Finland has an abundant reserve of nature information providing a solid foundation for corporate decision-making pertaining to biodiversity. This is the opinion of Professor of Plant Biodiversity Anna-Liisa Laine at the University of Helsinki. Laine recently received a prestigious grant from the European Research Council. For business life to assess how to compensate nature for the harm caused by business operations, it needs information on the environment.
“This requires us to understand what kind of biodiversity we have and how various measures affect it. We also have to be able to use appropriate indicators,” Laine says.
Useful data are produced particularly by monitoring projects extending over decades, or even a century. Such information can be used to examine, for example, how changes in land use affect biodiversity. In Finland, such long-term monitoring is carried out extensively, for example, on birds and small mammals.
According to Laine, researchers can help businesses put to use all of the information accumulated on the topic and consider their next steps. Launching new local projects to investigate matters is not always necessary. Answers can be found by wading through masses of data from Finland and abroad, and by utilising existing research-based knowledge on natural processes.
Laine highlights multidisciplinary thinking as a strength of the University of Helsinki from the perspective of businesses: under one roof, support is available for weighing up economic figures, legislation and human psychology. Expertise in ecology at the University is also exceptionally strong, even world-leading.
“In international rankings, ecology is one of the most successful disciplines in Finland.”
Halting biodiversity loss requires new thinking
At the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, nearly 200 countries around the world recently approved the goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2030. According to a recent survey (in Finnish with an English-language abstract) by the Ministry of the Environment, business life understands the urgency of the matter, with pioneers even recognising new business opportunities.
This is the case with Fiskars Group, a manufacturer of a wide range of products from garden shears to dishes and hiking gear. According to Kati Ihamäki, Vice-President for Sustainability at Fiskars, the longevity of products has traditionally been at the core of all of their different brands. The aim for the future is to consider material choices and product design more in terms of whether they promote the circular economy and are renewable.
“Our five-point responsibility programme includes that in 2030 half of our net sales will come from services and products in line with the circular economy,” Ihamäki says.
The company is seeking new business opportunities through service development: for example, offering frying pan maintenance services and the Vintage service, which inspects and resells quality second-hand crockery. In fact, curbing biodiversity loss requires a new kind of mindset from Fiskars. Ihamäki believes that they can also influence customers’ consumption habits.
“It makes a difference to natural capital what is eaten from our dishes and fried in our pans. Being involved in the everyday lives of consumers enables us to talk about these matters.”
A pioneer in the development of environmentally friendly materials
According to Kati Ihamäki, halting biodiversity loss is a significant question for the future of Fiskars Group. It affects not only the demand for products but also the availability of raw materials: businesses are subject to new regulations, and, in future, consideration must be given to how to produce, for example, battery minerals in a sustainable manner.
“We want to be ahead in considering which materials will be sustainable in terms of natural capital.”
This is why information about nature is needed. Ihamäki believes that multilateral collaboration with academia, the government and the third sector is extremely important. Together with researchers, the company can look for solutions for, among other things, sustainable consumption and design, as well as innovate new materials.
What Ihamäki is particularly expecting from universities and researchers is bold communication and open dialogue. One challenge to collaboration is the varying operational timespans: businesses are already in need of research-based knowledge on products that will not even launch for another couple of years. Indeed, Ihamäki thinks it would be wonderful for researchers to share their preliminary ideas, even those only amounting to speculation.
“We at businesses can always change tack later if we realise that things are not going quite as predicted.”
Finland has a great opportunity to pool its biggest strengths
Professor Anna-Liisa Laine advocates for active dialogue. Even though the principles of responsible research conduct prevent the early publication of research results, researchers can, for example, provide recommendations to businesses.
“Thanks to its capacity for rapid action, the private sector can play a really significant role in halting biodiversity loss,” Laine points out.
She believes that the gap between businesses and universities could also be narrowed through closer student collaboration, which would train a new generation of experts in the business sphere. At the same time, the potential for innovation lies, for example, in bringing nature to places where it is scarcely present, while carefully matching environments with suitable species.
According to Laine, the atmosphere is now positive, and there is a wonderful opportunity to bring together strong business operations, nature, education and information resources. This is why Finland should boldly strive to become a leader and embark on establishing a business sector that functions on nature’s terms.
“It could be a tremendous asset.”