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Green Transition and Sustainability: Implications for a Lapland-based Company

Kirjoittajien kasvokuvat vierekkäin.
6.2.2024 11:00

Authors: Anzelika Krastina, MEd., MBA, senior lecturer, Lapland UAS & Eeva Helameri, MA, specialist, Lapland UAS

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In this article we would like to share the results of the seminar, that was organised in Rovaniemi, Finland on 30 November, 2023 focusing on green transition in business field. It is important to evaluate actual impact and value of such events for Lapland-based stakeholders and companies. According to participants of the seminar, the insights into circular economy concepts and practical tools for sustainable business development are of great importance for the future sustainable business development.

The green transition and sustainability present a unique set of challenges for Lapland-based companies due to the region's distinctive characteristics. Lapland, located in the northernmost part of Finland, is known for its Arctic climate, vast wilderness, and reliance on sectors like tourism and natural resource-based industries (Regional Council of Lapland, 2024).

Many companies face challenges in transitioning to sustainable practices as they deal with uncertainties, and lack a clear roadmap for navigating the complexities of the green transition. Understanding this as a common challenge not only in Finland, but across entire Europe, an Erasmus+ project was initiated to tackle a part of this challenge.

As a part of this project, we created a simple to use guideline or a roadmap also called as SECA guide (Krastina et al., 2023), with tools for companies to better develop sustainable business. Stakeholders from entire Lapland region participated in the seminar to discuss the challenges of green transition and to learn good practices and tools for sustainable business development.

Transforming sustainable business: contemporary themes and tools

A hybrid seminar “Green transition and sustainability - what does it mean for a Lapland company?” was aiming to find out what the challenges of Lapland-based companies in green transition are, to multiply awareness regarding sustainable entrepreneurship, good practices and tools utilized for development of sustainable business. Furthermore, participants had the opportunity to test practical tools provided in the SECA guide to better understand what it really means in terms of business operations and how it could be applied by businesses in Lapland.

The event was organized in collaboration by two Lapland UAS projects: MUUVI and SECA. The Sustainable Entrepreneurship for Climate Action project (SECA, 2023) is a two-year Erasmus+-funded project implemented by Lapland University of Applied Sciences from Finland, Turiba University from Latvia and Aachen University of Applied Sciences from Germany.

The project aims to increase the skills and knowledge of sustainable development among current and future entrepreneurs. MUUVI project deals with the change of companies in the light of green transition and digitization by providing micro-studies. The MUUVI project is financed by the European Social Fund (ESF). The seminar was targeting in particular entrepreneurs and regional authorities in Lapland, Finland.

The seminar consisted of two parts. First part was dedicated to the presentations by experts on relevant sustainable business-related topics, and the presentation of the SECA guide and the tools it outlines for sustainable business - a key result of the SECA project. The second part of the seminar was divided into five themes and workshops where participants were introduced to the tools of the handbook and were able to apply them in practice:

  • Circular economy business models - how to minimize resource consumption
  • Lean management – improving efficiency and reducing waste
  • Problem - Solution tree - how to create a new sustainable business idea
  • Design thinking - how to create lasting value for customers
  • Sustainability communication

From the presentations and discussions during the workshops with the entrepreneurs, regional authorities, businesses and other participants we could learn that there is a “long way to go”. The transition towards sustainable business is currently slow, but soon we will have to accelerate this path.

According to Hanna-Leena Pesonen from the Regional Council of Lapland, the green and sustainable transition will directly affect Lapland-based companies. Lapland has elaborated on Lapland's Green Deal programme and companies are encouraged to familiarize themselves with that, to understand how to evaluate their operations according to ESG principle: Environment, Societal and Governance practices (Matos, 2020). Hanna-Leena Pesonen challenged the companies to ask the questions:

  • What effects (positive and negative) your company has on its operating environment: people, the environment and the economy? Here or elsewhere.
  • Where do the most significant effects arise?
  • What can your company influence?
  • What is essential from the point of view of the company's values and goals?
  • What do customers expect?
  • What about society?
  • How will the big global challenges affect your company?
  • How do you manage these potential risks?

The seminar discussions on the significance of green transition and sustainability also raised an important subject about the future of sustainability reporting as the EU envisions new regulations in this area. Sustainability reporting, once considered a voluntary practice for companies, is no longer purely optional due to several, evolving factors. In recent years, there has been a global shift towards recognizing the importance of corporate responsibility and transparency in addressing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. Nelly Korteniemi, from Lapland UAS, provided insights from entrepreneurs' perspectives on the new upcoming requirements for sustainability reporting according to European Sustainability Reporting Standard, ESRS (ESRS, 2024).

