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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - March 2019

Doing more and better with less – Nordic Council Environment Prize 2019

Each year, the Nordic Council Environment Prize is awarded to a person, company or an initiative that has shown an extraordinary commitment to the environment.  This year’s theme is aligned with SDG12, the UN Sustainable Development Goal for Sustainable Consumption and Production. The search for candidates that are leading the way in minimising resource consumption and waste generation is now underway.

“Looking back, environmental policy and action in the Nordic countries generally starts with addressing the large emissions from industry to water and air,” says Ethel Forsberg, Director-General of the Swedish Research Council. She chairs the Nordic Adjudication Committee, which selects the winner of the prize. “When these emissions have been addressed through stricter regulation and environmental policies, the focus shifts to consumption.”

If you look at some of the most prominent targets within SDG12, such as reducing consumption of resources and waste generation, we should be doing a lot better.

Bjørn Bauer, co-author of the report “Sustainable Consumption and Production” about Nordic progress towards SDG12

According to Forsberg, the Nordic Region is in the frontline with regards to policy, environmental restrictions and the quality of regulation for production. However, the countries’ economic prosperity means they are also in the frontline when it comes to consumption.

“Many of the products we consume are produced in other parts of the world, where environmental policies are much less stringent. Therefore, it’s imperative that we change our consumption patterns to reduce our material footprint and become more sustainable.”

Anyone can submit candidates for the prize at, and the deadline for nominations this year is 15 May. A selection committee in each of the Nordic countries selects the final nominees, which will be announced in September. The Nordic Council Environment Prize will be awarded for the 25th time at an awards ceremony in Stockholm on 29 October 2019.

Long way ahead for the Nordics to reach SDG 12

The Nordic region is famous globally for its work with sustainability, and in international rankings on performance on the 2030 Agenda all the 5 countries are within the top 10. However, although performing well on the social and economic aspects of sustainability, the region is performing badly on the environmental goals. This includes in particular goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and goal 13 on climate action.

According to Bumps on the Road to 2030, a report that provides an overview of the common challenges for Nordic countries in achieving the SDGs, material consumption levels and waste generation are key issues. As an example, domestic material consumption in Norway is 35.6 tons per capita, close to double the OECD average, while Denmark’s non-recycled municipal waste generation is 751 kg per capita per year – one of the highest levels within the OECD.

“Sustainable production and consumption is really about preventing rather than having to clean up,” explains Bjørn Bauer, CEO of Danish environmental consultancy PlanMiljø. He co-authored Sustainable Consumption and Production, a report that assesses Nordic progress towards SDG12 and describes some of the actions necessary to achieve this important goal. Benchmarking against other countries indicates that Nordic countries are at the absolute top when it comes to support to developing countries, but the performance is average or below average for many of the remaining targets.

Acknowledge the challenge

“Development assistance is the only SDG12 target where we can claim that we perform better than most. If you look at some of the most prominent targets within SDG12, such as reducing consumption of resources and waste generation, we should be doing a lot better.”

Bauer finds it refreshing that Nordic cooperation has chosen to acknowledge the enormous challenge of transforming the Region’s production and consumption, rather than presenting a polished image of their performance.

“The message has often been that Nordic countries have demonstrated that it’s possible to become richer and pollute less,” he says. “However, this is only because we export our pollution by letting countries like India, Bangladesh and China produce many of the goods we consume. The calculation of our ecological footprint should obviously go beyond the emissions and resource consumption in our own countries to also include the impact in the countries where the goods are produced.”

SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production is also one of the goals that are the most interlinked with other goals. A shift towards sustainable consumption and production would impact 14 other targets relating to the goals on clean water and sanitation, clean energy, sustainable cities and life on land.

The Nordics have a long way ahead to reach sustainable consumption and production. However, the Nordic Council of Ministers is accepting this challenge, by with the Generation 2030 programme putting specific focus on achieving sustainable consumption and production.

It’s imperative that we change our consumption patterns to reduce our material footprint and become more sustainable.

Ethel Forsberg chair of the Nordic Adjudication Committee

Initiatives that drive societal change

Recently, the Nordic Council Environment Prize has emphasised environmental initiatives with broad public appeal, capable of bringing about change in society.

“Environmental issues often appear complicated and technical, but the fact of the matter is that everybody can contribute,” says Kristín Ingvarsdóttir, Project Manager for the Nordic Council Environment Prize. She points to the fact that many of the recipients of the prize are not scientific or technical experts, but rather enthusiasts and entrepreneurs who have spotted an environmental problem and decided to become part of the solution.

“Selina Juul of the Stop Wasting Food Movement is the perfect example,” says Ingvarsdóttir. Graphic designer by trade, Juul noticed the enormous amount of food that is thrown out in the Nordic Region every year, and decided to do something about it. She was awarded the Nordic Council Environment Prize 2013 for her passionate fight against food waste. “Selina’s voice has had an incredible impact on the awareness about food waste, not only here, but all across the globe.”

According to Forsberg, the selection committees in the five Nordic countries are keeping a broad mind in their search for nominees for this year’s prize.

“We hope to see a lot of interesting initiatives addressing the issue of sustainable production and consumption, coming from, for example, businesses, researchers, NGOs and dedicated individuals who are capable of influencing the general public, as well as our politicians, in the right direction.”

Photo 1: S.Sigbjørnsen/ Stavanger 2008

Photo 2: Ethel Forsberg, Director-General of the Swedish Research Council and chair of the Nordic Adjudication Committee, which selects the winner of the prize. Credit: Rickard L. Eriksson