Thai-Swedish sustainability seminar held with Ocean ambassador, BillerudKorsnäs

On 6 September the Thai-Swedish Chamber of Commerce, at its first networking after the summer break, hosted a ‘special’, with Swedish Ambassador for the Ocean, Ms. Helen Ågren as guest of honour and speaker (accompanied by Sweden’s Ambassador to Thailand Mr Staffan Herrström). With sustainability and ‘Beat plastic pollution for a cleaner Ocean’ as theme the exemplary Swedish packaging solutions company Billerudkorsnäs was the event’s sponsor and speaker, represented by Mr. Henrik Ahlgren, Sales Director Asia-Pacific.

Seeing a large turnout the business community representatives listened with evident interest to the presentation while munching on Swedish meatballs and beverages.

Being the Ambassador for the Ocean Helen Ågren obviously talked about the plastics as a huge problem facing the health of the oceans, but also Sweden’s role in global ocean governance and what we can all do about it.

She told the audience that in Sweden co-chaired the first ever UN (United Nations) Ocean conference, which was also the first conference singling out one of the sustainable development goals, SDG14 adopted in 2015 in the agenda 2030.

The reasons for Sweden partnering up with Fiji Islands she said were manifold, but primarily due to the magnitude and the urgency of the problems facing the ocean.

“The Ocean also as a climate regulator, it absorbs 25 – 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide that we are emitting,” Helen highlighted. “The warming of the ocean and the acidification that the carbon dioxide is causing is threatening our coral leaves and the life in the ocean.”

The second reason is the role of the ocean: “SDG 14 has links to almost all other goals, including ending poverty. 3 billion people depend on the protein from the ocean. It is about sustainable consumption and production, hunger, energy etc.”

Third concerns the need for much better coordination: “There are so many stakeholders involved so we really need to work together, from the local level, nationally, regionally and globally and also cross-sector and between the different stakeholders; governments, businesses, consumer organisations, academia etc.”

Fourth concerns the fragmentation of the ocean agenda, where in the UN system different organisations deal with certain focus areas.

“We really need have a greater corporation and a greater view on the whole ocean agenda,” stated the Ambassador for the Ocean, who went on to explain what SDG 14 incorporates. It stands for: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

This is about preventing pollution, managing marine and coastal areas, managing climate change and ending illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing etc. It is also about viewing the ‘blue economy’ with new eyes and how aquaculture and fisheries become more to the benefit of the poorest nations and small island development states which are really dependent on the ocean.

In focusing on plastics pollution Helen Ågren went on to present some statistics.

“In Sweden we are collecting a lot of the plastics but only 3 – 10 per cent is recycled. This is also a real issue with the need to develop a more circular economy and not just produce, use and throw away.”

80 per cent of the sources for plastics in the ocean are land-based, while the rest comes from fishing and marine waste.

“We really need to work on preventing waste ending up in the oceans,” said Helen Ågren.

Expenses for removing debris and repairing damages caused by these plastics are estimated to be 1 billion euro in annual cost for the Asia Pacific maritime industries.

The Ambassador for the Ocean then went on to the question of what can be done. “It would be splendid to learn from you what we can do about it too! We have to work during the whole life cycle, as a circular economy, and prevent unnecessary products what can we get rid of and skip over all. Instruments are also needed; lots of countries are stepping up now, introducing bans on plastic bags, straws, micro plastics. We need to inform consumers and to take decisions, also concerning B2B, where we need to be really tough on the specifications. And we need to look at new materials and design. These are examples.”

“And we need to close the loop; getting the different incentives right to make it profitable so that we have an economic case for doing change. And we need to work on many ends on legislation and incentives.”

Helen also highlighted that Sweden has started new international initiatives. This consists in the ‘Friends of the Ocean’ action; national commitments within policies, regulations, bans, investments, support for municipalities etc. and regional cooperation.

“We are also working on climate and ocean the linkages with partners and the coming organisers of next ocean conference to look at how we can keep the momentum and make things happening.”

Next up, the BillerudKorsnäs representative presented how they focus on offering the market sustainable materials (world-leading paper and board material) and solutions that increase customers’ profitability while at the same time improving the overall environmental impact.

“Packaging is something necessarily evil for people, many times the unsung hero. It is seen as something that comes in very late in companies’ development of new products, and seen as a total commodity. Also, it is very much looked at the price per packaging as the basic criteria. But what if paper packaging is the solution?” began Henrik Ahlgren.

“We have done sustainability into our business and mission idea. And it feels very nice to be in a company where you feel that you contribute with something at the same time as we can be a profitable company on the Swedish stock exchange and making money.”

Their mission: ‘We challenge conventional packaging for a sustainable future’. And it is what they live every day, and actually walk the talk, according to the Swedish representative.

“And we normally divide this into: minimise the bad and maximise the good. I think that is a pretty good approach, not only for us as a company, it is good for all packaging world and for the whole commercial world and is probably good for all of us.”

Henrik went on to give some examples how they live up to this and also told that BillerudKorsnäs has been sponsoring a scientific ship for four years.

He then pointed to how things quickly can become buzzwords. “Conventional packaging is based on specification and standards dating 40 – 50 years back! Can you imagine! And these are based on testing material in the wrong way, the packaging in a wrong way and it ends up as big waste. They use a lot of plastic and wood. They don’t have this holistic view; it’s price per unit, not cost per lifecycle both in monetary and environmental units.. We challenge that; we have totally different way of testing and adopting the packaging to the real demands of the logistic chains.”

“We also create and try to take out and work with sustainable, renewable resources and materials. So we do what we can to take away plastics and replace it with fibre-based materials,” he added and ended with a concreted example of big reduction of use of both plastic and corrugated fibreboard for a client.

Just prior to the Thai-Swedish event, on 5 September the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, FFA, the Pacific-Community-SPC, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme – SPREP and The University of the South Pacific signed a historic agreement with the European Union, supported by the regional development cooperation of Sweden for Asia and the Pacific, to promote sustainable management and sound ocean governance in the Pacific Region.

The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership Programme addresses some of the most serious challenges faced by the region. Among these are the increasing depletion of coastal fisheries resources; the threats to marine biodiversity, including negative impacts of climate change and disasters; the uneven contribution of oceanic fisheries to national economic development; the need for improved education and training in the sector; and the need to mainstream a rights-based approach and to promote greater recognition of gender issues within the sector.

This 5-year programme is funded by the European Union (EUR 35 million) with additional targeted support from the government of Sweden (EUR 10 million). The programme provides direct assistance through regional organisations to support regional and national level activities in the Pacific.

“Marine resources are the backbone of the Pacific island countries economy and key to long- term sustainable development in the region. Sweden is pleased to see that this partnership is now ready to start. We believe it has potential to become unique and innovative with its holistic and multi sectorial approach and thereby contributing to social, economic and environmental development in the region. The programme will promote direct opportunities and positive changes for the Pacific island people, targeting women, men, youth and vulnerable groups,” said Ms. Åsa Hedén, Head of the Swedish Regional Development Cooperation for Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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