Finnish Forest Research Institute  Metla

Media release 08.08.2005

Information technology changes paper markets

Regardless of the development of information and communication technology (ICT), the world paper consumption has increased. In fact, in the past decades, the development of ICT has helped to generate more demand for printing and writing paper. However, according to recent research results by Lauri Hetemäki, senior researcher at the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla), the situation may have reached a turning point.

Even though the global-scale consumption of paper products continues to rise, in certain OECD countries newsprint and office paper consumption has stagnated, or even started to decline in the 1990s. The structural change in the newsprint consumption is more evident, for example, in North America and Scandinavia consumption has been declining for quite a while. The historical connection between paper consumption and economy and population growth has been broken in these countries. One important factor causing the change is replacement of paper with electronic communication technology both in the media and offices.

One of the essential findings of Hetemäki is that the recent long-run projections for the printing and writing paper consumption in the OECD countries are unlikely to be realized. The basic reason for this is that the models behind the assessments do not take into consideration the impacts of ICT on paper consumption. Hetemäki outlines a new approach for assessing the impacts of ICT for paper products. However, more research will be needed to develop these models and to facilitate understanding the dependencies between electronic communication technology and paper consumption.

The development of information technology also affects prices of paper products. This is basically due to three different trends. First, the utilization of ICT in the paper industry helps to increase productivity. Secondly, the competition between printed and electronic media is continuously becoming tighter. Thirdly, ICT enables globalization and integration of paper markets. All these trends will intensify competition in the paper markets and cause pressures towards lower real prices for paper products.

The development outlined above, strengthens the ongoing trend of moving paper production and consumption from OECD-countries to Asia and East-Europe. As a result, there is a need for new strategies for the paper industry and forest sectors in the traditional forest countries, such as Finland, Sweden Canada, and USA. They have to find ways to combine wood resources with ICT in new innovative ways. This would provide an opportunity to continue to have a viable forest sector also in the future.

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*The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is the global network for forest science cooperation, established in 1892. It unites more than 15,000 scientists in almost 700 Member Organizations in over 110 countries. http://www.iufro.org/ for more details.

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