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Roger Malmin

Roger Malmin

Be faithful to the produce and highlight the quality of what the local farmers deliver
Nordic cuisine is supposed to be clean, with original flavors. I see it as primary to be faithful to the produce, highlighting the quality of what the local farmers deliver: vegetables, herbs, fish – with occasional hints of what you cannot get here. Since the manifesto began to attract attention, our chefs have generally become better at exploiting niche producers. You don´t just routinely go to the big suppliers. The concept of New Nordic Food has gradually gained quite a large impact in Norway, states chef Roger Malmin.

I experienced the meeting around the manifesto as a courageous project. There was a lot of discussion before everyone ultimately came to agreement. Much revolved around Noma then, and I was quite young, 25, and thought at first it seemed hard to just hang it up on Nordic ingredients. I found it hard, for example, to imagine cooking without using lemon. But today, many successful restaurants like Noma, Fäviken and Maaemo in Oslo are faithful to the New Nordic Cuisine.

We already had a strong local profile in our restaurant, and I came home after the meeting strengthened by the discussions. We used local ingredients but mixed them with imported when quality wasn´t good enough. But I must say that local suppliers have done a tremendous job in recent years to improve quality. Today we use about 90 percent Nordic ingredients, and they are certainly good enough… but I do stick to my lemons.

The concept of New Nordic Food has gradually made quite a large impact in Norway. In the beginning there were probably many people who thought that it would only be a short-lived hype, like the hysteria surrounding El Bulli, and that normal consumers would not embrace the idea. But today there are many people, both professionals and amateurs, who actively seek out small producers to get hold of good ingredients. With this focus on quality and local food, the level is much higher.

The Norwegian food industry has at least begun to try to change their way of thinking, but they have a lot of work to do. I had many discussions with my vegetable supplier about why they deliver German onions, when it´s the onion season in Norway. German onions, of course, are cheaper per kilo. But it´s getting better. It’s not always viable to invest in local products, but that’s what our guests are asking for. My boss, Charles Tjessem, won the Bocuse d’Or in 2003. It creates expectations among the guests, but they also expect to get Norwegian food when they come to the Stavanger area. In the case of the Nordic signature I’m a little unsure, but those who are really interested in food and come on ‘pilgrimage’ from abroad, they want the fish caught here and flesh from the lambs in our meadows, and they expect it to be of top quality.

Today I see it as vital to be faithful to the produce, highlighting the quality of what the local farmers deliver – vegetables, herbs, fish – with occasional hints of what you cannot get here. The cuisine has moved towards purer flavours in recent years. Salmon should taste like salmon and not be rolled in cinnamon. It’s important to bring out the unique flavours that the region offers, such as the lambs that graze here by the sea that get a certain seaweed flavour. If you refine or transform the raw materials too much, they may feel a little estranged.

Since the manifesto began to attract attention, our chefs have generally become better at exploiting niche producers. You don´t just routinely go to the big suppliers. If you’re looking for a new cheese for the menu, you´d rather search locally first, and that’s good, because it’s hard for the small cheese producers to get distribution through the major chains. I think this will attract more and more focus, because people want purer food. It may well be organic, but nowadays, many look for origin first of all, I often hear this. You can see on the new EU labels how people are becoming more and more aware of the content in food products. And Nordic cuisine is supposed to be pure, with original flavours.

New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto
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“With this focus on quality and local food, the level is much higher”

“Today I see it as vital to be faithful to the produce, highlighting the quality of what the local farmers deliver – vegetables, herbs, fish – with occasional hints of what you cannot get here”

roger malmin
Michel Björklund

Michael Björklund

A view from Åland
The concept of New Nordic Food was really regarded as a new phenomenon in 2004, but to me it seemed quite natural. I had always worked with Nordic products and moved frequently between the Nordic countries. I was just about to move home to Åland, standing with one foot on the Finnish mainland and one in Göteborg.

The discussions in Copenhagen showed slightly different views on the Nordic concept but, having talked it over, we all felt that the manifesto statements were obvious and evident. I guess we were all moulded within the same culinary discipline.

In retrospect, I think we should have continued to meet. It’s important to be able to discuss and get along, even later in a process. In that respect, there wasn´t much happening between us, in terms of forums for meeting. If we intend to go further with the project, it’s important to complete the work. The manifesto is really something you can develop gradually and, to me, it’s very important that we, the chefs at the forefront of it all, see each other regularly.

When the manifesto was published, the world didn´t quite understand what it was all about, but eventually it spread among the people we worked with. It was a hard job to get people other than cooks to take part in the concept, and there is still a long way to go. Today the ideas are starting to feel more mature, with the growing international recognition of Nordic cuisine and our producers. More and more people feel pride in the Nordic, and that makes the concept more vigorous.

Here in Åland we now receive an incredible number of gastro-tourists, wanting to meet producers and new experiences. They are well briefed and tour Scandinavia to examine our products. In this respect, the food journalists are very important, so the public can read and hear about what is happening.

I hope that the next ten years will develop in the same way, and that discussions will follow to spread the important principles of the manifesto. In addition, an evaluation should be carried out, in order to update the manifesto in a similar forum as last time. Of course there are things that could have been done better, and new factors to take into consideration.

From my perspective, Sweden has come a long way in developing food production in general, especially the local products, while Finland is six or seven years behind. Finland is a fairly new culinary nation, and it’s taken a long time to leave its grim 20th century history of war, hardship, and lack of just about everything. For a long time, food was something to fill your stomach. In Sweden agriculture and economy were successful throughout the century, and these differences manifest themselves for a long time afterwards.

Sustainable development is important and, for Åland and the Swedish and Finnish archipelago, the quality of our products created our profile. That’s why I care so much for the producers I work with. They’re doing something unique, why else would you come to Åland? Moreover, they are friendly and welcome visitors! Watching the beets grow, patting the pig and hearing the producer´s tale adds value – and helps food culture develop. This applies in particular to our own population, which needs to realise this. It’s easy to be blind to flaws at home.

When I came back to Åland after working in Göteborg, I realised that I couldn´t call my supplier anymore and say “the parsley is bad, you’d better change it”… because it was the only parsley on the island. Instead I began to look up my old friends’ parents who were farmers, and today we have 40 small suppliers producing for us during the season. The strange thing is that, without a middle man, it’s cheaper and better for both parties. They get twice as much money from me, and I pay half the price.

Making the big food industry players keep up with this takes a lot of time. The turnover is so large, and a different way of thinking will only be important for them if it means cash flow. In addition, Finland´s largest companies are very capable of influencing government bills restricting purchase directly from producers. The political apparatus is still waiting to be updated on this.

What´s happened instead is that some smaller companies have moved into retail, emphasising storytelling and local ties. But it will take time. A major problem is that the producers, those who really work with the actual improvement in quality, are the ones who receive the least money in the chain, even though they account for the entire cost of product, energy and packaging. The Finnish greenhouse tomatoes grown in Närpes can be a good example, even if they are not particularly Nordic. The producer receives 40 cents per kilo, and achieving profitability requires an enormous facility – while the tomatoes are sold for 4 euros a kilo in the stores. Something is obviously wrong here. Maybe we need a fair trade mark for domestic production, so you´ll know the producer gets the most. Then the consumer would be able to make their own decisions: if you want to benefit the producer, buy this product. Obviously, this is a difficult process, because money controls all processes.

Things will develop faster in Sweden. There you already have the conscious consumers you require. People know what’s good food and why it costs a little more. Merchants do listen to the consumers, and the power is actually in the consumer´s hands… although it is sometimes hard to believe.

New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto
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“Here in Åland we now receive an incredible number of gastro-tourists, wanting to meet producers and new experiences”

“Sustainable development is important and, for Åland and the Swedish and Finnish archipelago, the quality of our products created our profile”

“A major problem is that the producers, those who really work with the actual improvement in quality, are the ones who receive the least money in the chain, even though they account for the entire cost of product, energy and packaging”

michel bjorklund
Hákon Már Örvarsson

Hákon Már Örvarsson

René and Claus came to Iceland when they started to work on the manifesto. At that time, I was a chef at the Vox restaurant in Reykjavik. We had just opened and focused on the local produce, so I was brought in to be part of the group around the manifesto.

It was a great honor for me, and I enjoyed it very much. When we met in Copenhagen, we visited local producers, we had some interesting lectures from people coming in, and we had this workshop. It was really professional and the start of something. Everybody had opinions about everything, so there were a lot of discussions, but in general we had converging ideas, and everybody signed. It was an intense start, in a short, brief moment.

René and Claus had put this group together, with a certain level of influence. Noma is a very inventive restaurant, where they come up with a lot of new ideas. But some chefs in the group are more up to the idea of natural cuisine, just focusing on the produce, not necessarily making things into something else, like making a herb into snow. Fine dining works that way, but if you read the manifesto it says more about the traditional local products and very little about being technically inventive on the plate.

You can make something new with the tradition, prepare it in a modern fashion, or stick to it. For me, the manifesto made me try to experiment a lot more, and so did many chefs on Iceland. It was a movement, and New Nordic Cuisine is all about how you think about your situation. You get inspired by the French, Italian, Spanish and Asian cuisine, but this movement made you think closer. What can I do with what I have? And make a natural flavor out of it.

I like to cook the local produce, quite simply: the beautiful fish or the lamb that we have. I just prepare it in a modern fashion. My business today is in the countryside of Iceland, and the foreign tourists who visit me want something local.

I have also been performing as a guest chef in USA and Canada, and there, people know much more about Nordic Cuisine today than ever before. Our restaurants get recognition, we do very well in competitions like Bocuse d´Or and the Culinary Olympics, and the phenomenon is obviously discussed among chefs.

Iceland is perhaps the least oriented country to the movement, but the manifesto meant a lot of difference for our young chefs, and recently, the first book “New Nordic Food in Iceland” was published.

But it´s not like Denmark, where you can find many places with New Nordic Cuisine.

There are much more foodies travelling to Iceland than before, and the restaurant scene has become so different in ten years. Tourism is increasing almost 15-20 % every year, new hotels pop up and quality develops all the time. Chefs are also getting better. They travel more, getting inspiration and good ideas from their colleagues.

In respect of the future, it´s all about coping with what you have and where you are. I really want to get more natural flavors from our beautiful products around the Nordic Countries. You must also try to make it more simple.

When we saw El Bulli come up, they started to make so many different things, often very complicated, and then they closed down, probably for a good reason. People are not opening this kind of restaurants today. It has to evolve a little bit.

The manifesto really put things to happen and created different thinking among our colleagues. It was necessary for putting us on the scene, and many good things happened after the manifesto came out.

New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto
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“My business today is in the countryside of Iceland, and the foreign tourists who visit me want something local”

“I really want to get more natural flavors from our beautiful products around the Nordic Countries. You must also try to make it more simple”

hakon mar orvarsson

Challenging deployment of renewables in the North Atlantic

Stable and reliable energy supply is a major challenge in some of the sparsely populated areas in the North Atlantic region. While nearly all electricity in Iceland derives from renewables, many other remote communities in the region are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for electricity production. Introducing more renewable energy in these areas requires energy storage solutions and better connections between power grids.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Sustainable energy alternatives in isolated areas
The Nordic Atlantic Cooperation, NORA, supports a range of projects exploring energy solutions of particular relevance to the North Atlantic region, which includes the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, and coastal Norway.

“The lack of economy of scale is a challenge in all our production, and it’s very much a challenge when it comes to environmentally responsible energy provision,” says Lars Thostrup, NORA’s Executive Director. “There are many small and, to some extent, isolated communities in the North Atlantic region, and this complicates energy production and distribution.”

Up until now, fossil fuel generated-electricity has been the only available solution in many of these communities, but recent advances in energy storage and renewable energy technology open up the possibility of replacing these systems with more sustainable alternatives.

Island communities to become energy self-sufficient
The challenge is to develop small-scale renewable energy systems, capable of balancing production and demand as well as responding to the fluctuating output from renewable energy sources. One of the projects addressing this is WinDí, which is aimed at making Stóra Dímun, a small island in the southern part of the Faroe Islands, self-sufficient with energy.

“Stóra Dímun is 2.5 km2 in size and is best described as a beautiful rock in the middle of the ocean,” says Jón Björn Skúlason, Director of Icelandic New Energy and coordinator of the project.

Currently, the island’s only source of electricity is diesel, which is flown in by helicopter on a regular basis and stored on the island before being used for electricity production. Apart from being expensive, this arrangement is not exactly environmentally friendly.

“Our goal is to make the island self-sufficient with energy, by utilising wind power and storing surplus energy as hydrogen, which will then be converted into electricity when wind production is low,” Skúlason explains.

The project was initiated by the North Atlantic Hydrogen Association, inspired by a similar venture on the island of Ramea in Canada. The project group is currently conducting wind measurements and identifying suitable components for the island’s harsh environment.

Large market for sustainable energy solutions
The feasibility study will be concluded by May 2015, after which decision will be taken whether to construct the system on the island. According to Skúlason, successful installation of a solution combining wind energy and hydrogen or battery storage would represent a strong growth potential.

“You have these islands and remote communities all around the North, and there are hundreds of thousands of people living in small, isolated communities in Russia, Canada and Alaska,” he says. “All these communities are waiting for cost-effective renewable energy solutions.”

Integrated power cable network in the North Atlantic
Another important aspect of increased deployment of renewable energy is power grid interconnectivity. The North Atlantic Energy Network was recently set up to study the technical and economic feasibility of building a network of subsea power cables in the North Atlantic region.

