Sustainability is a long word that covers a lot of ground – and air and water. It means more than putting up a few windmills and solar panels or stopping some clown pouring black sludge into a river – though that’s a good start. The Nordic countries consider themselves front runners in this important issue – and who’s to argue?
Their approach is holistic. Thus, begin with a solid bedrock of human rights principles and social compromise, then extend this to the workplace to produce a contented, balanced populace. From there, a prosperous, green and sustainable economy… and thence sustainable environmental solutions; a reasoned approach to unfettered depletion and pollution of the Earth’s resources, probably in chase of a dollar.
Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden have wide knowledge of environmental protection and have pursued sustainability for many years. These Nordic countries are recognised for their good track record in sustainable growth, renewable energy, innovative corporate culture, tripartite-based labour market, democracy, transparency, low levels of corruption, gender equality and strong welfare solutions.
The four countries all have embassies in Hungary and their ambassadors presented a seminar titled The Nordic Sustainability Models in Budapest on April 20. The event was moderated by Ambassador of Denmark Tom Norring and attended by his counterparts Pasi Tuominen of Finland, Tove Skarstein (Norway) and Niclas Trouvé (Sweden).
The seminar was chaired by Denmark as part of the Danish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, a governmental co-operation founded in 1971 and comprising members from the four countries plus Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland, a Finnish archipelago.
Ericsson is a Swedish multinational provider of communications technology and services. Vilmos Beskid, head of its research and development unit in Budapest, and Tamara Szabó, Internal Communicator and Innovation Driver in the same unit, explained the company’s corporate approach. This involves care for employees in the shape of healthy and family-friendly workplaces, care for society such as awards, galleries and playgrounds, and generally promoting a good work-life balance, consensus, transparency, team spirit, trust and other attributes.
A similar theme was pursued by Knut Ringstad, Programme Manager of Innovation Norway, a state-owned company that promotes nationwide industrial development profitable to both the business economy and Norway’s national economy. He explained how decent work is promoted and how tripartite co-operation has been improved between employers’ organisations, trade unions and public authorities to support equitable and sustainable economic and social development.
Ringstad pointed to Norway’s GDP per capita 86% above the then-EU27 average, high productivity, 3.9% unemployment, low inflation and regulated labour market with a defined important role for worker/employers organisations. Whereas 12% of Hungary’s workforce is unionised, in Norway it is 70% with a high level of co-ordination of wage bargaining and a small variation in incomes.
The result: a common understanding for the need of improving work conditions for the employees and economic performance for the companies.
Human Rights Ambassador of Finland Rauno Merisaari explained how human rights are a high priority in his country. With this comes dignity, and a free and strong civil society creates social capital, allowing people to live together in a sustainable manner, Merisaari said. Compromise is a beautiful word, he added.
Steen Gade is a Danish MP, chairman of the Climate, Energy and Building Committee and former director of the Environmental Protection Agency. He showed how energy consumption in Denmark remained static between 1980 and 2000 while GDP steadily rose by almost 50%. Carbon emissions, statistically, were on the same level as GDP in 1990 but noticeably lower in 2004.
Looking to 2020 Steen said the country wants more than 35% of its energy consumption to come from renewable sources, for 50% of electricity consumption to be supplied by wind power, a 7.6% cut in energy consumption compared to 2010 and a 34% reduction in greenhouse gases in relation to 1990.
Norring conceded that it is not all blue eyes and blond hair in the Nordic countries any more, and they too must open their eyes and look to best practices elsewhere. But the seminar had provided considerable food for thought.
The long-term target for Danish energy policy is a complete reliance on renewables by 2050, in electricity, heating, industry and transport. It’ll be clean and green, it’ll be good, it’ll be Nordic and it’ll be a source of inspiration for others to follow in the search for a better way to live.