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The Nordic countries are at the forefront of sustainable development worldwide. With the collaborative network SUSTAINORDIC, consisting of six Nordic design and architecture institutions, they have created another initiative to live up to their role model function for good practices and sustainable entrepreneurship. The network recently published its second Nordic Report, spreading inspiring examples of sustainable production in the Nordic countries.
We talked to Project Manager Aino Vepsäläinen and Brand Manager Päivi Kaira from Design Forum Finland, the Finnish partner in EcoDesign Circle, about SustaiNordic, the role of design in sustainability and Northern creativity.
SustaiNordic was initiated under Nordic collaboration in 2015. How did design centres come to be a focus of the network? Could you describe briefly what is at the core of thisproject?
The aim of SustaiNordic is to bring together sustainability and design. We want to show how the change towards a more sustainable way of living is possible – indeed, it is already an everyday issue in several countries, cities and companies. Therefore, we collect and disseminate internationally the best practice Nordic examples of sustainable production and consumption in order to stimulate the development of national policies within the field.
In our Nordic Reports, we show industrial, academic and political perspectives, and the topics include the bioeconomy and circular economy, responsible procurement and cross-disciplinary cooperation.
The creativity and the commitment of the Nordic countries to sustainable development is widely looked up to. Why are the Nordic countries generally more ambitious about sustainability solutions?
The Nordic values – democracy, transparency, diversity, participation and equality – are a good platform to achieve development that keeps the future in mind. These same values are shared by all the Nordic countries and within their societies. Our countries are at the top of international rankings when it comes to anti-corruption, trust, freedom of speech as well as contentment and happiness among their citizens. The Nordics also rank highly for innovation. And our countries also highly respect nature. These are good conditions for being at the forefront of smart and sustainable development. Our values create a solid ground for sustainable solutions.
Furthermore, a high innovation rate, design knowledge and material and technology know-how amongst the Nordic populations enable and support the development of sustainability in all of its fields. In contrast to other cultures, our openness in sharing data and information also contributes to quicker creative solutions.
The aim of SustaiNordic is to bring together sustainability and design. We want to show how the change towards a more sustainable way of living is possible.
Which target group is your priority?
The target group of SUSTAINORDIC is broad – but international decision-makers looking for inspirationand concrete examples are the primary target group. The secondary group consists more generally of industry, press and the general public. In other words, people who are interested and willing to influence our environment and make a change for the better.
The Nordic Reports have received great interest internationally, particularly from Nordic embassies around the world. The embassies are one of the primary communications channels we use for the Nordic Reports.
We at Design Forum Finland find it very important to spread the word on good examples of sustainable production and consumption and inspire and motivate the Finnish companies to influence on these issues themselves. The publications of SUSTAINORDIC have received a lot of positive attention. According to feedback we received, this has been rewarding for the companies developing sustainable businesses featured in the Nordic Reports.
In the second Nordic Report, twelve sectors are described, including Knowledge Sharing and Discussion, Circular Economy, Sharing Economy, Robot Love, Responsible Procurement, Nudging and Future Generations. Which of the these sectors have the greatest leverage with respect to the UN Sustainable Development Goal number 12 – Sustainable Production and Consumption?
All the sectors are important but to mention one, Manifesto 2 Knowledge sharing and discussion is fundamental to all development. Without sharing the knowledge and listening to the researchers and professionals as well as communicating with each other, there are no tools to build sustainable societies.
Which sector is currently flourishing the most?
The consequences of climate change have been evident lately and the effects of the climate change have been taken more seriously. As a result of that, companies and organisations in the Nordic countries are innovating new solutions and new circular business models have been built.
In Finland, for example, there are great new innovations on sustainable materials, especially in textile. For instance, the company Infinted Fiber found a solution which allows not only to recycle textile fibres again and again but even to regenerate them, thus preserving 100 % quality. The Spinnova company is located deep in the Finnish forests. Fibres for textiles are obtained from wood pulp by means of novel processes without the use of any other chemicals.
Wood is also the raw material for another branch – packaging: Sulapac developed a wood-based material, which biodegrades fully without leaving microplastics behind. Sulapac® can be processed with existing plastic product manufacturing machinery and when reuse is no longer possible, it can be thrown into the biowaste to be composted.
The Nordic values – democracy, transparency, diversity, participation and equality – create a solid ground for sustainable solutions.
In your opinion, what is needed to change our current consumption and production patterns into a sustainable model?
We need more discussion, but also evidence of sustainable business opportunities: combining economically profitable business operations with sustainable development is perfectly viable. To have the courage to invest in sustainable production, companies have to believe in the competitive factor of the proposition.
Secondly, local production and local consumption also play a crucial role in the field of sustainability. By applying a local value chain approach, companies are able to make their products more meaningful for consumers by allowing the consumer to become a part of the value chain and contribute to the building of their local area’s future.
Thirdly, it’s very important how the young generation as future consumers are educated and motivated towards sustainable consumption. In Finland there are several educational projects and toolkits underway in schools and universities ensuring more sustainable habits are being learned, for instance the Circular Classroom.
What role does the Nordic Council of Ministers play in the SustaiNordic network?
The project is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers and is in accordance with its vision of disseminating the Nordic perspective internationally.
The Nordic Council of Ministers supports projects and collaborations that encompass joint Nordic values such as trust, innovation, sustainability, openness and equality, and that strengthen the Nordic brand worldwide.
We need more discussion, but also evidence of sustainable business opportunities: combining economically profitable business operations with sustainable development is perfectly viable.
Is there any specific project that had a personal impact on your or your colleagues’ lives?
SUSTAINORDIC and other projects that we have been involved in have made us aware of the consequences that our individual actions cause. It matters what we all do and how we behave! Understanding this has been eye-opening and encouraging.
As an example from our family life in Finland, we have followed the Icelandic example of organsing joint transport for kids to go to their football practice. Instead of using private cars by every family, there is a team bus collecting the kids from our neighbourhood. Iceland has created this model and it has many good effects: reducing emissions, time savings for families and more possibilities for exercising for the kids.
What do you still want to achieve and what are the steps to follow?
At the moment, we are working on the third and last SUSTAINORDIC publication, The Nordic Report 3, to be launched in mid November 2020. This project has produced a huge amount of information, examples, cases and new contacts around sustainable production and consumption. Now we want to share, implement and promote this knowledge in Finland to our main target groups. We are also willing to continue this good partnership with our Nordic colleagues, hopefully with a new project!
What gives you energy for your work?
Nice colleagues and great partners but also encouraging results and changes in people´s mindset and habits!
Project Manager, Design Forum Finland,
Brand Manager, Design Forum Finland