Sustainability. What is it? It’s behaving. It’s being responsible. It’s what you teach your kids. But still something we often neglect when it really matters.
The obvious somehow becomes expendable. The factor that is totally crucial for long term viability or even profitability becomes something you postpone, push aside.
The topic of sustainability and responsibility in business is the biggest issue that faces our industries, our world, today.
Because what we do today defines what the world will look like tomorrow.
Climate change affects everything and everyone in one way or the other. It affects the most basic things in our lives – from where it is possible to live to what kind of food we can grow and eat.
We are dependent on our ecosystems in everything we do. So why not take care of it. Why not give it the attention it deserves?
We know what to do.
We need to reduce our emissions. We need to stop the loss of biodiversity. We need a transition to clean, renewable energy. We need an industrial revolution.
And yes, I say industrial – because our businesses are central in contributing to the transition to a more sustainable economy.
As a fairly small player globally, one might think that what happens in Finland is not that important on a larger scale, but that could not be further from the truth. It’s not about our absolute share of global greenhouse gases. It’s about the positive impact we can make, it’s about our handprint.
I’ll give you one example. The frequency converter, a small device that makes electrical motors more effective, saves 135 000 000 tons of Co2 emissions annually and globally. That handprint comes to a large extent from Vasa, where Vacon, nowadays Danfoss, is one of the trailblazers in the field.
So what happens in Finland does not stay in Finland – we have every opportunity to show leadership and show the way.
By doing this, we are one step ahead – by promoting research and innovation on sustainability related issues we can create new solutions to the challenges we face.
And we all know these challenges need addressing. Therefore the demand for solutions, products and services in line with sustainability standards will grow – and Finnish businesses can be at the forefront of providing these solutions.
As an active member of the Europan Union, we have an important role to play as well.
The EU is the largest single market in the world. This is something of a favourite subject of mine, so if you’ll allow me, I would like to highlight this: it is the largest single market – in the world.
And what does this mean? It’s a market without borders. It means that it allows goods, services, and people to freely move within the union. It allows us to do trade and business with each other.
While creating a broader choice of products and services for all EU citizens, it also creates an opportunity for the EU to set standards.
And when the EU sets standards it has global implications. In a way, it’s as simple as that – when we are ambitious and demand more, the surrounding world needs to do more – if they want to take part in the largest single market in the world.
By looking ahead, by seeing opportunities instead of problems, and by thinking outside of the box instead of sticking our head into the sand we can have a real global impact – both Finland as a nation, and the European Union as a community on the global level.
That is why we need to work with an ambitious and serious agenda on the Green transition and on sustainable growth.
The European Commission introduced the EU Green Deal in December 2019 – almost exactly 4 years ago.
As you all know, the main goal is to make the EU climate neutral by 2050, and transform the EU economy to become more sustainable.
An important milestone in the EU Green Deal is the 2030 goal of reducing green house gas pollution by 55 per cent compared to the levels from 1990.
As the EU loves project names, and acronyms – I really have had to work on those – the goal of reaching this has been named “Fit for 55”, where 15 different legislative proposals have been put forward regarding climate, energy, transport, finance and taxation.
Not all of these are without problems for Finland of course. I would assume most of us have heard things about the Nature restoration law, or “Ennalistamisasetus” in Finnish – or the EU Forest Strategy, filled with acronyms like LULUCF and concepts like taxonomy.
I will not go into these today, but the public discussion around these clearly shows how difficult it will be to reach commonly accepted solutions to the existential problems we are facing.
That being said, it is of course important that EU regulation takes national realities into account. Therefore this government will put effort into be even more effective in influencing EU policy in a timely fashion, before they become decided regulation.
Even though there is a new Commission coming next year, and we have elections coming up and a new European Parliament where political power may shift, we can be fairly certain that the path we are on is the one that we will continue to walk.
The Commission President Ursula von der Leyen kept the green transition as the number one concept also in her recent State of the Union speech.