An integrated cable network would allow for daily trading of energy, similar to the exchange between Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland in the common Nordic Electricity Market. This would enable the countries in the North Atlantic to respond swiftly and effectively to fluctuations in renewable energy production.

“Previous studies have focused on a power cable between Iceland and the Faroe Islands only, but we want to expand the idea to also include Shetland and the offshore oil platforms in the area,” says Kári M. Mortensen, Head of the Energy Department at the Faroese Earth and Energy Directorate.

“A network like this would pave the way for a vast expansion of renewable energy in the entire area, allowing the Faroe Islands and Shetland, which are highly dependent on fossil fuels today, to become self-sufficient with renewable energy,” he continues.

The partners behind the North Atlantic Energy Network are the Faroese Earth and Energy Directorate, the Faroese power company, SEV, Iceland’s National Energy Authority, the Icelandic TSO, Landsnet, the Danish Energy Agency, Ramboll Oil & Gas, and the Arctic University, Norway. Shetland is represented by the Shetland Islands Council.

Ambitious renewables integration and energy export
The Faroe Islands have ambitious plans to expand their wind power capacity. Last year, thirteen 900kW wind turbines were installed in Húsahagi, north of the capital, Tórshavn. It is estimated that, with this new wind farm, more than 20% of the electricity supply in the Faroe Islands will derive from wind power. Combined with the islands’ hydroelectric resources, renewables now cover around 60% of the total electricity consumption in the country.

“The wind potential in the Faroe Islands is fantastic,” says Mortensen. “Our production patterns show that we’ll be able to produce lots of energy during winter – more than we can use – but also that we’ll need supplemental electricity during summer.”

This accords well with the situation in Iceland, which produces less energy in its hydroelectric power plants in winter, as water levels drop due to the cold. The Faroe Islands could therefore export surplus energy from wind production to Iceland in winter, and use the neighbouring country’s abundant hydroelectric power to supply electricity in summer instead of using heavy fuel.

“This would be similar to the exchange of electricity between Denmark and Norway, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale,” Mortensen says.

Moreover, Iceland is exploring the possibility of establishing a power cable between Iceland and Scotland, where renewables became the largest source of electricity for the first time in 2014. This, according to Mortensen, would add a whole new perspective to the North Atlantic Energy Network.

“Not only would we be in a position to produce much larger quantities of renewable energy, we could also export this energy to Scotland and onward to continental Europe.”

Development Indicators

Share of renewable energy in gross energy supply
Read more

“You have these islands and remote communities all around the North, and there are hundreds of thousands of people living in small, isolated communities in Russia, Canada and Alaska. All these communities are waiting for cost-effective renewable energy solutions”

Jón Björn Skúlason, Director of
Icelandic New Energy


See also: How can IT help improve education in sparsely populated areas?
Interview with Lars Utstøl, Project Manager at U Nordic


Growth in the blue bioeconomy of the North

The communities in the North Atlantic region are all characterised by their dependency on fisheries and other marine resources as a source of food, employment and export income. Innovative and sustainable use of these resources is at the core of a new flagship project, Growth in Blue Bioeconomy in the Northeast Atlantic and Arctic. The project, which is led by the Faroe Islands, is part of the Danish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Circular bioeconomy based on marine resources
Growth, welfare and values are the overall themes of the 2015 Danish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. It will continue to explore the innovation and growth potential of the circular bioeconomy, which was also a key feature of Iceland’s presidency project, NordBio, launched in 2014.

Growth in Blue Bioeconomy has been set up to seek ways to create more value from products and services that originate from or are otherwise linked to the marine ecosystems in the Northeast Atlantic and Arctic. The programme will focus on five elements of the marine economy: the pelagic industry, whitefish fisheries, salmon aquaculture, seaweed and biotechnology, and governance.

All efforts to grow the blue bioeconomy should naturally be aimed at ensuring balanced and sustainable use of the ocean’s resources. The programme emphasises optimised utilisation of already exploited marine resources, innovative use of underutilised resources and residual biomass, as well as innovation across value chains, such as fisheries and tourism.

Political framework should encourage bioeconomy innovation
An international conference on the political aspects of a well-functioning blue bioeconomy will be held in the Faroe Islands on 2-3 June 2015. The Growth in Blue Bioeconomy Conference will be organised by the Nordic Marine Think Tank, in cooperation with the Fisheries Cooperation, the OECD and the FAO.

“This conference will look at the political challenges in establishing the appropriate conditions for growth in the blue bioeconomy,” says Ásmundur Guðjónsson, Senior Advisor at the Faroese Ministry of Fisheries. The Faroe Islands hold the presidency of the Fisheries cooperation under the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2015.

The conference will address three key topics from a policy perspective: blue growth at the global and regional level, potential growth in marine industries, and structures hindering or promoting blue growth.

“Differences in political frameworks, like trade and employment policies, production traditions and subsidies, challenge a level playing field for competition, and may introduce market barriers for marine industries,” says Guðjónsson. “Our ambition is to take political measures to facilitate blue bioeconomy cooperation, innovation and growth.”

In addition, the flagship project will allocate a budget of MDKK 4.5 million in the next three years for projects looking to develop the region’s blue bioeconomy.

Residual biomass as a resource
Strategies to prevent discard of catch are a good example of ambitious policy initiatives that have contributed to the sustainability of fisheries. Discard has been prohibited in the North Atlantic for many years, and the EU is now gradually implementing a similar ban. However, these discard bans only apply to unwanted catches, which are discarded because of size, quotas or catch composition rules, but do not cover the residual biomass that could be used to create value in the bioeconomy.

Iceland and the Faroe Islands have taken measures to ensure that all catch is landed as whole fish, but many factory ships, for instance fishing in the Barents Sea, still throw almost two-thirds of the fish, including heads, intestines and bones, back into the ocean.

“We want to take this discussion a step further,” Guðjónsson says. “Our opinion is that everything should be kept on board, landed, and ultimately processed to create value.”

He emphasises that a transformation towards a blue bioeconomy will not happen overnight. This new approach to utilising marine resources calls for a change of mindset in an entire industry, and will in some cases require significant changes to the fishing fleet and processing facilities.

“Therefore, industry actors need to be advised in a timely manner,” says Guðjónsson. “One option would be to place conditions on future fisheries licences and quotas for better use of marine resources. This would allow the industry to adjust its equipment and processing methods to new requirements.”

A broad approach to value creation in the blue bioeconomy
Throughout 2015, the Nordic Fisheries Cooperation will promote the many different ways of generating growth in the blue bioeconomy. As there are limits to how much of this growth can derive from traditional exploitation, new and innovative concepts will be prominent.

One of the activities focusing on new ways of using biological resources from the sea is called The Ocean’s Vegetarian Buffet. The objective is to introduce people in the region to seaweed – a widely available but underutilised Nordic resource – as an integrated part of their diet and gastronomy. Three events will be organised, in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland respectively, where local chefs and seaweed enthusiasts will introduce this healthy raw material to guests.

Combining coastal fisheries and tourism is another interesting way of creating value founded in the blue bioeconomy, while offering tourists a unique nature experience at sea.

“Coastal fisheries are facing difficulties all around the Nordic region, and we believe that combining these two value chains could be a part of the solution,” says Guðjónsson. “The coastal fishermen’s knowledge on fishing techniques and traditions would be very valuable in tourism.”

Other activities include a conference on recirculation techniques in salmon aquaculture, dialogue about increased cooperation between marine research institutions and the fisheries industry, and a study of salaries and employment conditions in Nordic fisheries.

West Nordic fisheries presented in Europe
Furthermore, the Nordic Fisheries Cooperation will participate in promotion activities targeted at the European Parliament and at an FAO event in Vigo, Spain, the latter on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. These events provides an opportunity to highlight the Nordic region’s commitment to sustainable use of marine resources. According to Guðjónsson, North Atlantic fisheries could serve as a model for fisheries management in Europe.

“Neither Greenland, Iceland nor the Faroe Islands subsidise their fisheries industry. We’re proof that it’s possible to achieve a sustainable and profitable fisheries industry without subsidies.”

“North Atlantic fisheries could serve as a model for fisheries management in Europe”

Development Indicators

Sustainability of fish stocks in the
Nordic, Baltic and Arctic regions
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“Combining coastal fisheries and tourism is another interesting way of creating value founded in the blue bioeconomy”

The Website of the Faroese chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers fisheries programme for 2015
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sustainable transport

North Atlantic region addresses sustainable transport

Due to the remoteness of the North Atlantic region, a well-functioning transport network is a vital component for exports and economic growth. Better infrastructures, connectivity to the surrounding regions, and sustainable transport systems on land and on sea are among the strategic priorities for the Nordic Atlantic Cooperation, NORA.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

A region defined by challenges in transportation
A quick look at the map reveals that the countries in the NORA region – Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands and coastal Norway – have many things in common with regards to transportation and infrastructure.

“Our region is, so to speak, defined by the challenges of transportation,” says Lars Thostrup, Executive Director of NORA. “With our many small communities and long distances, building an effective transport system is expensive and, in some places, virtually impossible.”

These challenges do not just apply to the traffic infrastructure in each country. International trade makes up a large percentage of the region’s economies and, in order to lift growth through exports, transport networks and connectivity to the neighbouring regions must be improved.

“This would effectively shorten the distance to market,” says Thostrup. He adds that a similar effect could be achieved by strengthening the region’s digital infrastructure, which is another of NORA’s priorities.

“The IT sector is not as challenged by our geography as other sectors,” he says. “We see a lot of opportunities for the so-called micro-multinationals, small IT companies that are able to address the world market from a distance.”

The potential of digital technology for the North Atlantic societies is currently being discussed at NORA’s digital conference, Digital Arctic.

Sustainable energy systems for coastal sailing
Among the many activities addressing alternative energy systems for marine traffic is the Marina project under the NordBio programme, an initiative by the Icelandic chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2014. The overall goal of the Marina-project is to reduce the CO2 footprint from marine applications. Given the North Atlantic region’s dependency on the ocean, reducing emissions and other pollution from ship traffic is also highly prioritised within the NORA cooperation.

One of the North Atlantic collaboration projects addressing sustainable sea transport is RENSEA, which has developed a prototype of a fully sustainable hybrid-generative battery system for sailboats and small vessels. The system stores clean electric power from shore and is equipped with a custom designed propeller system, which produces energy while wind drives the boat with sails. The technology has the potential to revolutionise energy systems in coastal sailing around the world.

“All our calculations show that the system is highly efficient,” says Árni Sigurbjörnsson of North Sailing in Iceland. “As soon as the boat reaches a sailing speed of 6-8 knots, it produces considerable quantities of energy, which is stored in the batteries and used when there is no wind.”

The solution will be installed in North Sailing’s whale-watching schooner, Opal, in April 2015. The boat is expected to be ready for normal operations in May, and will tour Greenland, Scandinavia and Europe later in the year.

“We’ve experienced great interest in the solution, which can be used in all types of coastal sailing, whether it be fishing, leisure or tourism,” says Sigurbjörnsson. “There is an enormous market out there.”

SPEC software monitors pollution from ship traffic
Ship traffic through the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years and decades. While this will create economic opportunities in the NORA region, increased pollution could have a grave impact on the delicate marine ecosystems in the area.

“We’re increasing the environmental load by accepting a larger number of cruise ships, more traffic across the Arctic, and increased shipping related to mining and the oil industry,” says Jón Ágúst Þorsteinsson, Chairman of Ark Technology. He is leading the development of SPEC, a new software solution designed to monitor oil consumption and pollution from ships sailing in the area.

“It’s vital that we address the environmental aspects of the increased ship traffic in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic,” says Þorsteinsson.

Þorsteinsson explains that MARPOL, the International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships, allows for the introduction of emission control areas, the so-called ECA areas, with more stringent control of ship emissions. “The problem is that the technology to monitor whether the ships comply with laws and regulations does not exist,” he says.

As a solution to this problem, SPEC uses advanced computer modelling to monitor whether ship emissions are within permitted limits. The modelling is based on input from databases containing detailed information about the ships, their fuel supplies and oil consumption. SPEC will also be able to stream data directly from ships that are equipped with energy management systems monitoring their performance.

“Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Canada and Russia should introduce much stricter environmental regulations and set up more ECA areas,” says Þorsteinsson. “And then we need to develop powerful tools like SPEC to monitor compliance with these rules and regulations.”

Smaller communities ideal for electric road transport
NORA also supports projects aimed at increasing the use of battery-electric vehicles (EVs) in the region. One of these projects is El-mobility, which tested the range of electric cars in the cold climates of Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland, and studied social acceptance of this new, decarbonising transport technology.

“Our objective was to compare the range in winter with that advertised by the car manufacturers,” says Jón Björn Skúlason, project manager of El-mobility and Director of Icelandic New Energy. “Also, we wanted to get an insight into expectations regarding this new technology, its potential, and the future market for electric vehicles.”

At the time of the study, the range of EV decreased by about 30% in cold weather, mainly because of the electric-powered cabin heater. Technologies to address this issue are already under development.

“You can now preheat the cars with electricity from the mains, which eases the strain on the battery,” Skúlason explains. “The range difference has already been reduced in most modern electric vehicles, making them a viable option even in colder climates.”

