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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - March 2019

"The prize was an enormous recognition of our work”

The Nordic Council Environment Prize 2019 is focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12, sustainable production and consumption. One of the targets under this goal is to halve the per capita global food loss and waste by 2030. In 2013, Selina Juul, Founder of the Stop Wasting Food Movement in Denmark was awarded the Nordic Council Environment Prize for her dedication to the fight against food waste, and three years later, in 2016, the prize went to Too Good To Go, an app that sells surplus food from cafés, restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets.

Raised awareness

“The prize was an enormous recognition of our work,” says Juul. “It put us into a different league and helped raise awareness of food waste everywhere in society. Consumers in the western world are those who throw out the largest quantities of food. If all Nordic and Western countries follow our example and mobilise their populations, we have the power to bring about major change.”

Today, Juul is one of the global ambassadors for Champions 12.3, an initiative committed to accelerating progress towards achieving the target, and her achievements have been featured in major media all around the world. The prize money of DKK 350,000 has also been put to good use.

“The money is being used for a large project to establish a nationwide system where poor people can get surplus food in their local area. It’s also gone on preparations for a new think-tank against food waste, an idea that’s been adopted by the Danish Government and will be launched shortly.”

It put us into a different league and helped raise awareness of food waste everywhere in society

Selina Juul, Winner of The Nordic Council Environment Prize 2013

Reusable packaging to reduce waste

“In Europe, the number of e-commerce deliveries is about four billion per year, and just about all of them are shipped in single-use packaging,” says Jonne Helgren, CEO and Co-founder of Finnish RePack. The company received the Nordic Council Environment Prize in 2017, which focused on waste-free solutions. “In terms of packaging trash, this amounts to hundreds of thousands of tons.”

RePack offers a reusable packaging service for e-commerce that, according to Helgren, follows the same principles as the highly effective Nordic bottle return systems. The company’s clients include fashion companies Filippa K and Ganni, outdoor retailer Addnature Sweden, and Finnish Nokia. When empty, the packaging is designed to fold into letter size for easy returns.

“You simply drop it into a mailbox and return it for free,” says Helgren. ”Our packages are made to last at least 20 cycles, so it’s a simple way to reduce single-use packaging in e-commerce. Our deposit model is that customers get a discount off their next purchase when they use RePack.”

Carbon-neutral energy in the Faroe Islands

The 2015 Nordic Council Environment Prize went the main energy supplier of the Faroe Islands, SEV, for its ambitious plans to increase the share of green energy in the country’s power supply. More than 50% of the electricity already derives from renewables, and the goal is that Faroese electricity production will be 100% green by 2030. In 2018, the country adopted a new road map that outlines the actions needed to achieve this objective.

“In 2015, we had erected a 12MW wind farm outside Torshavn, a considerable size considering our peak load at the time, which was 45-50MW,” says Hákun Djurhuus, CEO of SEV. “Since 2015, the Faroe Islands have seen significant economic growth, which means that we have to run faster to achieve our goals. We’re currently planning a large pumped-storage power plant for operation in 2024, and we intend to expand wind energy capacity by around 20MW every second year. In addition, achieving our goal requires 80MW of solar power to be installed by 2030, for example on rooftops around the islands.”

To encourage sustainable consumption of energy, SEV will soon be able to offer lower prices on electricity for heat pumps and electric vehicles. Both these products are currently exempt from VAT, and, to stimulate sales, electric cars are exempt from import taxes and road tolls.

Inaugural prize awarded for biodiversity preservation

The inaugural Nordic Council Nature and Environment Prize, as it was called until 2015, went to Torleif Ingelög, who set up the Swedish Species Information Unit, ArtDatabanken, in the 1970s.

“ArtDatabanken was the first institution to gather the various efforts and activities to preserve biodiversity in one place,” Ingelög says. The centre’s key objective is to evaluate the conservation status of the Swedish species and habitats and to conduct research into biodiversity and conservation. “In 1995, when I received the prize, not many people in Sweden were studying biodiversity. Now, there are hundreds of scientists working on these issues, which is fantastic.”