The new Commission, no matter how it will look like, will begin by shaping the 2040 goals, on our way to 2050. This is one of the major tasks right at the start of the new term.
I think it’s important to make sure that we also see the opportunities that exist within these challenges.
Because even though we face serious challenges in many sectors, we have also done many things right in Finland. It is not a coincidence that our green transition investment pipeline exceeded 100 billion euros.
Us being trailblazers in the green transition is due to us having the cheapest electricity in Northern Europe and the best electricity grid. And those things again, are due to us being ahead in the very same green transition. Is it the Chicken or the egg? Kind of both at the same time.
As Nordic countries we also have an opportunity to carry the issue forward together and set an example for our fellow member states.
We have to remember that sustainability is a cross-sector concept, in order to affect real change we need to see action on all levels in society.
Higher education plays an important role here.
Finland has been strongly involved in promoting the construction of the European Education Area. We can congratulate ourselves on the fact that Finnish universities have been very successful in the highly competitive European Universities initiative, with 19 universities already participating.
We’ve certainly had challenges recently – Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, the pandemic, and heightened tensions in world politics underline the importance of a crisis-resistant society, both at a national and a European level. This highlights the need to make sure students preserve their faith in a better future, and here we all have a responsibility.
Universities, through their research knowledge and expertise, have an important role to play in building crisis resilience and security of supply, and in supporting the EU’s self-sufficiency and strategic autonomy.
Universities can and should be able to respond to the rapidly changing skills needs of the labor market, and support business renewal as well as raising the education levels of the population.
I firmly believe that the free movement of students, researchers and scientists within and outside the EU provides the best added value.
The Erasmus programme, for example, is the crown jewel of European student exchange. I would strongly encourage students, teachers and researchers alike to take part in exchange programmes and the various European cooperation projects that are offered.
My own journey through exchange studies both in Portugal and Spain certainly shaped me and my life. I cast my vote for Finland’s entry into the EU while I was living the European dream, as an Erasmus student in Barcelona.
We know that there will be fierce competition for talent, it’s obviously already happening today, but will be even more fierce tomorrow. Industrial productivity, the prosperity of our societies and the achievement of our climate objectives depend in large part on the ability to retain and attract workers.
This is not only my view, but it is widely shared in the EU member states. In the conclusions of the European Council, this has repeatedly been at the forefront.
The need to strengthen education and research is key when we want to reinforce our strategic autonomy and competitiveness. The emphasis on strong cooperation in education and research is therefore very important for us.
The availability of skilled labour has recently been at the center of many Commission initiatives. All fields are included – some are more vital than others; the clean transition, cybersecurity, the battery industry, digital skills, well educated teachers, knowledge of space and so on.
We must also talk about a commitment to research and development funding. The current government is committed to a historic long-term investment. This will significantly strengthen the capacity of universities and research institutions.
From next year, we will substantially increase the level of national R&D funding towards 4 percent of GDP. Our firm intention is to create a solid basis and conditions for improving Finland’s competitiveness long into the future.
These increases will be targeted at activities with the widest possible impact on productivity and economic growth.
Particular emphasis will be placed on basic research at universities, applied research at universities of applied sciences and on increasing and modernising researcher training, so that we can make the most of this investment.
Finland has also long argued that all EU member states should increase R&D investment towards the commonly agreed EU target of 3 percent of GDP.
We are now setting a good example – and our 4 per cent target and its implementation has indeed attracted a lot of interest from both other member states and also from the European Commission.
Dear friends –
It comes down to this. The green transition is a huge opportunity for all of us. For businesses, for education, for society. Over 100 billions of investments are queueing up at our border. If even a small part of those become reality the benefits are substantial.
This is an industrial revolution and the universities are the factories of the future. We already some of the tools to make it happen. You create more as we speak. The opportunities lie ahead of us. They are obvious, they are crucial, and fortunately even profitable. So no more postponements. No pushing aside. Let’s get to it.
(Keynote held att Svenska Handelshögskolan 7.11.2023)