While lack of infrastructure, long distances and difficult terrain might affect social acceptance of EVs in some of the region’s more remote areas, Skúlason sees the cities and towns in the North Atlantic as the ideal setting to operate electric vehicles. As an example, he mentions that the average driving distance per day in Iceland is 39 kilometres, which is well within the range of all new battery-electric vehicles. And in the neighbouring country, Greenland, road connections between towns are almost non-existent. This means that all cars, electric or otherwise, can only be used in and around towns.

”Nuuk is ideal for electric transport,” Skúlason argues. “The total road network in the city is just over 100 kilometres so, in a sense, an electric vehicle could drive every street of Nuuk every day without running out of battery.”

“Our region is defined by the challenges of transportation”

Lars Thostrup, Executive Director of NORA

Development Indicators

Developments in greenhouse gas
emissions by sector,
including transport
Read more

“It’s vital that we address the environmental aspects of the increased ship traffic in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic”

Jón Ágúst Þorsteinsson, Chairman of Ark Technology

Hear about Highsoft, a world-leading company operating from a small town in the fjords of western Norway

See also: University of the Arctic – a coalition of institutions of higher education connecting the cerebral networks in the Arctic


Nordic research cooperation delivers top-shelf climate solutions

The findings from the biggest Nordic research cooperation programme to date were presented in Stockholm on November 18 at the closing conference of the Nordic Top-level Research Initiative. Focusing on climate change, the initiative points to a range of solutions aimed both at reducing the magnitude of climate change and at adapting to its inevitable consequences. We have taken a look at some of these new Nordic climate solutions.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

New visualisation tool allows homeowners to adapt to climate change
VisAdapt, a new web-based visualisation tool for Nordic homeowners, was launched at the conference. The tool allows homeowners to prepare for weather and climate related events that may affect their houses, based on climate change scenarios, risk maps and adaptation guidelines.

Users start by typing in their address and selecting some of the features of their house. Based on this data, VisAdapt shows information about the risk of various climate-related events, such as extreme rainfall, heat waves, storms, floods and landslides.

“By selecting these parameters, you’ll be provided with a range of the adaptation measures available for your house, ranked by which climatic parameter has the highest relevance in your area,” says Dr. Tina-Simone Neset, one of the scientists behind VisAdapt.

VisAdapt is developed in close cooperation between NORD-STAR, a strategic adaptation research project funded by the Top-level Research Initiative (TRI), Norrköping Visualization Centre and four Nordic insurance companies, If, Tryg, Codan and Gjensidiga.

The communication aspect has been a key focal point in developing the tool. Rather than focusing too much on the gravity of climate change, VisAdapt aims to empower homeowners to react and adapt to it.

“We constantly come across how difficult it is to communicate climate change and what it entails for society. It’s complex and it’s abstract,” says Professor Björn-Ola Linnér of Linköping University, who points to the increased use of scientific visualisation as a means of reducing climate change.

Better forecasting improves wind power output
The IceWind project addresses some of the challenges of large-scale deployment of wind energy in the Nordic countries. The objective is to improve forecasting of wind, waves and icing in order to optimise wind turbine output and prevent production losses. IceWind focuses on three key issues: long-term and short-term forecasting of icing, improved accessibility to offshore wind farms in order to perform maintenance, and integration of wind energy on land.

“Public authorities will be able to use our results to estimate wind energy potential and identify suitable sites for new wind farms. Also, the Nordic wind industry can use these tools to improve its competitiveness in the global market,” says Niels-Erik Clausen, an associate professor at DTU Wind Energy and the IceWind project coordinator.

The research meets the needs of the common Nordic energy market, which allows the countries to trade energy on a day-to-day basis to accommodate fluctuations in production and demand.

“You submit bids for the next day, based on an estimate of how much you will be producing. This requires excellent skill in forecasting wind speed, wind direction, waves and icing, which are some of the factors that may reduce power output,” Clausen says.

Enesca develops sustainable batteries
Under TRI’s Energy Efficiency with Nanotechnology programme, a group of researchers has succeeded in developing working prototypes of sustainable batteries made from algae cellulose. The project is called Enesca and is led by Professor Maria Strömme of Uppsala University.

“There is a need to find a more sustainable solution for electric energy storage,” Strömme explains. “We believe that we’ve created the fundament for sustainable energy storage based on renewable materials.”

“The most unique properties of Enesca electric energy storage devices are their disposability, eco-friendliness and rechargeability,” she says. “We’ve shown that the Enesca devices can be cycled several thousand cycles without losing capacity.”

Enesca’s aim is to build on current development in order to develop and prepare the production of battery material, or even battery systems, together with industrial partners.

“We have a strong mission of promoting the Nordic countries when it comes to building new production platforms, companies and spin-outs from the various ideas,” Strömme asserts.

Second-generation biofuels
The BioEng project is testing second-generation biofuels, produced from non-food biomass. Two focus fuels have been tested in car engines to monitor their efficiency and emissions. The project is being carried out in co-operation with a range of industrial partners, which have provided crucial input into the testing.

“These industrial partners have played a vital role in BioEng,” says Terese Løvås, BioEng’s project leader. “We have partners that produce second-generation biofuel as a side product of their paper industry, and partners from the car industry who have provided state of the art engines. We’ve therefore been able to test real fuels in real engines.”

“We also have partners who develop software for simulating combustion in engines,” she continues. “This has made it possible for us to use advanced simulation tools to match what we observe in the experiments and try to understand it from a theoretical point of view as well.”

Fast and effective underground carbon storage
One of the Top-level Research Initiative’s six sub-programmes is CO2 – Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). It aims to develop methods and technologies to help the region achieve the CO2 reduction goals. One of the more remarkable discoveries is a new, extremely fast method of mineral carbon trapping, developed and tested within the NORDICCS project.

“We dissolve the CO2 in water during injection, which is different to the conventional CCS methods used elsewhere in the world,” says Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir of Reykjavik Energy. “After the CO2 is dissolved it goes into the basaltic lava formations in the sub-surface. The acidic fluid injected interacts with the basalt, enabling us to turn the CO2 into rock in approximately one year.”

According to Nils A. Røkke, Climate Director at Norwegian research institution SINTEF and Centre Leader of NORDICCS, this new method has revealed a huge carbon storage potential in Iceland. He sees the discovery as a result of the distinctive nature of Nordic research cooperation, based on the common pot principle and close cooperation between industry, researchers and policy makers.

“The Top-level Research Initiative has been a special vehicle in building confidence in the Nordic platform. What we’ve done within NORDICCS is an example of the results we can achieve when countries work together,”
Røkke says.

The Top-level Research Initiative has resulted in a wide range of additional projects and solutions – see the latest info and outcomes of the initiative

Facts about the top level Research Intiative

The TRI was launched in 2008 by the Nordic Prime Ministers.

It has had a total portfolio of 40 projects under six headlines:

  • Effect studies and adaptation to climate change
  • Interaction between climate change and the cryosphere
  • Energy efficiency with nanotechnology
  • Integration of Large-scale Wind Power
  • Sustainable bio-fuels
  • CO2 – capture and storage

The total cost to date is a little over 50 million Euro.

“We constantly come across how difficult it is to communicate climate change and what it entails for society. It’s complex and it’s abstract”

Professor Björn-Ola Linnér of Linköping University

“We believe that we’ve created the fundament for sustainable energy storage based on renewable materials”

Professor Maria Strömme of Uppsala University

“Public authorities will be able to use our results to estimate wind energy potential and identify suitable sites for new wind farms”

Niels-Erik Clausen, associate professor at DTU Wind Energy and the IceWind project coordinator


Nordic Regional co-operation adds value to interdisciplinary research

Young scientists, PhDs and postdoctoral research associates have been instrumental in the scientific work conducted within NorMER, a Nordic research project on marine ecosystems funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Top-level Research Initiative. According to Scientific Director Jason D. Whittington, Nordic Regional co-operation provides these early-carrier researchers with exceptional insights into interdisciplinary research on climate change.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

How global climate change impacts marine ecosystems
NorMER is a Nordic Centre of Excellence under NordForsk funded by the Top-level Research Initiative under the programme Effect Studies and Adaptation to Climate Change. The project’s full title is Nordic Centre for Research on Marine Ecosystems and Resources under Climate Change.

“We know that climate change is having an impact on the world’s marine ecosystems, and that the effects are exacerbated towards the polar systems,” says Whittington, a researcher at CEES, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, at the University of Oslo.

“NorMER looks at the health of northern marine ecosystems,” he continues. “We use North Atlantic cod, which has social, economic and biological importance across the Nordic Region, to monitor the impact of climate change on these marine environments.”

NorMER brings together biologists, oceanographers, economists and sociologists from all of the Nordic countries, as well as from Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Åland. The group also includes partners and researchers from the USA and Canada.

International and interdisciplinary by design
According to Whittington, it is increasingly the case that global problems are of such a size and complexity that they can only be addressed through international and interdisciplinary co-operation. This is clearly reflected in NorMER’s structure and its approach to research.

“If we kept the NorMER project within a single research group, we would not have the size or expertise needed to assess the impact of global climate change on marine ecosystems. Nordic funding has enabled us to tackle this problem from multiple different perspectives,” he says.

Young researchers play a key role in NorMER and have produced most of the scientific output. The project currently funds 18 PhDs and nine postdocs, and has from the beginning emphasised the value of mobility, as well as the interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge and expertise between partners and researchers. As a result, the young researchers have participated in a total of 175 international visits, 22 of which lasted a month or more. In total, they have spent no less than 75.5 months abroad on project activities.

“Our aim is to nurture a new generation of interdisciplinary researchers with experience in combining physical, biological, social and economic aspects of ecosystem management. We have an objective to counteract fragmentation in science,” Whittington explains. “These early-carrier researchers are being trained in an international context to address global challenges.”

Considerable research output
Despite the many international outreach activities, the group of young researchers has been productive in NorMER’s first three years, with 56 publications already published or currently under review.

“The many young researcher positions are all funded by a common pot of Nordic money, so every one of those papers is a direct result of Nordic Regional co-operation,” says Whittington, who expects the number of publications to grow rapidly in the project’s remaining two years.

“It takes some time to figure out how to communicate in an interdisciplinary context and build new collaborations. At this stage, we’ve established our fundamental research and devised an effective training system for young researchers. Now, we’ll start reaping the benefits.”

The early-carrier researchers have also been inspired to continue their work in a broader context, and have launched a number of workshops on interdisciplinary marine climate change research. Three scientific workshops on the subject, organised and led entirely by NorMER PhD students and postdocs, have already been held.

Increased impact and visibility through Nordic research
Asked about the value of interdisciplinary research co-operation in a Nordic context, Whittington states that he is quite a fan of the concept. He says that, apart from strengthening cohesion among Nordic scientists, Nordic Regional co-operation forges links with research communities across Europe and the rest of the world.

“The scope and scale of regional co-operation on this project has put us in a better position to address challenges on a global scale. It gives us greater potential in terms of impact and relevance, lets us combine expertise across national boundaries, and makes us more attractive to other international research communities,” he says.

“Most importantly, we’re doing this through a new generation of researchers who believe that this is how science is done. We will continue to see the benefits of this for years to come,” he concludes.

Read more about NorMER

“Our aim is to nurture a new generation of interdisciplinary researchers with experience in combining physical, biological, social and economic aspects of ecosystem management”

James D. Whittington, researcher at CEES, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, the University of Oslo.

Development Indicators

Sustainability of fish stocks
Read more
nordic branding
Nordic research cooperation – a young scientist’s perspective

“We’re doing this through a new generation of researchers who believe that this is how science is done. We will continue to see the benefits of this for years to come”

James D. Whittington, researcher at CEES, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, the University of Oslo.

The four scientific themes of NorMER

  • Physical processes and their influence on marine webs
  • Lower trophic levels and their impact on harvested populations
  • Drives, patterns, and trends of harvested populations
  • Management of marine resources to optimize profit and yield – now and in the future

NorMer’s early carrier researcher activities

  • 18 Phd students and 9 postdocs
  • 175 international visits, 22 of which lasted one month or more
  • 75,5 months of collected time abroad
  • 56 papers published and in review
  • 91 course workshops attendances
  • 62 conference attendances
  • 3 young researcher workshops organized

NorMER output

  • At least 17 NorMER relevant publications produced
  • An overall total of 73 NorMER peer reviewed publications

Three Nordic organisations launch new green growth research collaboration

As the Top-level Research Initiative, the largest joint Nordic research initiative to date, is coming to an end, NordForsk, Nordic Energy Research and Nordic Innovation are launching a new collaboration on green growth. It will focus research on societal transformations and sustainable energy development, and promote commercially viable innovation.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Joint venture on research, energy and innovation
This new initative will build upon the results and experiences gained from the Top-level Research Initiative (TRI) and the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth initiative, launched in 2007.

“The objective is to transform our societies in a sustainable and resilient way, while still maintaining growth, welfare and wellbeing in the region,” says NordForsk Director Gunnel Gustafsson.

The initiative will be focused on three key elements. Firstly on the green transformation towards a sustainable society, secondly on sustainable energy, based on green resources, and, thirdly, on a competitive and innovative business sector, utilizing green resources throughout its value chain. These key elements are analysed in the framework of adaptation to climate change. The project will initially aspire to fund research and innovation for NOK 100 million.

The project’s backdrop is the latest World Energy Outlook, which shows that the world is heading for an average rise in temperature of 4.6 degrees. That is significantly higher than the two-degree target the scientific and political communities have been aiming for.

