On Thursday, 6.6.2013 I took part in an educational excursion to Austria. The excursion was part of a project called “Slovenija znižuje CO2 – dobre prakse”, which is financed by Urad vlade RS za komuniciranje (UKOM) and the European commision. We have visited three different wood processing factories: Stora Enso Wood Products Bad St. Leonhard GmbH, Schaffer Sägewerk – Holzexport GmbH and Johann Pabst Holzindustrie GmbH. You can find out more about this excursion on this link (in Slovenian). Also available online is a very interesting presentation about the possibilities of using wood and more by df. Franc Pohleven.
What impressed me the most about the segment of Austrian wood industry we’ve seen was the grandeur of the machines and automated industrial processes. Every part of it is streamlined and humans are present almost exclusively only in roles of supervision. Everything there happens on a bigger scale than in Slovenia, only the employee numbers per product or per € earned are significantly lower. The factory halls are very large and almost exclusively made from wood – in addition to being a natural and good building material to me using wood for construction is also a statement of believing in your product (in Slovenia, most sawmill and wood processing plants are ironically concrete and iron constructions). What surprised me about the multinational Stora Enso company were the little things – tools for communication between employees and management, cleanliness of the halls etc. They are not afraid to spend money to make sure things work the right way and it’s visible every step of the process. It also reflects a forward thinking mentality, which puts innovation, development and human resources higher on the priority list than short-term profits and shaving costs. In the largest Pabst industrial hall they can make and customize (bend) support beams up to 36 meters length. The interesting thing about their company is that it employs mostly young people and women. When we inquired about this topic, one of their young managers told us that this type of employment policy is their philosophy which takes the company forward. This type of mentality for a private, family-owned company was very surprising to me.
In Austria, every village seemingly has a sawmill or a wood-processing plant. This is a result of a 20-year long strategy, which promotes wood, treating it as a strategical resource. In their wood value chain nothing goes to waste – every main and side product of the industrial process is used in one way or another. For example, the excess heat from burning sawdust and other residue is used to heat the nearby settlement of 3000 people. This results in a different way of purchasing lumber than in Slovenia – they buy spruce for somewhere between 105 and 130 € per cubic meter (much higher than in Slovenia), regardless of quality – it’s not that important because of their high technology and use for all types of wood.
Even though Austrian companies import a large quantity of wood by our standards, Slovenian wood only amounts to a low percentage of total wood processed in these plants. An engineer at Stora Enso told us that about 20 % of their wood (cca 100.000 cubic meters per year) comes from Slovenia. They have great capacities and cover the majority of Central European market (also Croatia, Hungary, Czech republic, …). After visting, the idea of a big Slovenian sawmill seems less realistic with such great processing capabilities already in place just over the border. However, all is not so grim – I’m sure that we can find other areas where we can cooperate with our northern neighbors.