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Innovation for sustainable development the key Finnish companies’ success

Leena Pentikäinen Published Date 8.1.2020 8.00 Blog

Mika Naumanen and Leena PentikäinenFinnish companies are starting to understand and recognise the opportunities that sustainable development can offer for their innovation activities. According to a recent Government study, almost 90% of the innovations made in Finland last decade support the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Such innovations also contribute to climate change mitigation. Furthermore, they have the potential to solve development challenges, while generating added value for companies and boosting their competitiveness.

Fighting climate change with innovation

While many Finnish companies are already global leaders in their respective fields when it comes to sustainability, customer focus and customer service, it takes courage and persistence to create innovations that drive sustainable development and business renewal.

The Government study covered more than a thousand innovations. We would now like to turn the spotlight on four companies that offer solutions to global challenges in the field of renewable energy and materials.

The diesel fuels provided by Neste and St1 support the achievement of an important goal: access to cheap and clean energy. Neste Green 100 diesel fuel is made without crude oil from fully renewable sources, and can be used in any diesel-fuelled vehicles. Similarly, the RED95 diesel produced by St1 is made almost entirely from waste. Oilon Oy has developed a natural gas combustion technology that reduces emissions to just one third of the maximum permitted by the EU.

Wood-based pulp is a prime example of a renewable material. The cellulose and lignin in pulp can be used to replace synthetic plastic raw materials. Spinnova develops methods for making cellulose fibre suitable for the textile industry’s needs, thereby contributing to a more responsible textile industry. Spinnova has developed a unique technology that is able to produce yarn from wood fibres without chemical treatment and almost without water. Water consumption using this method is 99% lower than in the manufacture of cotton.

Future outlook

Sustainable development is a global megatrend that transforms societies and markets. In the future, companies that have integrated the principles of sustainable development into their business will be the winners. Sustainable products, production methods and manufacturing competence provide a stronger competitive advantage. Technology will also provide opportunities for transitioning into more sustainable production.

Future challenges will be increasingly complex. According to estimates, roughly 90% of the world’s population will live in cities in 2050. Population will increase from the current seven to about ten billion, and the current production methods will not be able to produce clean water, food and energy for everyone. 

Investing in innovation is therefore more important than ever. The challenges we face in terms of sustainable development are so complex that solving them requires systemic changes. Instead of individual innovations, we need comprehensive solutions. Finland needs the capacity to build competence networks that will be able to provide overall solutions to address global needs. This requires extensive cooperation between the public, private and third sector.

Read the study, which analysed ways in which companies and the innovations they had developed addressed global development challenges, and the scenarios for achieving the goals set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The study focused on four sectors critical for sustainable development: food and agriculture, health, energy and materials, and urbanisation.

Business Finland and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland provide services designed to turn development challenges into growth opportunities, and to drive innovation in Finnish companies.

Leena Pentikäinen, Ministerial Adviser; Mika Naumanen, Senior Scientist, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

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