“Our research will be aiming at long term objectives, but we also hope to be able to present preliminary results in the run-up to COP21 in Paris in 2015,” says Hans Jørgen Koch, Director of Nordic Energy Research. “We must demonstrate that the Nordic countries, collectively the world’s 12th largest economy, have achieved and will go on achieving the objective: To make the transition towards a green economy without compromising economic growth and social welfare. In fact, it can serve as a driver of growth and welfare and a reinforcement of our values.”

Attitude change required in all parts of society
NordForsk’s focus will be societal transformation and changes in attitude towards issues like production, consumption, transportation and energy use, all of which will have to be adapted to facilitate the transition. The NordForsk board has already committed funding towards research on climate, social science and the humanities as part of the new initiative.

Gunnel Gustafsson explains that this fundamental transition requires contributions from all corners of the knowledge triangle – education, research and innovation – but also calls for bold political decision-making.

“The grand challenges we’re facing are very real. We need to make everybody aware of that, and then change our ways accordingly. Increased public awareness will also allow our politicians to make the difficult but necessary decisions to push the transformation.”

Transportation, shipping and energy-intensive industry need to be decarbonised
In his presentation of the initative at the TRI Flagship Conference in Stockholm, Hans Jørgen Koch stated that Nordic countries have ambitious targets in their approach to a green economy. They already have an impressive track record in sustainable energy and energy and climate change research.

“When it comes to renewable electricity production, the Nordic countries are today where the International Energy Agency wants the world to be in 2040 – if the world wants to stay in the 2 degrees scenario. In other words, the Nordic countries are 25 years ahead, and we should strive to perform similarly well in other sectors too,” Koch said, before emphasizing that there is still a long way to go.

Shipping and heavy industry are examples of Nordic economic strongholds that need to be decarbonised in the coming decades. Industry accounts for one third of the region’s energy consumption, and projections estimate that 10 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 will be from global shipping. About twenty per cent of the entire global shipping fleet is owned or managed by Nordic ship owners.

“To meet the national climate change targets for 2050, the Nordic countries would have to reduce their transport emissions by 90 per cent. This is of course a huge challenge, but also an opportunity for us to find research solutions that make it possible.”

Nordic Innovation ensures industry involvement
While NordForsk and Nordic Energy Research are research institutions, Nordic Innovation’s role is to further commercially viable innovation in the region. The funding provided by Nordic Innovation will thus be earmarked for innovation projects with involvement from the industry.

“Our role will be to facilitate stakeholder processes in order to involve industry in identifying the topics and problems we should focus our efforts upon,” says Roger Moe Bjørgan, Managing Director of Nordic Innovation. “We have to make sure that the industry and businesses find these topics commercially viable and relevant.”

Bjørgan explains that the initiative is still at a very early stage. A one-year preparation phase will begin in early 2015, while the programme itself will run for five years.

“We don’t have all the answers yet to how this should be done, but we know that it needs to be done. We also know that in order to find the solutions that enable us to create a green, decarbonised economy, we need the private sector and businesses on-board,” Bjørgan says. His colleague at Nordic Energy Research, Hans Jørgen Koch, agrees.

”We need to make sure that we operate in the overlap between research and innovation and apply our research results in industry and business,” he affirms.

Nordic common pot for research and innovation
As was the case for TRI, the newly launched green growth collaboration will be funded through the ‘common pot concept’. Rather than investing in research and innovation in just one country, the funds are gathered in a common pot and then distributed to projects that are likely to create added value for the region as a whole. Each project requires funding and involvement from at least three of the Nordic countries.

“It’s about finding Nordic synergies that make our research and innovation efforts more valuable than if the same funding were to be used in the five individual countries. It’s basically about getting more value for money,” says Koch.

Development Indicators

Decoupling of environmental
pressures, gross energy
consumption, ressource use and generation of non-mineral waste from economic growth
Read more

“We must demonstrate that a group of countries, collectively the world’s 12th largest economy, can make the transition towards a green economy”

Hans Jørgen Koch,
Director of Nordic Energy Research

“Our role will be to facilitate stakeholder processes in order to involve industry in identifying the topics and problems we should focus our efforts upon”

Roger Moe Bjørgan, Managing Director of Nordic Innovation

“The grand challenges we’re facing are very real. We need to make everybody aware of that, and then change our ways accordingly”

Gunnel Gustafsson, NordForsk Director

Great Nordic Climate Challenge

The consumers of the future battle it out in the “Great Nordic Climate Challenge”

Nordic schoolchildren now have the opportunity to compete on their ability to save electricity, heating and water, in the “Great Nordic Climate Challenge” promoted by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The challenge consists of three elements: measuring and reducing consumption, solving tasks and missions set out on a new educational platform, and envisioning what Nordic schools will look like in the future. It will be launched for the first time on Nordic Climate Day, 11 November 2014.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Engaging schoolchildren in climate issues
The Great Nordic Climate Challenge is organised by the Confederation of Nordic Associations (FNF) and funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Its first edition will be launched with a big kick-off on 11 November, with participation from schools in all five Nordic countries, and it runs until Nordic Day 2015 on March 23. The challenge will be repeated in the same period in 2015 and 2016.

“The aim of the project is to build an educational platform based on knowledge about climate change and energy, which motivates the schoolchildren to focus on their consumption of electricity, heating and water,” says Thomas Mikkelsen, FNF’s chief innovation officer.

To get points in the challenge, the schoolchildren, aged 12-14, will be asked to read the meters of their school and think of measures to reduce consumption. The bigger the reduction between years, the higher the school will score. Furthermore, the participants can earn points and badges by completing tasks related to climate change and energy at the project’s educational platform, and by writing essays about their vision of where they expect their school to be in 2027.

“During the entire challenge, we’ll give them good advice on how to reduce their consumption and provide them with an instrument that shows if they’re consuming more or less than last year,” says Mikkelsen.

Concept based on previous success
The concept is the latest addition to Norden i Skolen, a popular digital platform offering educational materials on Nordic culture and languages. The challenge also draws on experience from Nordic Climate Day, a yearly event focusing on climate change, and a similar energy-saving competition between schools in Denmark.

“Our approach has been to organise specific events in order to make schoolchildren aware of the climate change and the environment,” says Mikkelsen. “These three projects have now been combined into the Great Nordic Climate Challenge – an educational programme and a competition for Nordic schoolchildren, focusing on sustainability, climate and energy sources.”

The educational platform is in its final stage of development. It will give Nordic schoolchildren an overall understanding of climate change, as well as more detailed knowledge about what carbon is, where it derives from, and what can be done to limit the increase in temperature in the coming decades.

Thought-provoking educational materials
“We’ll go through the various sources of energy, explain the differences between them, and create an understanding of where we can get our energy from in the future. We’ll also be discussing things like transportation and insulation, and good examples of how we can change our way of living.”

The platform is designed to encourage the children to explore the materials themselves and to communicate with other children in the region with interest in similar issues. All content will be accessible in the five Nordic languages and is designed to be adapted to the curriculum in each country. Teachers will have access to a wealth of educational material on sustainability, climate and energy, and will also be able to follow which assignments pupils in other countries are working on.

“The most important thing is that the children become aware of what they can do themselves to minimise use of energy and water,” says Mikkelsen. “We want to accomplish this by introducing them to thought-provoking examples, for instance by calculating how much energy and CO2 pollution it takes to drive from the northernmost parts of Scandinavia to the southernmost.”

A key point to be made is that reducing energy usage does not necessarily mean that the region’s future living standard will be compromised.

“As an example, the average electricity consumption of a family in Iceland – where all energy production is based on renewables – is 25,000 KWh per year, compared with only 5,000 KWh in Denmark. And nobody would claim that the Danes live in poorer conditions. This goes to prove that we could lead a much more sustainable lifestyle, without in any way compromising our quality of life.”

The consumers of the future need to be better than us
According to Mikkelsen, sustainability and environmental awareness need to be integrated into all stages of the educational system. Introducing schoolchildren to the challenges of climate change at an early stage will allow them to become more sustainable in their energy consumption than previous generations.

“The pupils of our schools are the consumers of the future and they will need to live in greater harmony with the planet,” he says. “We obviously need to change our ways, and this requires people’s awareness, focus and engagement.”

The Nordic Council of Ministers is considering using the Great Nordic Climate Challenge as a good example of how to communicate climate, environment and sustainability to children and young people, at the COP21 conference in Paris in December 2015.

“The Great Nordic Climate Challenge is our small contribution to the wider perspective of encouraging sustainability and green thinking through education,” says Thomas Mikkelsen.

Development Indicators

Emissions and land use, land use change and forestry
Read more

Share of renewable energy in gross energy supply
Read more

Decoupling of environmental pressures from
economic growth
Read more

“The most important thing is that the children become aware of what they can do themselves to minimise use of energy and water”

Thomas Mikkelsen,
FNF’s chief innovation officer

sustainability in education

Aiming higher and further – sustainability in education

Educational institutions and learning environments are among the most natural platforms for increasing awareness of the need for sustainable development and promoting the fundamental consumption changes needed to achieve it. Education is one of the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth priorities, and as a result a number of initiatives on sustainability in education are in place. These include benchmarking of higher education institutions in the region and a pilot project on further education for sustainable development.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Rio+20 implementation in Nordic higher education Institutions
A large-scale benchmarking exercise is under way to measure the sustainability performance of the higher education institutions (HEIs) in the Nordic countries. The project originates from the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, after which a number of Nordic universities signed the Rio+20 commitment for HEIs. Signing the document obliged them to teach sustainable development across all disciplines, encourage research on sustainable development issues, green their campuses in various ways, promote sustainability in their communities and share practices in international frameworks.

“The Nordic universities educate thousands and thousands of students, some of whom will become the leaders of this world,” says Meeri Karvinen from Aalto University. “It’s essential that the dominant mindset is sustainable, and that our students influence others towards sustainability.”

Karvinen is project manager of Rio+20 Implementation in the Nordic HEIs, a two-year project launched in 2014 to follow up on the institutions’ commitment. The aim is to analyse the steering mechanisms used in guiding their sustainability work, to locate drivers and barriers, and to create definitions and guidelines for sustainability in higher education. The benchmarking is being conducted within NSCN, the Nordic Sustainable Campus Network, and will moreover be sent to all 60 members of the Nordic Association of University Administrators, NUAS.

Sustainability in management and education
The objective is to benchmark sustainability performance from the perspective of the Rio+20 commitment – concentrating especially on integration of sustainability into all university activities and on sustainability as part of the educational offering.

University activities will be evaluated on various indicators, such as the level and amount of measured variables and target definitions, as well as on engagement, management systems, reporting practices, and staff and financial resources allocated to sustainability. The educational aspect will be measured on the number of available sustainability courses and diplomas, combined with an evaluation of the teachers’ qualifications and skills. In addition, the achievements in sustainability education reached during the UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014, DESD, will be analysed.

“We hope to establish a clear definition of a Nordic sustainable university,” says Karvinen. “We’ll also look into how it should be developed – what should be included in version 2.0.”

She adds: “The role of the universities is to produce new results and technologies through research and also to influence others through education and teaching. By doing so, we ensure that our professionals – no matter the discipline – will be knowledgeable about sustainability. This is a key element of the Rio+20 commitment.”

New further education programme for sustainable development
Sustainability has also made its entry into a core institution within the Nordic educational system – civic formation. Together with a range of partners, the Nordic Network for Adult Education (NVL), the Norwegian Association for Adult Learning (NAAL) and the Ideas Bank in Norway have launched a new further education programme for sustainable development. The programme is aimed at educators in study associations, folk high schools and NGOs, as well as those concerned with civic formation in Nordic municipalities.

“Sustainable development deals with the choices we make – as individuals, in our communities and in society in general. Our ambition with this new pilot programme is to explore ways in which we can incite change in local communities,” says Kirsten Paaby, Senior Advisor at the Ideas Bank.

The education programme is built around a number of successful sustainability initiatives in the Nordic countries, and the idea is to study how these initiatives could be adopted into the students’ local context. Key focus points include cross-sectoral partnerships and awareness of how local actions affect sustainability on a global level.

“We need to know the facts about the challenges we’re facing with regards to climate, biodiversity and poverty,” says Paaby. “In order to act wisely, we need education that’s able to think outside the box.”

Four sessions in four countries
During the course of the education, the students will participate in four sessions, held in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, each anchored in local sustainability practices.

“These four sessions will cover all aspects of sustainable development – social, economic and ecological – as well as various practical approaches to sustainability,” says Paaby. “The aim is to develop the students’ self-learning and problem solving abilities and foster creative and critical thinking.”

The first session took place in Oslo on 17-19 September. The concept of sustainable development was introduced and discussed, as well as the Nordic landscape and the opportunities it provides for reflection and new knowledge. Other topics were fair distribution and global citizenship. Nineteen students from all five Nordic countries used this first gathering to present themselves, their backgrounds and their current sustainability projects. The students’ activities – ranging from work on sustainable food, buildings and energy to ethical consumption and global citizenship – will play a key role in the education programme.

The second gathering will be organised by the Energy Academy at the Danish island of Samsø, a small community which has achieved full self-sufficiency in energy. The session will focus on alternative energy solutions and new economic models, based on the experience gained from the island’s transition. Thirdly, the students will visit the Regional Centre of Expertise in Gothenburg, RCE West, where they will learn about its cross-sectoral approach to sustainable development, with emphasis on citizen participation. Other topics will include the ecological loop and urban ecology. The last of the four sessions will focus on management systems and environmental certification, cultural heritage and sustainable lifestyle.

