As opportunities to maximise the circular economy gather pace, two of leading industrial symbiosis experts give Finland their visions of the future...
Finding the best possible future for Finland is Sitra’s primary objective and guides all our operations.
In what direction should we develop Finnish society? On what principles should we build a sustainable society and well-being? Can a high level of well-being and economic and ecological sustainability be combined at all?
The current operating models and structures of highly developed societies rest on an unsustainable foundation. We are in the midst of historical change, in which the production structures, consumption habits, lifestyles and societal structures that enabled rapid development during the 20th century are crumbling.
With a view to the future, the greatest challenge is sustainability. This is linked to personal well-being, the economy, the ecology and environment, as well as the communal dimension of society. If we want economic growth to continue, we must rethink its ecological, social and political boundary conditions. If we also want to live the good life, we need an updated concept of well-being and must recognise the new challenges related to this. This calls for a new societal vision and operating models.
Building blocks of sustainable well-being
We need a broader vision of the factors that contribute to well-being and the good life. Greater wealth has solved many well-being issues that stemmed from scarcity, but these have been replaced by problems associated with mental well-being. These problems are fuelled by factors such as rapid societal change, difficulties in managing everyday life, constant hurry and stress, and changes in working life and human relations.
We have yet to fully learn how to live and act wisely in our rapidly changing world. To do this requires an improved and more holistic understanding of the factors affecting well-being. Only then can we build better living environments and create improved products and services. In other words, high-quality expertise in well-being could also provide a foundation for added economic value and competitiveness.
Companies and organisations that contribute to the economy should also renew their ways of thinking and operating. The traditional operating model, based on hierarchical planning, no longer works well in an increasingly uncertain and complex world, where predicting the future is very difficult. Companies must also pay heed to the boundary conditions of sustainable development, as part of their strategic basis. More and more often, value is being created in open networks, through close collaboration between various stakeholders. A more experimental, persistent and systemic operating model is needed. On an increasing number of occasions it is ecosystems, rather than individual companies, that are competing against each other.
Sustainable well-being is possible if ecological, social and economic sustainability – as well as sustainable everyday well-being – can be realised in people’s living environments. Ecological sustainability sets the boundary conditions for humanity’s survival in general, for social sustainability, economic activity and everyday well-being. In the future, the economy and lifestyles must remain within the limitations set by nature.
This requires far-reaching cultural change, which calls in turn for novel operating models and incentives. Dissemination of information alone will not suffice. Sustainable accommodation and traffic planning, promotion of immaterial business operations and the use of incentives related to individual well-being in the promotion of sustainable lifestyles are all examples of the required operating models.
Change is possible
However, change in favour of a sustainable society and well-being will not be easy. Decision-makers will need to reconcile all the key dimensions of welfare and sustainable development simultaneously. Traditional ways of thinking, a short-sighted decision-making culture and strong vested interests are hampering reform that penetrates all sectors of society. To overcome these difficulties, policy makers need a new kind of administrative model. In the new operating environment, public administrations should be facilitators of experimentation and action, and a platform for new innovations based on genuine interaction with citizens.
Finland has every opportunity to develop a new vision of sustainable well-being and to become a global pioneer in implementing such a vision. With a stable welfare society, strong social capital, a high quality of life and trust in institutions and other people, and a level of competitiveness generally considered to be high, Finland has a strong basis for developing a sustainable society.
Natural resources, a clean environment, water, space and peace and quiet are first-rate assets, if we understand how to use them wisely. Welfare expertise of high international quality, environmentally friendly technologies and an open-minded public sector capable of reforming itself could be the keys to Finland’s future success.
We have collated our views concerning the future of Finnish society into a consultation paper Towards a sustainable well-being society, published on this website on 22 April 2013. This is a “living document”, which Sitra updates as its thinking on well-being and society develops in collaboration with stakeholder groups. Naturally, Sitra is striving to meet the challenges of sustainable well-being within its own operations, and in its theme and focus areas.