September 25, 2020

FIVE FROM FINLAND: Circular economy

Circular economy icons
Finland has what it takes to be a global forerunner in circular economy solutions.
Adobe / Julia Bushueva

With solutions supported by its world-renowned education and innovation system, Finland has become a trailblazer in guiding the transition to a circular economy.

This year, many fields and industries are experiencing drastic changes and the world as a whole is trying to find ways to adapt. This provides us with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to support the sustainable recovery of the global economy with circular solutions.

Showcasing ways to do this, the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra is hosting its first fully virtual event in place of the annual World Circular Economy Forum on 29–30 September.

Finland has been well prepared to put the circular economy into action, adopting the goal of climate change mitigation long before the economic shock caused by the pandemic. The essence of the transition is based on rethinking our value chains and on new business models that redefine our ways to approach ownership of products.

Below are some Finnish solutions introduced by Kari Herlevi, the project director in Sitra’s circular economy focus area, which help to speed up the transition to a circular economy.

1. Product-service systems and sharing models

The concept of MaaS is comparable to mobile operators: just as you buy a subscription from an operator to access their mobile telephone network, you can purchase a travel package from a MaaS operator to access transportation providers’ services.

The concept of MaaS is comparable to mobile operators: just as you buy a subscription from an operator to access their mobile telephone network, you can purchase a travel package from a MaaS operator to access transportation providers’ services.

Istock.com/DKart

Services will not only drive the sustainable recovery from the pandemic, but also create valuable export possibilities for Finnish expertise. In a circular economy, consumption is based on services – sharing and renting. One essential service category from the circular economy point of view is product-service systems (PSS). When employed on a global level, these systems can lead to reduced resource use and waste production as fewer products are manufactured.

Many Finnish service providers have already taken the initiative and specialised in this. For example Lindström, a workwear- and mats-as-a-service provider, Tamturbo, an oil-free industrial compressed-air-as-a-service provider, Lem-Kem, a lighting-as-a-service provider and AirFaas, a multi-party supply chain management ecosystem – like an Airbnb for factories – are product-service systems.

“Sharing models also play an important role in increasing use rates, be it platforms such as the have-it-all website Tori, Blox Car, which matches private car owners with renters-to-be, or Skipperi, which provides sharing options for recreational boats,” says Herlevi. “Through the Whim app, MaaS Global provides a cross-cutting solution that eliminates car ownership by combining public transport, taxis and private cars into a single service, allowing customers to choose the most suitable form of transport as they go.”

2. Ways to value food

While the growing Finnish food industry may be small in numbers, it has big solutions and the country is riding the crest of a wave as humankind is putting more emphasis than ever before on pondering the plates of tomorrow in order to ease the burden on agricultural land globally.

plant-based protein

Nordic oats and legumes inspire Gold&Green Foods to create healthy and sustainable meat alternatives.

Paulig Group

“The first solution is to avoid waste in the first place,” reminds Herlevi. “Finland is currently finalising its national roadmap to reduce food waste, in line with the Sustainable Development Agenda, which aims to halve food waste by 2030. Many solutions are helping to turn this into reality, one of which is Finnish ‘food rescue service’ ResQ Club, which enables people to buy restaurant meals that would otherwise go to waste.”

Moreover, the alternative protein market is expected to create tens of millions of jobs worldwide and capture a significant market share from the traditional meat market in this decade.

This phenomenon is another way to relieve pressure on earth’s carrying capacity.

“The potential of extracting more value from commodities has already been shown by, for instance, the Finnish innovations of Vöner’s kebab substitute, Gold&Green Foods’ pulled oats, Kasnäs’ aquaculture system, Solar Foods’ protein powder and Verso’s meat-like products,” Herlevi says.

3. Sustainable delivery models

To make the circular economy happen, efficient delivery models and frictionless logistics operations play pivotal roles. There are some high-quality Finnish delivery services and solutions that have implemented this successfully.

“Food delivery companies such as Wolt have gone from zero to hero during the pandemic,” tells Herlevi. “Moreover, companies such as RePack, which offers a foldable, reusable and refundable through-mailbox packaging solution that minimises the amount of air transported, and Koepala, which offers foldable lunch boxes that are flat during storage and transport and can be folded into multiple forms, have turned the opportunity circular economy offers into results.”

4. Roadmaps for carbon-neutral industries

RePack’s focus is on providing a sustainable customer experience and generating new sales leads for the client.

RePack

Finland has produced roadmaps for carbon-neutral industries because the climate goals cannot be achieved without a functioning circular economy and heavy industry has a fundamental role in reaching climate neutrality. Increased circular economy could drastically cut emissions in heavy industry when focussing on steal, plastics, aluminium and cement.

The roadmaps also refer to increased use of many sorts of recycled materials from steel, textiles and battery chemicals to concrete, urban mining and biogas. Product life cycle extensions and sharing and renting models are essential elements as well.

“The thinking embedded in these roadmaps will be important also for Finland’s future industries, not least its recent 300 million-euro investment in a battery cluster, as well as the first Nordic large-scale textile recycling centre, which next year will be able to process 10 per cent of Finland’s textile waste,” Herlevi states. “All solutions need not depend on the scale of large industrial parks, however. For example, through resource efficiency and recycling, Betolar creates value by turning building industry waste into concrete-like construction materials with a carbon footprint that is up to 90 per cent smaller than conventional concrete.”

5. Circular economy education

Only two years after Finland started working on the national circular economy roadmaps, there are more circular economy programmes and courses in higher education than anywhere else in the world. Along with that, engagement in the circular economy has been integrated into lifelong learning processes starting from kindergartens. Consequently, over 70 000 Finns from different levels of education studied the circular economy last year, as it has been embedded in all areas of society rather than being a separated sector of its own.

Finnish innovations in the circular economy are raising interest globally.

Finnish innovations in the circular economy are raising interest globally.

Julia Bushueva

“Finland can be a global forerunner by paving the way for pioneering circular economy solutions across the world, if we make sure people have the skills required in a circular economy that is about learning and unlearning, rethinking and redefining the value of what we have,” states Herlevi. “In the post-pandemic world, this is all the more important as many people who have lost their jobs need new skills and tools for the future.”

“Universities of applied sciences in Finland have played a key role in turning the circular economy into practice,” he says. “For example, Sitra launched a circular summer school project with Turku University of Applied Sciences in May, targeting Finnish companies in the built environment and the technology and process and engineering industries. Another goal is to take Finnish teachings to the world. In fact, most circular solutions from Finland could reach a global audience, but few may resonate more easily with a global audience than those in education.”

Text: Tuomas Koivisto

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