“Upon completion, we want our students to be able to translate their knowledge of sustainable development into practical action, and use the Nordic strengths to make the world more sustainable and fair,” says Paaby.

Students completing the education programme will receive 15 study points, supervised by NOVIA University of Applied Studies in Finland. The programme itself will also be evaluated throughout the entire process in order to ensure the education’s quality and further development.

Development Indicators

Upper secondary, post-secondary and tertiary education attainment in total population
Read more

Research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP, by sectors of performance
Read more

Nordic network for adult education (in Norwegian)
Read more
“We need to know the facts about the challenges we’re facing with regards to climate, biodiversity and poverty. In order to act wisely, we need education that’s able to think outside the box”

Kirsten Paaby,
Senior Advisor at the Ideas Bank

“Upon completion, we want our students to be able to translate their knowledge of sustainable development into practical action, and use the Nordic strengths to make the world more sustainable and fair”

Kirsten Paaby,
Senior Advisor at the Ideas Bank


Biophilia sparks children’s interest in nature, science and music

When the incredibly talented Icelandic singer Björk published her Biophilia album in 2011, she also created a fantastic multimedia universe where people could explore her music and its interplay with nature, science and technology. Now, three years later, this work of art has been developed into an inspiring educational programme that uses music and creativity to spark children’s interest in the sciences and music. Biophilia is one of the components of NordBio, the Nordic Council of Ministers’ bioeconomy initiative.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Curiosity and creativity at the heart of the programme
The Biophilia platform consists of a range of apps that allow the user to play with the music, arrange new versions of the songs and experiment with movement, sound and visuals. These activities take place in a fully interactive cosmological universe, exploring the planetary system, atomic structures and the origins of life on earth.

As part of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ NordBio initiative, the Biophilia educational programme will be implemented and further developed in Nordic schools in 2014-16. During this time, the Biophilia App Suite will be a central element in workshops and study activities combining science, creativity and technology.

“There is great emphasis on creativity in the Biophilia programme,” says project manager Auður Rán Þorgeirsdóttir of the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. “The children are encouraged to create something of their own – a musical arrangement, a song or an experiment. Biophilia is creativity as a teaching and learning tool.”

The development of this educational programme started shortly after the album was published. Björk, the City of Reykjavik and the University of Iceland came together to create the first Biophilia music and science workshop, held alongside her concert series in Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik. Over 60 grade school students participated in the workshop. Since then, Biophilia has been taught in schools in the city, as well as on Björk’s Biophilia tour around the world.

Science and music made more accessible
Þorgeirsdóttir explains that each song from the album has a separate science theme and a musicological theme to go with it. For instance, tectonic plates are the science topic of the song Mutual Core, while chords are the main musical element. These combinations will be reflected in the teaching.

“The music teachers and natural science teachers will work together,” she says. “They’ll flow between the different disciplines and give short introductions to the science and musicology. The children will then use the apps to familiarise themselves with the themes in question.”

“It’s not a matter of going into the details of DNA, viruses, dark matter or generated music. It’s about sparking interest and making these subjects more accessible for children. What’s interesting about using the apps is that they’re nothing like your usual musical instrument, so all the children start at the same level.”

Biophilia and innovation in Nordic education
According to Þorgeirsdóttir’s colleague, Una Strand Viðarsdóttir, a higher education and science adviser, the Biophilia project goes well with the increased emphasis on education, creativity and cross-disciplinary teaching in Nordic cooperation.

“This is why Biophilia was selected as the educational and cultural flagship project for Iceland’s presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2014,” she says.

Each Nordic country has selected a region or an area that will participate in the Biophilia project and appointed a steering group to manage its implementation. The idea is twofold – to inspire innovation in the Nordic educational system and introduce Nordic schoolchildren to a fun and interesting learning environment, intertwining science and music. Preparation is well under way and teaching based on the concept starts in 2015.

The artist behind it all, Björk Guðmundsdóttir, will take an active part in the programme. She is one of a group of Nordic specialists, including astrophysicists, teachers, artists and biologists, who have studied the experiences gained from previous workshops around the world. Together with an education theorist, Björk is currently writing new teaching ideas and reassessing the project’s teaching guidelines.

The Knowledge Train
Apart from the Biophilia workshops, the project operates the Knowledge Train, an educational outreach project, coordinated by the University of Iceland, which travels the Nordic countries to spark interest in science and higher education. The train will stop at schools all over the region and provide lively, entertaining introductions to the world of science and technology.

“The knowledge train is based on the same principles as the rest of Biophilia, which is to present science in an accessible, interactive and entertaining format to children of all ages, as well as to the general public,” says Viðarsdóttir.

The knowledge train organises mini-lectures, workshops and often colourful scientific experiments in cooperation with local schools, universities, technical museums and innovative science companies. The concept has already proved a great success in Iceland, where it has educated and entertained schoolchildren for the last four years.

Need for sustainable creativity and innovation
According to Viðarsdóttir and Þorgeirsdóttir, Biophilia touches upon many of the most important issues relating to a sustainable future, i.e. education, creativity, innovation and cross-disciplinary thinking.

“We all know that we’ve got finite natural resources,” says Viðarsdóttir. “We want to engage our children in learning how to make better use of these resources and create value in new ways. Biophilia does this very well. It’s probably the most important thing we can do – to teach our children about sustainability.”

“The children are encouraged to create something of their own – a musical arrangement, a song or an experiment. Biophilia is creativity as a teaching and learning tool”

Auður Rán Þorgeirsdóttir,
Project manager, Icelandic Ministry of Education

Together with an education theorist, Björk is currently writing new teaching ideas and reassessing the project’s teaching guidelines

Bioeconomy by-products represent enormous value

One of the main ambitions of NordBio, a large bioeconomy programme launched under the Icelandic chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers, is to promote innovative use of the biological resources in the region. Key focus areas are food product innovation, sustainability in the food industry and increased biomass production, with emphasis on creating value from underutilised resources and by-products.
See examples of products

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Optimised utilisation for future prosperity
Icelandic R&D company Matís is in charge of Innovation in the Nordic Bioeconomy, one of NordBio’s five components. Its director, Sveinn Margeirsson, explains that a prosperous bioeconomy must be based on responsible, efficient and innovative use of biological resources. With the rapidly growing global population and food demand, he says, this is more important than ever.

“We need to increase food production by up to 70 per cent in the next 30-50 years. At the same time, we’re discarding 30-40 per cent of all the food we produce. The question is not only how much more food we need to produce, it’s also how much more of it we should be utilising.”

As a considerable part of the land suitable for agriculture is already being utilised, optimised use of the available resources is an important part of the solution. Margeirsson also predicts that a large share of the increase must come from biological resources from the sea.

“70 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered with water. There are extreme quantities of biomass in the sea, which, judging by all indications, could be utilised much better than today,” he says.

Underutilised resources and valuable side streams
The overall objective of Innovation in the Nordic Bioeconomy is to optimise the value created from biological resources. It focuses on introducing underutilised resources into product development and encouraging industrial symbiosis, where by-products from one industry become valuable raw materials in another. The transformation of the bioeconomy requires co-ordinated research and innovation efforts, which is why the key Nordic institutions in these fields, NordForsk and Nordic Innovation, will work closely together on the initiative.

“We need to use our best knowledge to treat the resources right, produce valuable materials early in the process, and use surplus materials to generate value in other sectors,” Margeirsson says.

Sigrún Elsa Smáradóttir, research group leader at Matís’ Business Development Unit, explains that the bioeconomy’s side streams generate value in various ways, i.e. as food ingredients and materials used for production of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and chemicals.

“Our approach to product development in the bioeconomy is to look at the side streams and think of ways to transform them into products that can be sold on the market,” she says. 30 products are now being developed as part of the initiative, under guidance from Matís, Inuili School in Greenland and Faeroese iNOVA.

The projects include development of food products containing seaweed – a widely available but underutilised Nordic bioresource – such as barley seaweed pasta, a mayonnaise based on Omega 3 fatty acids, and skyr with added seaweed, honey and blueberries. Innovative use of by-products counts a high protein fungus, grown on timber mass from the forestry industry, which is used as a protein source in aquaculture feed, and the extraction of chondroitin sulphate from shark soft bone. This active material is valuable to the pharmaceutical industry, due to its effects against rheumatic diseases in humans and animals.

More sustainable food production
Another main objective is to increase sustainability in the Nordic food industry. Here, the idea is to produce necessary inputs into food production in the vicinity of the using area. This would improve the region’s food security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

“We’re looking into production of feed and fertilisers near the agricultural sites. Minimising import of these materials would make agriculture, aquaculture and food production more sustainable,” Smáradóttir says, adding that such an approach would lead to a more self-sufficient Nordic food production.

“In Iceland, for instance, we say that we’re self-sufficient with meat and dairy products. But it’s not entirely true if we need to import both feed and fertiliser to produce it.”

Increased biomass production in the region
Lastly, Innovation in the Nordic Bioeconomy aims to increase biomass production. This entails producing more bio-based products such as food and feed, but also biofuels and bioenergy. A delicate question related to increased biofuel production, identified as one of the ways to phase out fossil fuels, is the choice between using bioresources to produce energy or food.

“That’s a dilemma we need to carefully consider. Only those resources that cannot be used for food and food production should be utilised for production of biofuels,” says Smáradóttir.

Also in this work, the attention will be directed towards by-products.

“Biofuels cannot compete with the market prices of fuel today. So it’s very important to see what kind of value adding compounds we can isolate from the production process.”

Opportunities for local and regional economies
The bioeconomy’s value is not only to be found in the sheer use of biological resources. A wide range of industries and service sectors are linked to the bioeconomy, and it is moreover a vital contributor to local economies. NordRegio – Nordic Centre for Spatial Development has looked into this aspect through a range of case studies in the Nordic countries. The findings from these studies will be used to identify further opportunities for product development in the Nordic countries.

“Tourism represents a large potential as it makes way for increased production of local food products. This strengthens the rural areas and helps them build an alternative industry, based on the use of bioresources,” Smáradóttir explains.

Margeirsson sees a strengthened bioeconomy as a key instrument to maintain Nordic culture and get the most out of the region’s human capital – in urban and rural areas alike.

“The value creation depends on people that live outside the large urban centres and are prepared to grow the land, catch the fish and process the raw materials. These people and their skills are essential in developing the bioeconomy towards its next stage.”

Development Indicators
Emissions and land use, land use change and forestry
Read more

Share of renewable energy in gross energy supply
Read more

“We’re looking into production of feed and fertilisers near the agricultural sites. Minimising import of these materials would make agriculture, aquaculture and food production more sustainable”
Sigrun Elsa Smáradóttir

NordBio – The Nordic Bioeconomy Initiative

NordBio is a bioeconomy programme launched under the Icelandic presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. It will run over a three-year period, starting in 2014, and consists of five components:

  • Innovation in the Nordic bioeconomy
  • Ermond – Natural disasters – Nature’s solutions
  • Marina
  • WoodBio
  • Biophilia

How climate induced spatial shifts will change Nordic agriculture, forestry and fisheries

Climate change is expected to cause considerable change for the Nordic primary industries in the coming decades. Global warming is already resulting in spatial shifts in ecosystems, as well as in the primary industries’ activities. Suitable agriculture areas shift northwards, a longer growing season makes way for new tree species in the Nordic forestry industry, and major fish stocks are migrating into Nordic waters. A new Nordic report looks into these changes and their consequences.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Change is already underway
The report, Climate change and primary industries – impacts, adaptation and mitigation in the Nordic countries, looks at how climate change will affect agriculture, fisheries and forestry in the Nordic region. It also provides comprehensive policy recommendations, based on the findings from six specialised research networks, on how the countries should react to the changing conditions.

”It’s important to recognise that while these primary industries are affected by climate change, they’re also among the major regulators of the greenhouse gasses that cause it,” says Jørgen E. Olesen, Professor in the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University. He chairs the Nordic Council of Ministers’ globalisation initiative on climate change and the primary industries.

As the projected temperature rise largely depends on future emissions, limiting greenhouse gas emissions from crop and livestock production and reducing the primary industries’ use of fossil fuels are identified as major priorities. This is imperative, according to Olesen, especially in the light of the rising global food demand.

“If we continue the current trend in global emissions, we’ll see a large increase in temperature, even before the end of this century,” he states. “We’ve already seen some of the consequences on land and on sea. Climate change is here now, and we need adaptive policies to react to it as well as policies to combat emissions.”

Spatial shifts will affect all three industries
The other side of the coin is to react to the changes that climatic warming inevitably will cause to agricultural suitability and potential yields, location and migration of fish stocks, and changes in the forest ecosystems. Warming temperatures will prolong the thermal growing season and affect phytoplankton production in the ocean, which means that the Nordic region will experience a general increase in primary productivity.

“We’ve already seen spatial shifts of some of the large fish stocks, which is part of the reason for the current management crisis of fisheries in the North Atlantic. In my view, this calls for more flexible governance schemes, able to account for such shifts,” Olesen says.

He anticipates that climate change will shift suitable agriculture areas northwards, and that this will affect the balance between agriculture, a key emitter of greenhouse gasses, and forested areas, which take up between 20-30 per cent of the fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the Northern hemisphere.

”Given that the global food demand is expected to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 – less than 40 years from now – food prices will continue to rise. We’ll see a conversion from forestry to agriculture, simply because agriculture is more profitable.”

