Published June 5, 2018

Finland offers amazing solutions to the climate crisis – at your service!

Writer
Specialist, Communications, Sitra
Samuli Laita is a communications specialist. His work includes interaction with the Finnish media and communications for the Circular economy focus area.

Hello to those of you looking for fresh success!

Remind yourselves of the Nordic experimental laboratory known as Finland. They have good news for you: the solutions we need for overcoming the impending climate crisis are rapidly taking root in daily life in Finland.

For a few years, this small nation (best known for the best education in the world, Nokia, Santa Claus, saunas, Martti Ahtisaari, remember?) has been testing brilliant economic and everyday solutions that will enable the continuation of the success story that is generating human well-being without exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity. Lifestyles that follow the principles of the circular economy, in great demand everywhere in the world, are already a reality in the North.

Finland finds a new path to prosperity

The backbone of our economy has remained unchanged for nearly a century. We have been using virgin resources to make products with short lifespans to sell to as many people as possible in the hope of maximising profits. The universal perception of progress has been based on growing consumption, which demands the constantly increasing production of goods with ever-more efficiency and speed and at progressively lower prices.

As a result, we are drowning in products without a thought for the materials required to produce them. There is way too much waste. A pioneering survey by Sitra and the European Climate Foundation indicates that this situation must change if we want to prevent climate warming exceeding two degrees. We must recycle the key materials instead of simply discarding them like we do today. This will allow us to retain the value of the materials and to harness this for funding welfare.

Now, of course, you are going to ask us how we intend to do this. And we have good news for you: this will be accomplished with Finnish (and perhaps also some other) circular economy solutions. In Finland, we have decided to apply new means in our quest for prosperity – a novel, more efficient economy and a total transformation in the way we think. A wave of change is currently surging through Finnish companies, government administration and schoolchildren alike.

We are already transforming from digital natives to circular economy natives

Since the 1990s, mobile phones and digitisation have been part of the vocabulary of Finns. The country that helped connect people around the world has also produced a generation of digital natives. Now, we are taking things a step further: those who have grown up with digitisation are already transforming into circular economy natives. Thinking, acting and conducting business in line with the circular economy is currently taught to thousands of children and young people – over the course of one school term, entire age groups learn all about the circular economy. In Finnish schools – the ones that have been winning awards for the best teaching in the world year after year – we are taking a leap into a new, unprecedented era.

Instead of the circular economy being a subject relevant to just one professional group, this new lesson in sustainable success spans all school subjects and grades. Just take a peek at Me & MyCity,
an experience-based learning environment where pupils create their own society, a miniature city in which students work in different professions and are paid for the work they do. The circular economy is also included here, encouraging each company in the learning environment to think about their circular economy business models in order to maintain a healthy revenue stream over the coming decades.

It also involves building self-accelerating learning about the circular economy: student teachers guide their pupils to come up with circular economy inventions. Is it any wonder that Finland’s Trade Union of Education dedicated its entire annual guidebook for teachers to the circular economy?

Sharing what pioneering companies and municipalities have learned

What do Finnish schoolchildren familiarise themselves with during their circular economy studies, then? Among other things, hundreds of circular economy solutions from companies and administrations, produced in the laboratory known as Finland. And we do not intend to keep the results obtained in the laboratory under wraps but will share them with others.

The new business models of the numerous companies included in “The most important companies in the circular economy” list inspire other entrepreneurs, while the competition between municipalities for procurements and actions that follow the principles of the circular economy is taking Finnish administration towards the circular economy. All this without even mentioning the fact that the Government of Finland outlined a strategic commitment to the circular economy in its Government Programme and has since published its own Action Plan for a Circular Economy. Of course, it was the world’s first national road map to a circular economy compiled by Sitra in 2016 that served as inspiration and basis for the government.

Copying the best practices

A major transformation of our economy is already well under way, but it has required a lot of hard work. That is just what we have done here at Sitra as an independent and self-funded future fund operating directly under the Finnish Parliament. We have brought together people from administration, business, research and the third sector to compile the first national road map to a circular economy.

All of our activities are marked by scalability – an ability to introduce the same circular economy innovations to almost anywhere in the world. Considering that we are the country of origin for the use of mobile phones as we know it, this is not such a strange idea.

And when we talk about scale, we should not forget about heavy industry. After all, it is where billions of tonnes of materials, so important for our planet and the future economy, are circulating. The measures we are taking to enable a circular flow of material use include the example of the Tornio terminal in a steel-producing part of northern Finland. Here, industrialists have for many years been developing mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships that conserve natural resources and at the same time go a long way towards fulfilling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

These lessons learned lay the foundation for a national competence and training centre for the industrial circular economy which will introduce what has been learned to everyone in the Finnish industrial sector.

Yes, it is possible to engage in the collaboration and symbiotic relationships required by the circular economy in the small, sparsely populated Finland, including in its reindeer herding territory. And
speaking of reindeer, utilising slaughter waste from reindeer husbandry as a higher value product is one part of the development of the Finnish circular economy. As a side note, we are in the process of reforming our entire food system to match the principles of the circular economy.

Experience the miracles of the Nordic laboratory!

When an entire society is involved in a dramatic but necessary change that aims to establish a new financing base for its well-being, it takes more than a few lines to describe it. We therefore invite those of you looking for fresh success to come over and get to know us! As we understand that it may not always be possible for you to come over here to the Arctic circle, we will also gladly share what we have learned with you in warmer conditions.

Once again, we are compiling the best circular economy solutions from Finland and from all over the world at the World Circular Economy Forum. This autumn, we will meet in Asia as WCEF2018 begins in Yokohama, Japan on 22 October 2018. Over 1,000 pioneers and experts in the circular economy from around the world will convene at the event.

Pick the best solutions and create new, sustainable success!

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