Following this, the focus shifted towards strategies for enhancing a company's sustainability, exploring various tools and methods introduced in the SECA handbook. Eeva Helameri from the Lapland UAS presented the results of the Erasmus+ project SECA, focusing on one of the key results of the project, the SECA Guide and its practical methods and tools. The seminar continued with practical sessions on testing sustainability methods, covering topics like circular economy business models, lean management, problem-solution trees for innovative sustainable business ideas, design thinking, and sustainability communication.

These sessions, held in both virtual and physical settings, aimed to provide participants with practical approaches to promote sustainable business practices within their organizations. In the subsequent section, we will examine the tangible results and impact on the participants, assessing the discussions, applications of the tools, and insights introduced during the seminar.

Picture introduction to SECA guide and tools for sustainable business.jpg

Picture: introduction to SECA guide and tools for sustainable business (picture credit A.Krastina)

Results and the impact analysis

Seminar participants were very diverse, not only in terms of geography but also in their representation of various industries, showcasing a versatile and broad spectrum of backgrounds. The people came from across Lapland in Finland and many from other regions of Finland. There were all together 36 participants coming from places such as Kittilä, Kemijärvi, Rovaniemi, Oulu, Keminmaa, Kuopio, Tornio.

There was diverse representation of industries in the seminar. Participants represented various industries, such as retail, health care technology, municipal waste management company, building and construction sector, welfare and tourism. Representatives from business support services such as Business Rovaniemi and Lapland Entrepreneurs were both – presenters and participants.

In order to understand the actual outcomes and impact of the event, we conducted a survey, receiving 12 responses. All together 42% of respondents were entrepreneurs, 8% working in companies, 17% working for the municipality or regional or national authority, 25% of the respondents represent the education sector, 8% other sectors.

When asked to rate own knowledge regarding sustainable business and entrepreneurship before the seminar, the average result to the statement “I think my knowledge of sustainable business was good even before the seminar” was 6.2 points in the scale where 1 is very poor and 10 stands for excellent. Obvious improvement of the knowledge on sustainable business to 7.6 points was reported with the statement “My understanding of the importance of sustainable business development increased during the seminar”. The statement “My knowledge of sustainable business development tools has improved” was rated at 7.6 points. The value applied from 1 to 10, where 1 stands for “strongly disagree” and 10 for “strongly agree”.

The most important takeaways from the seminar, according to the feedback by the participants, was knowledge about the circular economy and the tools provided for sustainable business development. Expert talks and discussion in small groups during separate theme workshops were considered as very beneficial by the participants. For example, in the workshop of circular economy tools´ presentation, the participant noted that they liked “practical examples in the three yellow slides on the padlet platform in the circular economy working group. It should be highlighted more”. Participants confirmed that it is “good to hear where we are going and what kind of projects related to the topic are going on”.

Participants suggested that such events are important “to deepen the knowledge of future requirements for companies” in regards to sustainability reporting standards. The remark by one of the participants highlighted the value of such project and events saying that “companies really need paths to the tools” for sustainable development. As a final note to the event organizers were such comments as “Great event, wise organizers!” and “This is needed. Regional events to be organized together”.

Participants were satisfied with the fact that also remote participation was an option and therefore the participants from more remote regions were able to join. 82% of respondents found the presentations of the seminar as good or very good. The same number of respondents considered the organization of the separate themes´ workshop as good or very good (82%).

It can be concluded that the seminar significantly enhanced participants' understanding of sustainable business, resulting in a notable improvement in self-assessed knowledge. Takeaways included insights into circular economy concepts and practical tools for sustainable business development.

Participants valued expert talks and engaging discussions, particularly in the themed workshops. Feedback emphasized the need for such events to deepen knowledge, address future sustainability requirements, and provide access to essential tools. Overall, the seminar left a positive impact, emphasizing the importance of collaborative regional events and the ongoing pursuit of sustainable business practices.

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References

ESRS - Sustainability Reporting Standards. 2024. EFRAG.

https://www.efrag.org/Activities/2105191406363055/Sustainability-reporting-standards-interim-draft. Accessed 30 November, 2023

Krastina, A., Nawrath, L. and Bruksle, I., 2023. Sustainable Entrepreneurship for Climate Action: Digital Handbook on How to Innovate Sustainable Start-Ups and Businesses for Climate Action. https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-316-506-9

Matos, P., 2020. ESG and responsible institutional investing around the world: A critical review. CFA Institute Research Foundation.

Regional Council of Lapland. 2024. https://www.lapinliitto.fi/en/information/general-information-about-lapland/ Accessed 15 January, 2024

SECA. 2023. Sustainable Entrepreneurship for Climate Action. https://sustainable.turiba.lv/ Accessed 30 November, 2023

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