The report predicts that the rising temperatures and longer growing season will boost forest growth, timber yield and carbon sequestration, but also points towards increased risks as a result of climate change. The likelihood of more frequent extreme events, such as storms, heat waves and drought, often leading to increased risk of insect attack, poses a challenge to Nordic forestry.

“This calls for other tree species to be grown in the Nordic region. The area with deciduous trees like oak will move northwards and replace some of the conifers. In addition to such changes, both agriculture and forestry in the Nordic countries face particular challenges because of our long dark winter nights and long summer days that create special requirements for the plants to grow.”

Many advantages in a green based economy
Olesen highlights the issue of increasing total productivity of land areas, allowing the Nordic countries to produce more biobased goods, i.e. food, fuels or other materials that would lessen the dependency of fossil fuels.

“We need to do this wisely – in some areas we should use forests and forestry products for this biobased production, and in others we should use agricultural products. But in particular, we need to revisit the way we organise our agriculture,” says Olesen. Two thirds of the agricultural area is currently used for annual crops like cereals, wheat and barley, much of which is fed to animals. This indicates that there is room for improvement.

“What the Nordic countries should do is to pave the way with new technologies and new ways of managing our resources, reducing emissions and providing adaptation to the changing climate conditions. This would create opportunities for export of sustainable food products and innovative production technologies to the global market,” Olesen emphasises.

Steen Gade, climate observer on the Nordic Council’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, – the watchdogs within Nordic co-operation, as it were – commends the scientific effort presented in the report.

“It reveals that we’re dealing with a complex challenge that cannot be solved by market forces alone. The experts have made their assessment, and now it’s up to the politicians to consider the appropriate actions to follow up on the many well-documented recommendations. There is much to indicate that if we can put it on the right political track, we can turn the development to a green based economy with many advantages,” concludes Gade.

Policy recommendations from the report on Climate change and primary industries: Impacts, adaptation and mitigation in the Nordic countries
Read moreRead also NordForsk article:
New report evaluates effects of climate change on primary industries

Development Indicators
Decoupling of environmental pressures from economic growth
Read more

Developments in greenhouse gas emissions by sector
Read more

Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation in Nordic Primary Industries

This research programme deals with the management of natural resources in the Nordic region. It was initiated by the Prime Ministers for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Agriculture, Forestry and Food (FAFF), as part of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ globalisation initiative. It was developed in cooperation with NordForsk.

Its five main themes are:

  • Plant and animal health
  • Conservtion, adaptation and utilisation of genetic resources
  • Adaptation and mitigation in milk, meat and cereal production
  • Impacts and adaptation in fish production systems
  • Sustainable biomass production and carbon storage in terrestrial ecosystems

Read full report

Climate crisis and the bioeconomy – friends or foes?

Should the developing bioeconomy be considered as part of the problem or part of the solution with regards to climate change? How does the one affect the other, and what can the Nordic region do to promote more sustainable production? We brought together two of the region’s leading experts on these matters, Professor Jørgen E. Olesen from Aarhus University and Matís Director Sveinn Margeirsson, to discuss the bioeconomy and climate change.

Interview by Páll Tómas Finnsson

Can the bioeconomy contribute to solving the climate crisis?

Jørgen E. Olesen (JEO): I think we should be careful about what we expect the bioeconomy to solve, because the global demand for fossil-based products is still so enormous that we’d never be able to cover it with the bioeconomy. What’s important is that we use our bioresources wisely for those services in society for which we have no substitutes.

Sveinn Margeirsson (SM): I agree. The bioeconomy is an economy and not some magic tool that will solve all the world’s problems. However, as I see it, its methodology is one of the ways to tackle climate change.

JEO: The primary and processing industries produce wastes that could be used better, and we should certainly use the bioeconomy’s tools to create value from them. But it’s important to stress the fact that the bioeconomy is about more than just reducing waste. Managing biological resources in ways that would enhance productivity should be part of our thinking as well, for example, production of other sorts of primary products, which could feasibly feed into biorefineries or other value-adding new technologies.

SM: Much of the demand for fossil fuels is related to production within the bioeconomy sector. We need to keep this in mind and also make sure that we don’t use too many of our bioresources to replace fossil fuels or other low-value production items in the bioeconomy.

How do we make the bioeconomy less dependent on fossil fuels?

SM: Circular thinking is part of the solution. Let’s take corn harvesting as an example. We use fossil fuels to cut the corn but we only use part of the corn for production. We could actually utilise the waste and the extra raw materials from the fields as fuel for the machinery.

JEO: The technologies for doing this already exist. The problem is that their cost effectiveness doesn’t compare well with fossil fuels, which are still very cheap. This is where incentives need to be put in place in order to drive the bioeconomy’s development from pilot scale to full scale.

SM: We often overlook the realistic possibilities because we focus too much on mass production in the energy sector, where the bioeconomy is competing with the fossil fuel industries, which have been developing for a long time. Instead, we should be focusing on incentives and the conditions in our logistic chains, which are crucial for the value creation in the bioeconomy.

How will the changing climate affect the bioeconomy?

JEO: Due to the prolonged growing season, the Nordic region will get a higher primary production. We have large land and sea areas, which mean that the Nordic primary industries could very well benefit from the change. On the negative side, we’re likely to experience more extreme events that will cause problems for production.

SM: Climate change will affect not only our food security – the amount of food that we have access to – but also food safety. We have challenges in terms of drug use in different areas of the bioeconomy, mainly agriculture and aquaculture, and there is growing concern that this will lead to drug resistant micro-bacteria and viruses. Furthermore, climate change has created management regime issues that we haven’t been able to fully resolve, for example, regarding marine resources, moving from one location to another due to temperature changes in the ocean.

JEO: Globally, we’re approaching drastic climate changes with a warming of 5-6 degrees within the next one or two centuries. Responding to this will require many shifts in technology and lifestyle, and it certainly means getting out of fossil fuels. At the same time, we need to supply more wealthy people on this planet with high quality foods. In order to develop profitable and sustainable solutions, innovation will be paramount.

How can a new bioeconomy contribute to solving the climate crisis?

JEO: We could do many things within the bioeconomy to substitute some of the fossil sources that we’re using. This would allow us to reduce emissions from agriculture and produce better and healthier foods. It can certainly be done, but it’s a question of making a much more integrated use of technologies, know-how and logistics to replace the traditional production methods.

SM: Integration is the key word here. We need to make sure that we have integrated production and logistics systems and that consumers are well aware of the importance of their consumption choices. All the different parts of the equation need to be taken into account in order for the bioeconomy to become the driver for growth that we want it to be.

Does the Nordic region have special conditions when it comes to climate change and bioeconomy?

JEO: The opportunities are related to the higher degree of warming and the prolonged growing season. The challenge is that we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with the warming and the dark winters. On the other hand, things look promising in terms of increased productivity and because a wider range of species – fish, livestock, crops and trees – will thrive in the region.

SM: Not many production systems in the world share the same type of fluctuations in daylight during the year and the region’s growing and production conditions are therefore quite unique. An issue of particular interest is how we want to exploit the opportunities in the Arctic. Establishing an oil industry in the area would go against the green growth concept and would furthermore introduce direct risk into the Nordic bioeconomy. It’s nonetheless likely to happen, which is why we need to be as resilient to this risk as possible.

JEO: The current political discourse on this issue can be a bit confusing. Every time there’s possibility to find new oil, it’s believed to be of great benefit, even if we need to drill for it in highly risky places like the high Arctic. This contradicts our ambitions to decrease use of fossil fuels.

SM: In my view, this is not only a question of being able to produce and create economic growth. It’s also a matter of what kind of culture we want to be part of. In order to create a serious alternative to the fossil fuel industry, we must create as much value as possible out of the bioeconomy.

How can the Nordic countries contribute to these agendas?

JEO: Given the advantages that we’ve just described, what we should do is to demonstrate that it’s possible to create a solid economy based on sustainable production. I think that’s it, the Nordic region should serve as green growth laboratory for the rest of the world.

SM: Indeed. We should lead by example by collaborating on research and innovation and by integrating all the different parts of society – the educational system, the industry and the consumers. We should be proud along the entire value chain and value network. Proud of the way we utilise our resources, what we eat and how we produce it.

joergen e olesenProfessor Jørgen E. Olesen,
Aarhus University
Matís Director Sveinn Margeirsson

Our experts

Jørgen E. Olesen is Professor at the Department of Acroecology at Aarhus University. He chairs the steering committee of the Nordic research programme, Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation in Nordic Primary Industries. Olesen was lead author of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, published by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Svein Margeirsson, PhD in Industrial Engineering, is Director of Icelandig Food Research and Biotechnology – Matís. He has focused on the bioeconomy in recent years, in particular on issues related to management and full utilisation of marine resources, application of biotechnology and food product traceability.

“Globally, we’re approaching drastic climate changes with a warming of 5-6 degrees within the next one or two centuries. Responding to this will require many shifts in technology and lifestyle, and it certainly means getting out of fossil fuels”.
Jørgen E. Olesen
Development Indicators

Emissions and land use, land use change and forestry
Read more

Share of renewable energy in gross energy supply
Read more

“In my view, this is not only a question of being able to produce and create economic growth. It’s also a matter of what kind of culture we want to be part of”.
Sveinn Margeirsson

Culture – the fourth pillar of sustainability

The transformation towards a sustainable society requires not only technological progress and innovative solutions, but also a strong cultural sector that inspires change in consumption and production. Culture is the fourth pillar of the Nordic countries’ sustainability approach, complementing its economic, social and environmental dimensions.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Close linkage between culture and sustainability
Sustainability is being mainstreamed into all Nordic Council of Ministers activities, and the culture area is no exception. Sustainability is one of five main themes in the Nordic region’s common culture strategy for 2013-2020, which defines how the countries wish to manage their historical, cultural and linguistic heritage.

“The Nordic countries are open societies and we value culture highly. Our region has a long tradition of supporting production and dissemination of culture and working with its significance to our societies. We also put much emphasis on sustainability and aspire to incorporate it into all our policies and activities,” says Yvonne Halkjær Jensen, Senior Advisor at the department for culture and resources at the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The Nordic strategy for sustainable development, A Good Life in a Sustainable Nordic Region, also underlines the importance of developing a culture of sustainability: “Culture concerns for example choice of lifestyle, consumption patterns, relationship to the environment and acceptance of the processes of change in society.”

This clear cultural focus is a reflection of the need for a holistic, cross-sectoral approach to maintaining and developing the modern Nordic welfare societies. The challenges include creating more jobs in a green economy, ensuring cultural diversity and responding to changes in the region’s demography.

“The linkage between culture and sustainability is highly relevant in a modern society where things are changeable. Culture builds bridges between different interest groups and contributes to social development, identity and inclusion. It’s a valuable add-on to the three pillars of sustainability – the economic, social and environmental,” says Halkjær Jensen.

Creative and cultural industries lead the way
As part of the Nordic-Baltic cooperation, the Nordic Council of Ministers’ offices in Latvia and North-western Russia have conducted a variety of cultural activities, many of which focus on developing a more sustainable textile and fashion industries.

“Despite our experience in working on culture and sustainability, we still need to reach out and learn from other regions and partners. The Baltic Sea Region cooperation is a good example of this,” says Halkjær Jensen.

Imants Gross is the Director of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ office in Latvia. He has led regional activities involving the creative and cultural industries, aiming at developing a more sustainable Baltic Sea area.

“We’ve worked with the textile and fashion industry to develop a link between fashion brands in the Nordics and the Baltic countries’ production units. Our long-term aim is to transform the production in the Baltics and establish the region as a sustainable fashion and textile production area,” he explains. The activities include a project where 32 Nordic designers were invited to explore sustainable solutions during Riga Fashion Week, and workshops with participation from the entire textile and fashion value chain.

“It’s important that we use the experience we’ve gained from these cultural activities to reach the aims of sustainability in other sectors,” says Gross.

Culturability BSR – Culture for Sustainable Development
The experience has already carried over into Culturability BSR, a flagship programme under the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The programme, which was launched in 2013, is a partnership between the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Government of Slesvig Holstein and the Ministry of Culture in Poland.

Culturability BSR’s main aim is to build cooperation between Nordic and Baltic stakeholders in three selected areas: Creative Industries, Social Innovation and Urban Development. All three are characterised by their cultural value and potential to make a considerable impact in order to promote a sustainable lifestyle.

“Our objective is to identify best practices – cases where culture is a driving force or a vehicle to reach sustainability aims,” says Gross.

The beginning of a long journey
According to Gross, the world is at the beginning of a long journey towards sustainable societies – a transformation in which culture should play a key role.

“We need to admit culture into other activities in a way that we haven’t seen before. Culture is not only about consumption, it’s also about production. It’s about creating better methods and producing better solutions,” says Gross, who looks forward to continued cooperation on the issue.

“We can all improve in all areas. The Nordic countries and the Baltic Sea Region can still learn a lot from each other. It’s important that we continue creating these networks that enable us to draw upon each other’s experiences. By doing that, the whole region can only grow stronger,” Gross says.

Art and culture challenge and develop us as individuals and as a society, and thereby help to promote a sustainable society
Nordic Council of Ministers Strategy for Nordic Cultural Co-operation 2013-2020.

“A vibrant art and cultural life is necessary in a modern society. Cultural experiences and activities are important for social development, identity and inclusion, and help to establish trust, respect and social bonding between people. Art and culture challenge and develop us as individuals and as a society, and thereby hel to promote a sustainable society.”

