avoiding food waste. The same technology can enable efficient sorting to get the packaging recycled.

In any industry, digital tools and data play an important role in verifying the sustainability of the activities and ensuring the credibility of communication. New digital technologies enable further transparency and traceability in the value chains, from forests and recycled fiber to customers and end-of-life of products.

The increasing amount of data and new digital tools makes sharing the data in the value chain easier and smoother. Examples include using blockchain technology to authenticate the digital traceability of the fibers through the supply chain, giving consumers a way to detect the origin of the wood raw material used in a product.


We know a lot about European forests, from the composition of different tree species to changes in forest land areas, carbon stock, and sink dynamics. This is due to regular forest inventories that take advantage of advanced digital tools such as satellite imaging, drones, aerial laser scanning and even mobile phones through geo-located photographs.

Big data, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are not just buzzwords in the paper industry. They are already used to deepen insights into forest ecosystems, provide tools for decision-making, and improve forest management practices, all while building economic and societal resilience. Examples include virtual reality applications that allow visiting the forest and planning forest management from the comfort of your own living room.

This series of short articles on digitalization and data in the European paper industry will showcase how the European paper industry is using digitalization and data for sustainability, resilience, and growth. Articles will address the following themes:

•  Smart, resource-efficient manufacturing
•  Exploiting side and waste streams
•  Traceability and transparency throughout the value chain
•  The “forests in your pocket” concept

The past five years have shown steady digital progress in the European paper industry. According to a recent study by StepChange, 56 percent of companies have a clear digitalization strategy, with one-third of the companies already implementing digital projects, compared to only six percent in 2015. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to increase digital efforts.

Areas with the most untapped potential are improved productivity and quality, supply chain, energy efficiency, maintenance, and availability. The technologies with the highest potential in these areas are automated predictive and prescriptive process analytics, data-driven energy management and control systems, integrated supply chain planning and visibility, and real-time equipment monitoring (e.g., digital twins.)