Championing Sappi to a low-carbon future as a trainee in Germany

Our goal is to be a great place to work where all people are inspired in their role and empowered to grow to their full potential. Our world-class trainee programme is designed to do just that, setting young people up for success in the jobs of tomorrow — not just today.     

Laura Falceto-Vinolas (24 years) is a chemical engineer currently completing a two-year traineeship based in Ehingen Germany but working with our teams across Europe. In this interview, she describes her experience championing Sappi to a low-carbon future. Interested in our traineeship programme? Learn more.

Tell us about your career journey? How did you find your way to Sappi?   

I’m originally from Madrid but received my MSc in Advanced Chemical Process Integration and Design from the University of Manchester in the UK. As a chemical engineer, I was looking for opportunities in renewable energy and Sappi powers a significant portion of its operations from bio-based resources. In some cases, Sappi actually sells green energy back on the market!  

When I discovered the programme, it seemed like a perfect for me. I was thrilled to be selected for a position at Ehingen mill, southeast of Stuttgart in Germany. It’s exactly the kind of practical experience I wanted with an innovative company where I can contribute to decarbonisation and low-carbon solutions in the fight against climate change.   

What’s the focus of your traineeship in Europe?  

The first focus of my traineeship is to support the development of a European roadmap to decarbonise Sappi’s production at all our European mills. Then I’ll move on to conduct a decarbonisation assessment of Ehingen mill specifically. It’s all linked to Sappi’s sustainability strategy, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the EU’s Green Deal, which strives to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.         

Tell us about your future work at Ehingen mill?  

Once the European roadmap is in place, I’ll assess Ehingen mill’s energy consumption from A to Z – looking at how the mill uses energy, where efficiencies can be made and how to integrate more renewables. Ultimately, our goal is to reduce the mill’s carbon footprint to net ZERO. We believe that Ehingen mill – one of Sappi’s most advanced eco-effective facilities – can become a carbon neutral model for the company worldwide.    

How do the EU’s sustainability goals align with Sappi’s?   

The EU’s key targets for 2030 are at least 40% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels) and at least a 32% share of renewable energy. Ehingen is well positioned to support these targets because it’s an integrated pulp and paper mill that doesn’t rely too much on external pulp. Our use of black liquor provides an important renewable energy source for the mill.   

As a global company, Sappi’s target is to reduce specific greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2025. Management has also committed to improve energy efficiency by 5% and increase share of renewables and clean energy by 9%. 

In absolute terms, these 2025 targets will deliver significant emission reductions across Sappi.  And of course, 2025 is just the next step. Beyond that we will be aligning our 2030 goals with the Science Based Target initiative and future EU requirements.     

Tell us more about “black liquor” at the mill. How is it eco-effective?   

Black liquor is burned in recovery boilers that generate steam and recover pulping chemicals for re-use. The steam is expanded through a turbine to make electricity that meets a significant portion of the mill’s electricity needs. The process has actually been around for some time. There are some exciting innovations, however, emerging to make it even more eco-effective that Sappi is exploring.  

What do you like most about being a trainee?  

First, I’d say working for a purpose-driven company where sustainability drives so much decision-making. Second, it’s the ability to explore such diverse areas of the business – from the forests and mills to our offices across Europe. Connecting with and learning from the exceptional experts on our teams has also been a major highlight for me.   

What’s your advice for other young people interested in careers in the paper product industry?  

Transitioning to a more sustainable, circular economy is the defining challenge for our generation. Innovative paper products are emerging that can roll back the tide of plastic pollution in our oceans and on land. By working in this industry, you’ll be at the forefront of the creation of sustainable, biodegradable solutions that can power the circular economy forward and help fight climate change. Sappi is a fantastic place to start – no matter if you’re interested in the products or the process.