A hand holding a smartphone over a plate of leftover food.
 Finland’s Luke and Paulig have teamed up to launch a calculator that makes the financial and environmental effects of throwing away food more tangible. Image: Paulig
Sustainable Solutions

Finnish companies look to a greener future

Numerous Finnish companies have re-affirmed and stepped up their commitment to fighting the climate emergency, be it by developing green solutions, investing in sustainable technologies or adopting more ambitious sustainability targets.

Aleksi Teivainen

08.04.2021

Food waste is one of the primary causes of the climate emergency. Its carbon footprint is greater than that of the airline industry and, in many countries, ordinary households are the main culprit. In Finland, they account for as large a share of food waste as agriculture and retail combined, with every person throwing away an average of 25 kilos – or 125 euros’ worth – of food a year.

Paulig and Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) have teamed up to tackle the problem. The Finnish duo has launched a free calculator that reveals to consumers the financial and environmental impact of throwing away food to, hopefully, prompt them to re-examine their shopping and cooking routines.

omelette on a plate

Food scraps can be used to make a variety of meals, such as omelettes. Image: Adobe

Developed as part of the sustainability programme of the family-owned food and drink producer, it also provides consumers with suggestions on how to replenish their budgets and protect the environment.

“People buy too much food, don’t appreciate it enough and don’t know how, or can’t be bothered to, use food scraps to prepare other delicious foods,” summarised Juha-Matti Katajajuuri, a senior scientist at Luke.

“An easy way to use food scraps is to include them as an ingredient in, for example, omelettes, casseroles, pasta dishes, pizza pies etc. The key, however, would be better planning.”

Tackling issues both broad and niche

Packaging may be a means to extend the shelf life and reduce the wastage of food, but it is hardly without its implications for the environment. With approximately two-thirds of all plastic waste made up of packaging and over a half of the plastic produced since 1950s sitting in landfills, it is critical to transition toward a more circular economy for packaging materials.

A company working toward this goal is S Group, one of the leading retailers in Finland. The retail cooperative recently pledged to introduce recyclable packaging for all of its private-label brands by the end of 2022 as part of an ongoing effort to increase the use of recycled materials, improve recyclability and reduce the amount of plastic in packaging.

“Recycled plastic is used instead of ordinary virgin plastic in packaging for over 50 of our private-label products,” highlighted Anni Loukaskorpi, compliance manager for responsibility at S Group.

“The amount of recycled plastic has been increased substantially also in the plastic bags we sell. The share of recycled material in them rose from 66 to 88 per cent last year.”

The work is already having an impact, according to S Group. The plastic used annually for packaging private-label frozen berries and vegetables, for example, has been reduced by an amount that would suffice for more than a million plastic bags.

A package of cotton pads on a wooden table.

S Group has introduced a marking to notify consumers of its new, more sustainable packaging. Image: S Group

Consumers are demonstrating their concern for the environment by not only demanding more sustainable packaging options, but also replacing meat, eggs and dairy with plant-based alternatives. This shift presents new challenges and opportunities across the food chain, but also in somewhat unexpected domains of everyday life.

Differences in animal and plant-based proteins, for example, impose new requirements on detergents used for clean-in-place and surface cleaning.

“When plant-based proteins burn to a surface, it’s extremely hard to clean the surface thoroughly,” explained Kimmo Nurmi, a research and development specialist at Kiilto.

The Tampere-headquartered developer of household detergents and personal care products has responded to this need with the launch of Kiilto Avena, a series of environmentally friendly detergents that are particularly effective against plant protein dirt. Nurmi revealed that the development process was interesting especially due to the growing range of plant-based proteins.

“What surprised me in the development process was the importance of heat treatment of intermediate products and their meaning for the result,” he said.

Sustainably by air and sea

The transport industry has similarly put its innovative minds to work to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and shake off its reputation as one of the biggest polluters in the world. In Europe, the oft-maligned industry is responsible for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and an exception to the general downward trend in emissions, with such projected to remain above the levels of 1990 in 2030.

Although over 70 per cent of the emissions are produced by road transport, the finger is often pointed at sub-sectors that generate more emissions per journey and are perceived less essential for everyday life: aviation and maritime.

Finnair believes electric propulsion will be key for the future of flying.

An electric aircraft flying in sunlight.

Heart Aerospace’s ES-19 aircraft could begin commercial operation in 2026, according to the Swedish company. Finnish flag carrier Finnair has declared its intent to acquire up to 20 of the aircraft for its short-haul routes. Image: Heart Aerospace

“It will help to promote responsible and sustainable aviation especially on short routes, in an era where climate change will increasingly dominate the agenda,” stated Anne Larilahti, director of sustainability at Finnair. “We want to be actively involved in developing and implementing new technologies which enable carbon-neutral flying.”

The Finnish airline demonstrated its confidence in the technology last month by signing a letter of intent for acquiring up to twenty 19-seater electric aircraft for its short-haul routes from Heart Aerospace, an aerospace startup based in Sweden.

It has already introduced some of the more ambitious climate targets in the aviation industry, committing to halving its carbon-dioxide emissions by 2026 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. Since 2019, it has also been part of Nordic Electric Aviation, an initiative driving the development of electric flying in the Nordics.

Meriaura Group, a Finnish family-owned shipping conglomerate, announced last month it has laid out plans for a fully carbon-neutral transport concept based on hybrid propulsion combining sustainably produced bio-oil and battery technology.

Meriaura ship at sea

Meriaura seeks to achieve as close as possible to 100% greenhouse gas neutrality by utilising electricity propulsion based on renewable energy and batteries. Image: Meriaura

Designed specifically for lake, canal and sea feeder traffic, the concept will take into account the entire transport chain with the aim of also automating cargo handling and taking full advantage of the possibilities presented by digitalisation.

Jussi Mälkiä, president of Meriaura Group, said the objective is to introduce the first transport concept based on renewable energy since the era of large windjammers. The potentially revolutionary concept is set to be trialled in Lake Saimaa, Eastern Finland.

“Lake Saimaa is the perfect pilot area for our concept,” he viewed.

Wear it with pride

Also the fashion industry has been grasping, quite literally, at straws to reduce the pressure it puts on the environment as, for example, the second largest consumer of water globally and a significant source of carbon emissions.

Fortum in March premiered a collection made of Bio2 Textile, a straw-based textile developed under its biomass programme, Fortum Bio2X. Designed by Finland’s Rolf Ekroth, the horror film and farming-inspired collection was launched at Pitti Uomo, the leading show for men’s clothing in the world.

Many of the proposed solutions are based on new bio-based fibres, especially in Finland.

The fibre was created with the fractionation technology developed by Oulu-based Chempolis. The straw-based textile makes for “amazing” fabric, according to Ekroth.

“It looks good and feels comfortable,” he described. “It is an honour to be the first designer in the world to use it. Finnish fibre innovations will contribute to the fashion industry becoming more responsible and environmentally friendly.”

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