To solve some of the major challenges facing the Nordic welfare societies, a holistic approach is needed that embraces many sectors and policy areas
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Circular Economy – the way forward

In a resource constrained world, the move from a linear system, in which raw materials are used up, to a circular one in which they are reused, is an imperative. The Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth projects address this challenge and a number of new reports present concrete solutions in areas such as plastic and textiles, sustainable building and ecodesign. The latest results from the initiative were presented at Green Week in Brussels in June.

By Michael Funch

The EUs biggest environment event, Green Week in Brussels, this year focused on circular economy. The Nordic Council of Ministers contributed a number of projects from the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth initiative, as well as the new initiative NordBio.

“The circular economy is the new order of things and we need to build stronger bridges between industrial and environmental policies,” said European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik in his opening speech at the event on June 3.

The Commission is set to introduce a new circular economy package at the end of June 2014. Two of the core elements are food waste and sustainable building, but the focus is also on creating green jobs and skills while increasing resource efficiency. The Nordic green growth projects all play into this agenda.

A holistic view
Along with ecodesign and waste management, sustainable building was the focus of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ (NCM) contribution to Green Week. As with most of the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth projects one aim is to contribute to policymaking in the EU.

“We work on developing a new set of standards for sustainable building that takes into account the whole chain of production, the aim being to translate this into EU legislation in the longer term and to set a Nordic stamp on EU environment policies,” said project leader Einer Ekern from Nordic Innovation, the NCM body in charge of the green growth initiative on sustainable building.

Earlier this year, Ekern visited with high-level officials in the European Commission who took great interest in the three Nordic projects for green standards in the building sector. More specifically the projects look at sustainable renovation of buildings, indoor climate and voluntary classification standards, as well as standards in environmental product declarations and sustainable construction.

The project group met with DG Environment as well as DG Enterprise and Industry, in an attempt to bridge the gap between these sectors. The group also met with DG Energy. Agreeing on the need for a stronger energy efficiency focus, the Nordic group also underlined that social and economic factors must be taken into account when renovating buildings.

Overall, the Nordic approach to the circular economy is thus to take a holistic view on matters at hand. This also goes for the green growth projects on ecodesign and waste management that aim to bring the Nordic experiences to the European level.

Small things go a long way
A conference on ecodesign held by the Nordic Council of Ministers at Green Week also focused on new solutions for the economy of the future, including upcoming EU initiatives.

“The traditional approach of the Commission has been to regulate via waste legislation, trying to minimise waste, but our new initiative aims to look at production and consumption loops in new ways,” said William Neal from the Cabinet of the Commissioner for Environment at the conference.

“This is not a question of the EU meddling in small things, even if what we are dealing with here does have a lot of technical detail. But when you look at the potential impact, we are talking big results for the environment and the economy.”

The Nordic green growth initiatives on waste management and ecodesign contribute to this agenda and met with great interest at Green Week.

“The Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth projects on waste management are all about finding smarter ways to reuse resources,” noted Sanna Due-Sjöström, Chair of the Nordic Waste Group under the NCM. “With our very concrete focus on how to collect and recirculate plastic and textiles I think the Nordic projects will have a great deal to offer in a European context.”

Textile and plastic circulation
Between 54% and 80% of used textiles in the Nordic countries are thrown out in mixed waste and end up being incinerated or landfilled despite being suitable for reuse or recycling. Three new reports from the Nordic green growth initiative analyse this problem and point out ways to substantially increase reuse and recycling of textiles in the region.

One of the reports, EPR systems and new business models, addresses the benefits of developing Extended Producer Responsibility models, encouraging textile producers to design for durability and be more aware of the environmental impact of their products.

“We see great potential in EPR systems and business models such as leasing and new forms of sharing, to extend the active lifetime of textile products,” says Due-Sjöström. “These will give significant environmental gains and create green jobs in the Nordic region.”

Similarly, three new reports on plastic recycling describe methods for improving the collection, sorting and recycling of plastic waste in the Nordic countries. It is estimated that 700,000 tons of plastic waste is discarded in mixed MSW in the region every year, and is thus not recycled.

“In order to achieve the desired increase in plastic recycling, we need to involve the entire value chain. Our plastic products should be designed and produced without harmful substances and with recycling in mind. We also need to improve collection and sorting and stimulate the market for recycled materials,” concludes Sanna Due-Sjöström, Chair of the Nordic Waste Group.

More reports from the green growth projects are coming up in the autumn and the initiative is thus beginning to bear fruit. Taking these results to the European level will be one of the challenges ahead and participating at Green Week was one step in this direction.

New green growth reports
A number of reports on the potential for increased recycling of plastics and textiles in the Nordic countries have just been published as part of the Nordic green growth initiative.
A new Nordic initiative, NordBio, explores the potential of bioeconomy for the region. It has a specific focus on the food and forestry sector, and also looks at fisheries and ecosystem services.
Development Indicators

Development in municipal waste generation and in municipal waste management by treatment method
Read more

Nordic Ecolabel (‘The Swan’) and the EU Ecolabel
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It’s all about networks: Towards a new bioeconomy for the Baltic Sea region

The demand for food and energy is growing dramatically. Bioeconomy could be an answer to this challenge. But a biobased economy requires increased cooperation across borders and sectors. The Nordic Council of Ministers would like to offer a path towards that change by facilitating the formation of new networks and partnerships in the Baltic Sea region.

As part of its effort to create new networks and initiatives under the umbrella of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) recently hosted a conference in Estonia under the headline “Realizing the Bioeconomy in the Baltic Sea Region”.

The meeting was the first in a series of events aimed at promoting innovation and cross sector cooperation towards a more biobased economy in the region, uniting policymakers, academics, NGOs and business leaders.

– Small countries need to cooperate to create sufficient critical mass to make changes on a macroregional basis. Here we need organizations like the Nordic Council of Ministers to help facilitate the process, said Secretary of State Risto Artjoki from the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in his presentation at the event.

– The European region is excellent when it comes to creating innovation. But unfortunately most ideas are capitalized in the US. So the inner market does not work well enough yet and we need to be much better at cooperating and creating new opportunities, also in the field of bioeconomy, he added.

Regional glue
The Baltic Sea region is particularly well suited to meet the challenges of a new bioeconomy, according to a number of experts attending the conference. There are ample natural resources, good infrastructure and intellectual capital, and a tradition for thinking in holistic terms.

The latter is also one of the hallmarks of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

“It’s in the DNA of international governmental organisations like the Nordic Council of Ministers to take the broader outlook across sectors and borders. Thus we are eminently suited to facilitate and coordinate some of the work needed in this new effort to move from a fossil-based to a bio-based economy,” maintains Secretary-General of the NCM, Dagfinn Høybråten.

A recent mapping of the bio-sector in the Baltic Sea region undertaken for the NCM by the company Innogate shows that the eastern part of the region is lagging behind when it comes to creating start-ups and new bio-sector initiatives. This is also a task for the NCM.

“Through our networking efforts we can help the eastern rim of the Baltic Sea leapfrog ahead to join developments in the western countries. And we can align activities with what is going on in Brussels,” adds Høybråten.

Along with the Council of Baltic Sea States, the NCM is lead partner in a so called horizontal action forming part of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The NCM is in charge of the bioeconomy aspects, while the CBSS is responsible for the sustainable development side.

Sea in need
The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) was actually initiated by the Commission a few years back at the request of the European Parliament, with the aim of saving the environment in the heavily polluted sea, in addition to fostering new partnerships and creating sustainable growth.

“The purpose of the EUSBSR is to inspire further action in the region, promote policy changes and increase investment opportunities where needed. The aim is to break down silos and think beyond traditional sector borders,” according to National Expert at the EU Directorate General for Regional Development Axel Rød.

These are precisely the requirements needed to promote a new bio-based economy, and bioeconomy projects make up a substantial part of the overall strategy. Here, again, networking across sectors is key.

“The concept of networking is built into bioeconomy thinking, but a lot of the networks needed simply do not exist at the moment. This is where mobilisation of bodies like the Nordic Council of Ministers is crucial, if only in terms of raising awareness and making the proper connections,” adds another EU expert, Thomas Dodd, Policy Coordinator for Bioeconomy at the Directorate for Research and Innovation.

A new paradigm
The backdrop for all of this is of course the fact that the world is running out of resources and we need to do more with less. According to figures from the EU Commission the demand for e.g. feed grain and meat will more than double from 2015 to 2050. Likewise, energy demand is set to increase by upwards of 50 % while oil and gas production is expected to decline.

This means that there is a need to establish a more circular resource economy, with less waste and more reuse. It also entails establishing new value chains in the process from growing things to manufacturing products.

A number of the projects in the pipeline as a result of the meetings so far held by the NCM are about just that. Whether it is a question of growing more protein in new and innovative ways locally to avoid importing thousands of tons of soy from South America, or efforts to better reuse and recycle phosphorus from land and sea in the region, the aim is the same: to create sustainable growth.

For the NCM there is also an added agenda: to foster local and regional development in less populated areas.

Connecting the dots
The method chosen by the NCM to focus attention on this task is described above, namely to catalyse new partnerships by initiating and facilitating networks and knowledge formation. Regarding work on bioeconomy under the EUSBSR umbrella, this is mainly undertaken through the NCM offices in the Baltic countries and Russia.

“I think the Nordic Council of Ministers has a unique competence in terms of creating contacts between the Baltic region and Northwest Russia and the rest of Europe in a number of areas. We have the contacts and can create the networks needed when decision-makers seek to put policies into action,” says Head of the NCM office in Estonia, Berth Sundström.

The next steps in this process will be two meetings to be held in the South Baltic area. A new NCM networking conference is scheduled in Warsaw in September to be followed by a meeting in Berlin in November.

The main focus areas here will be finding ways to navigate the financing involved in shaping the new bioeconomy of the Baltic Sea region and, even more importantly, to involve the business sector. There will also be a continued matchmaking effort and the NCM wants to further explore new ways to go from research and innovation to new business developments.

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Networking – the backbone of Nordic cooperation

Renowned for their unique ability to collaborate on culture, research, innovation and policy, the Nordic countries build their cross-border activities on networking and knowledge sharing. The Nordic Council of Ministers and its institutions are key actors in the work of linking the countries together into regional networks – an undertaking which also extends to the Baltic and Arctic regions, EU and other venues of international cooperation.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Tried and tested methods
Among the Nordic institutions that use networking to promote sustainability and green growth are NordForsk, Nordic Innovation, Nordic Energy Research, NORA, Nordregio and NordGen. They all have systems in place to encourage cross-border collaboration, and the funding they provide is generally predicated on participation from at least three Nordic countries.

“All our research is based on competitive calls, where at least three of the countries have to collaborate to be eligible. In some cases, cooperation with Russia, the Baltic countries or other international partners is also required,” says Jostein Sundet, Senior Advisor at NordForsk.

The institutions make use of their well-established Nordic networks when launching new initiatives. For example, Nordic Innovation works closely with the national innovation agencies, NordForsk collaborates with the research funding agencies, and Nordic Energy Research with the five national energy agencies.

“This cooperation is valuable because the institutions have their fingers on the pulse and know what’s happening in each country. It allows us to identify common needs and the value to the Nordic region of working together,” says Communications Director Bardur Örn Gunnarsson of Nordic Innovation.

Top-level Research Initiative and NordBio
The largest Nordic research and innovation cooperation project to date is the Top-level Research Initiative, responsible for the creation of a variety of networks on climate, energy and the environment. NordForsk has funded and coordinated two sub-programmes on climate change; Nordic Energy Research has led the work on large-scale wind power and sustainable biofuels; and Nordic Innovation was responsible for initiatives on energy efficiency with nanotechnology and carbon capture and storage.

Results of the Top-level Research Initiative will be presented at a conference in Stockholm on 18-19 November 2014. Nordic cooperation’s next main focus area is the bioeconomy, which will be a key issue under Iceland’s chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2014. The three institutions will all contribute to NordBio – the Nordic Bioeconomy Programme – launched in February 2014.

Funding and matchmaking in Nordic energy research
There are many similarities in the ways in which the institutions create and maintain Nordic networks. Funding, the most obvious driver, is designed to encourage Nordic cooperation and involve as many relevant stakeholders as possible.

“In general terms, we facilitate networks where industry, research and policy-makers come together,” says Kalle Bartholin-Nielsen, Communications Manager at Nordic Energy Research.

The institution funds two network types: research networks, receiving up to 85% of total project costs, and industry networks, which receive up to 60%. All funding from Nordic Energy Research requires active participation from a minimum of three countries. Open calls are launched every four years, corresponding to Nordic Energy Research’s strategic periods. The next call is scheduled in autumn 2014.

“Our funding in the upcoming period will encourage the creation of research networks with more industry involvement than previously,” says Bartholin-Nielsen. National workshops will be held to enable stakeholders to provide input into strategy development for the next period, 2015-2019. In addition, a matchmaking portal will be set up, where researchers and industry can find partners for their projects.

“This has yielded good results in the past. For example, the networking we facilitated through the Nordic Energy & Transport Programme has been very successful. Many of the partners are now applying for EU Horizon 2020 projects together,” adds Bartholin-Nielsen.

Challenge competitions to spur innovation
At Nordic Innovation, networking starts with a mapping of the most important stakeholders engaged in the programme topic, often in cooperation with the national innovation agencies.