Already at the prize ceremony in Kuopio, Finland, Ingelög had the opportunity to discuss biodiversity, ecosystem services and conservation of natural forests with all the Nordic Environment Ministers. Shortly after his return to Sweden, he was invited to the Parliament to meet with the Swedish Environment Minister, Anna Lindh, and all her predecessors.

“We were very much encouraged and inspired by this increased focus on our work,” says Ingelög, adding that a lot of progress has been made since then, especially with regards to preservation of species. “We still need to do better when it comes to protecting our natural forests. We need larger areas to be protected, to prevent valuable forests from being cut down.”

Soil erosion – a key climate concern

Ólafur Arnalds received the Nordic Council Environment Prize in 1998 for extensive mapping of soil erosion in Iceland, conducted at the Agricultural Research Institute in cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland. The seven-year project covered all municipal areas and every municipality in the country.

“It was an incredible amount of data, and we were using methods that were new and innovative at the time, such as satellite photography,” says Arnalds, now professor at the Agricultural University of Iceland. “Leading up to our project, there had been a lot of debate about the condition of the Icelandic ecosystems, especially with regards to soil erosion. Our mission was to get the scientific foundation necessary to end the debate and start the search for viable solutions.”

Preventing land degradation and restoring degraded land is a prominent part of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 15 on sustainable terrestrial ecosystems. Arnalds explains that considerable quantities of the CO2 in the atmosphere originate from the soil and vegetation systems.

“It’s been theorised that carbon emissions coming from degraded areas are of the same magnitude as all other national emissions in Iceland. If we were smarter about our land use and land restoration, we could potentially put this carbon back into the soil to create fertile ecosystems. Preservation and restoration of soil is a prominent issue in the fight against climate change.”

In 1995, when I received the prize, not many people in Sweden were studying biodiversity. Now, there are hundreds of scientists working on these issues, which is fantastic.

Torleif Ingelög, Winner of The Nordic Council Environment Prize in 1995

Environmental activism and accusations of espionage

The history of the winner of the Nordic Council Environment Prize 2000 is packed with environmental activism, which in some cases led to large fines or even imprisonment… but also important milestones for the climate and the environment. When the Norwegian Environmental Foundation Bellona received the prize for its work on radioactive pollution in the Barents Region, it had just won the ‘Nikitin case’, in which one of its employees had been charged with espionage in Russia, facing a potential death penalty if convicted.

“We had been through an exhausting six years, so it was inspiring for us to get the prize,” says Frederic Hauge, Founder and CEO of the Bellona Foundation. The organisation still has a strong presence in Russia, focusing primarily on nuclear safety, industrial pollution and renewable energy.

Bellona has led the charge on a wide range of environmental issues. As an example, in 1989, it imported the first electric car to Norway and successfully fought for many of the incentives enjoyed by electric car owners today. Norway now has the most electric cars per capita in the world.

Investing in batteries

“Close to 40 per cent of all new cars sold in Norway are now electric,” says Hauge. “However, we still have a huge battle with the oil industry, which is a demanding task. We recently created a battery company as an alternative to investing in the oil industry. When it comes to increasing the use of renewable energy, new battery technologies will be a game changer in the near future.”

While Bellona was initially set up to fight pollution, its activities have moved towards exploring innovative solutions to issues relating to climate change. Some of its more prominent projects today include a global initiative on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the Sahara Forest Project, addressing the need for sustainable production of food, fresh water and renewable energy in dry areas, and Ocean Forest, a company exploring new ways of producing biomass in the sea.

Overview of all Nordic Council Environment Prize winners at

Photo 1:  Winners of the Nordic Council Environment Price 2017, Jonne Hellgren and Petri Piirainen receiving the honor on behalf of RePack. Credit: Magnus Froderberg/

Photo 2: Winner of the Nordic Council Environment Prize 2013 Selina Juul. Credit: Josephine Amalie Moldow