“After this initial phase we contact the stakeholders to expand the network and locate what we call unusual suspects – people or businesses that are not yet known to our national partners,” says Gunnarsson. Nordic Innovation then teams up with industry organisations and businesses that are working on similar issues.

“We’re very much oriented towards the industry and an important aspect is to locate existing networks. We try very hard to avoid creating parallel networks or competition within topics.”

One of Nordic Innovation’s high profile networking initiatives is Nordic Built, which is aimed at accelerating the development of sustainable building solutions. It has brought together a large number of industry partners – all of which have signed the Nordic Built Charter – and organised a successful challenge competition for the best sustainable building concepts on the market.

“In light of the good results from Nordic Built, we’re now considering applying similar methods on issues like health innovation, entrepreneurship and the bioeconomy,” says Gunnarsson.

Centres of Excellence are powerful networking tools
“NordForsk is by nature a networking institution. All our activities are based on networking and cross-border collaboration,” says Anne Riiser, Head of Communications at NordForsk.

NordForsk works closely with researchers, research institutions, research councils and financing agencies in all five countries, as well as policy makers and industry. Its main financing instruments are the Nordic Centres of Excellence (NCoE), which receive funding for research collaboration, workshops, exchange and mobility.

“The Nordic Centres of Excellence are powerful networking instruments that expand and develop the Nordic research excellence they are anchored in. This is in itself valuable branding, which attracts researchers and generates international interest,” says Sundet.

NordForsk runs several Nordic-Baltic collaborations, such as the Living Lab, a project within the organisation’s health and welfare programme, and a common PhD training programme. NordForsk is currently organising a conference that will take place in Estonia on 22-23 May, to look at ways to step up collaboration between the two regions.

“In addition, NordForsk has a European networking dimension through our Memorandum of Understanding with the European Commission and partnership with European stakeholder organisations. Networking and researcher mobility are important items both on Nordic and European agendas,” says Riiser.

NORA – Nordic Atlantic Cooperation
NORA’s main task is to strengthen collaboration and networking between various stakeholders in the NORA territory, which includes Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland and coastal Norway. Sustainable economic development is a key feature of its operations and it supports a variety of projects aimed at increasing green growth in the area. One of its initiatives in 2014 is The Digital Arctic, a conference that looks at ways in which the NORA region could create a more diversified economy.

“We must create a more diversified economy and become less dependent on natural resources. The conference will look at how digital development can create opportunities to establish knowledge-based businesses in the NORA-region and the Arctic,” says Director Lars Thostrup. In addition, a group of the region’s universities is following up on a recommendation from the North Atlantic Think Tank, which NORA facilitates, by developing a North Atlantic Master’s degree. The course will be launched in autumn 2015.

Cooperation on responsible use of genetic resources
NordGen seeks to promote the sustainable use of genetic resources in the Nordic region: plants, farm animals and forests. This cooperation has been on-going for more than 35 years, with the primary task of securing a broad diversity of genetic resources linked to food and agriculture.

In addition to its Nordic activities, the institution has organised numerous collaboration projects with the Baltic countries and Russia. The projects involve NordGen, the Nordic Gene Bank, the use of SESTO, a regional gene bank documentation system, and the widely used breeding software EVA, developed by NordGen.

Regional development based on close dialogue
Nordregio is a research institute engaged in the broad field of regional studies and spatial development. Its main objective is to produce relevant material for policy makers at the local, national and regional levels in the Nordic countries.

“Nordregio’s communication strategy is built on two-way communication, meaning that everything we do should be in close dialogue with relevant Nordic stakeholders in the area in question,” says Anna Lena Schlossman, Head of Communication at Nordregio. The organisation also works closely with international stakeholders, especially in the EU and the Arctic region.

“Often when you here about the Arctic region, the focus is on climate change. Our angle, however, is regional development; we look at issues such as demographic changes and the challenges they create,” explains Schlossman.

Nordregio also acts as the secretariat for four Nordic working groups concerned with demography and welfare; sustainable regional development in the Arctic; green growth, innovation and entrepreneurship; and lastly green growth and sustainable urban regions.

“In general terms, we facilitate networks where industry, research and policy-makers come together”

Kalle Bartholin-Nielsen, Communications Manager at Nordic Energy Research.

“In light of the good results from Nordic Built, we’re now considering applying similar methods on issues like health innovation, entrepreneurship and the bioeconomy”

Bardur Örn Gunnarsson
Communications Director of Nordic Innovation.

NordBio – Sustainable production and use of biological resources

Bioeconomy will be at the centre of Nordic cooperation in 2014. NordBio, the largest of three programmes under Iceland’s chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers, is aimed at optimising utilisation of biological resources and minimising waste, thus bolstering the Nordic bioeconomy. Special attention will be given to ways in which the transformation to a sustainable bioeconomy, combined with a strong element of environmental protection, can drive local and rural development. NordBio was launched in Reykjavik on February 5.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Bioeconomy is a complex issue
“Our objective is to optimise the use of our natural resources and minimise waste. NordBio aims at adding value both for the environment and for society,” says NordBio programme coordinator Holmfridur Sveinsdottir, who also works on regional development at the Icelandic Ministry of Industries and Innovation.

NordBio – the Nordic Bioeconomy Programme – is addressing a complicated subject. A bioeconomy entails sustainable use of living natural resources, ranging from agriculture, fisheries and food production to forestry, bioenergy and education.

“We need to be more aware of how and why we use our biological resources and to make sure that this is done in a sustainable way. NordBio is a sustainability programme,” Sveinsdottir emphasises.

According to Geir Oddsson, Senior Adviser at the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic countries are committed to achieving sustainability in their production and consumption of biological resources, and to contribute to solutions that will enable societies and consumers around the world to make a similar transformation.

“The Nordic countries have resolved to be proactive with respect to the bioeconomy and its potential in the context of environmental protection, green growth and sustainable development,” says Oddsson.

NordBio is part of Iceland’s Presidency Programme for 2014, Vigour – Vitality. The programme, which also includes Nordic Playlist, a digital platform promoting Nordic music, and Nordic Welfare Watch, will run for three years, from 2014 to 2016.

Innovation across sectors
“The bioeconomy addresses challenges not limited to individual sectors. They are societal challenges that can only be dealt with through cooperation between sectors and by looking beyond borders. By doing this, we can come up with genuinely innovative solutions,” Oddsson explains. The bioeconomy’s cross-sectoral nature is reflected in the NordBio programme portfolio.

Innovation in the Nordic bioeconomy looks at ways in which the Nordic countries can boost the value of the output of their production systems, using biological resources in an innovative and sustainable fashion. Particular emphasis will be on product development, sustainable food production and increased production of biomass.

Other initiatives are Marina, which aims to reduce emissions and increase alternative fuel use in the marine sector; WoodBio – Wood Biomass in the Nordic Bioeconomy, which looks at how more value can be created from biomass from the forest industry; and ERMOND, a project that explores ways in which healthy ecosystems and ecological restoration, also called ecosystem resilience, can reduce the effect of natural disasters, such as floods, storms, earthquakes, erosion and volcanic eruptions.

NordBio’s fifth component is Biophilia, an innovative education project started by singer Björk to develop more creative educational methods and stimulate interest in science and innovation. The approach encourages people of all ages to use their creativity as a learning tool when dealing with complicated subjects like science, technology and the environment.

For more information about the Nordic Council of Ministers’ bioeconomy efforts, visit

Bioeconomy should drive local and regional development
According to Oddsson and his colleague at the Nordic Council of Ministers, Mads Randbøll Wolff, the Nordic countries are dedicated to using the bioeconomy as a driver for sustainable development and local economic growth.

“We need to take a step towards a new rural paradigm where, instead of subsidising regions that are loosing workplaces, we invest in local economic development,” says Wolff.

Two neighbouring regions, the Arctic region and the Baltic Sea region, are also part of the Nordic bioeconomy’s macro-regional focus. Common interests, including issues relating to the opening of Arctic sea routes, underline the importance of close cooperation between the regions.

“However, it’s important to stress that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The overarching goal is the same – sustainable management of natural resources leading to sustainable development – but the geographic context and climate differ. We therefore need to look at the challenges and implications in each of these three macro-regional contexts,” Wolff says.

Making the right choices
Optimising the use of biological resources requires a careful assessment of its affects on the environment, other sectors, communities and society. This evaluation needs to be weighed against the objective of creating as much value as possible for products in the bioeconomy. In other words, creating a balanced bioeconomy is all about making the right choices to protect the environment, while accelerating value-added production and development.

“By focusing only on biomass as an energy source we could create problems in other sectors. We have to look at the consequences of sourcing biomass for energy and determine whether that is the most sustainable solution,” warns Wolff. Oddsson adds that sourcing biomass to other industries, such as the pharmaceutical or beauty industries, could create more value.

“Selling biomass to the energy sector is the easiest option for the forestry industry today, because that’s where the demand is. But rather than just meeting this current demand, we should ask ourselves: what are the optimal uses of forest biomass? We should be looking at how we can broaden the demand and increase the value of our products,” Wolff adds.

Nordic Bioeconomy Panel
The Icelandic presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers intends to establish a Nordic Bioeconomy Panel, comprising experts from the industries and institutions involved. The aim is to support proactive bioeconomy strategies and policies in the region, and provide input into the European and global bioeconomy dialogue. The panel will also be instrumental in knowledge-sharing between the Nordic countries.

“The countries all work with criteria designed to control how we exploit our resources, whether it’s fisheries or forestry. Our ambition is to map which criteria are being used and how, and gather this information into a single common database or knowledge bank,” Sveinsdottir says.

Utilisation of fisheries resources is one example where more knowledge sharing would create economic value. Iceland and Norway rank highest in the world in terms of utilisation of cod stocks, with Iceland utilising an average of 57% of the biomass – the fish that come out of the ocean – while Norway utilises around 41%.

“There is manifest economic gain in sharing knowledge of how input utilisation in Norway could be improved even further. Biomass waste reduction is an added benefit,” says Oddsson.

Broad Nordic involvement
An extraordinarily large number of Nordic partners are involved in NordBio, including five of the ten Minister Councils, 11 Committees of Senior Officials and many of the main Nordic research and innovation institutions, such as Nordic Innovation, NordForsk, Nordregio, Nordic Energy Research and NordGen.

“The Nordic institutions have been very proactive in exploring ways in which we can cultivate the entire innovation and research value chain in the bioeconomy,” Wolff affirms.

“You need the willingness to cooperate over a large number of different interests, different sectors, institutions, ministries and countries. NordBio is a fine example of how Nordic cooperation can contribute to the European and global dialogue on sustainable development and bioeconomy,” Oddsson concludes.

gender equality

Sustainable transport is a key element of the future welfare society

The Nordic Energy & Transport programme is nearing completion. Twelve projects have involved research into various aspects of electric transportation and sustainable freight transportation in the region. The objective has been to pave way for the sustainable transport systems of the future, whether by developing and testing new technologies, expanding infrastructure or analysing political framework, environmental benefits and future traffic scenarios.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

The next big energy challenge
Energy & Transport, one of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Globalisation Initiatives, was launched in 2010 to answer the call for more sustainable transport systems. One of the original objectives was to turn the Nordic region into a testing ground for sustainable transport solutions based on the region’s varied energy sources, successful decarbonisation of its energy systems, and the region’s demanding geographic conditions and climate.

“The general idea was to create a platform from which we could make the traffic infrastructure greener by reducing C02 emissions and particle pollution in the transport sector,” says Kalle Bartholin-Nielsen, Communications Manager at Nordic Energy Research.

“Transport infrastructure remains an intricate part of the Nordic welfare system and Nordic urbanisation. It’s the next big challenge in the energy sector,” he explains.

Two calls for project proposals were launched: Electric Transportation in 2010 and Sustainable Freight Transportation in 2011. Twelve projects received funding for a total of MNOK 25 from the Nordic Council of Ministers. A large number of the participating companies also contributed funding. A complete list of the projects can be found here.

“Each of these projects has produced interesting research which will lay the foundation for our continued work on the development, testing and use of more sustainable transport systems in the Nordic region,” says Ágústa Loftsdóttir, Manager for Fuels and Renewable Energy at the Icelandic National Energy Authority, and Chair of the Board of the Energy & Transport programme.

Electric transportation in Nordic conditions
Among the electric transportation issues explored were ways in which electric car use might be extended, how congestion can be reduced and public transport made greener. Infrastructure issues are prominent, along with technologies related to standardised battery re-charging and changing in electric vehicles (EVs). One of the projects, RekkEVidde, assessed the performance of EVs in the cold, snowy Nordic conditions.

“You would think the biggest factor in reduced driving range would be poor battery performance in the cold. But it turns out that air resistance is greater in cold air. That, combined with the fact that you need to use the heater when driving in -20°C, is the main reason why the EV’s driving range is much shorter than the manufacturer will tell you,” Loftsdóttir points out.

This means that Nordic EV owners need to recharge their vehicles more frequently, which underlines the need for a developed infrastructure of charging stations. This was the central subject of Nordic Electric Avenue and EVRMAP – Map Database & Routing Service for EV Usage Optimisation. The former tested fast-chargers for EVs and set up electric car pool fleets in some of the major Nordic cities, while the latter collected data on charging stations in the region.

Encouraging sustainable transport choices
Another important aspect is creating policies and incentives that encourage the use of EVs instead of traditional fossil-fuelled cars. This was explored in INTELLECT – Incentives and Actual Cost Calculations for Electric Transport in Nordic Countries.

“Nordic countries have diverse policies, initiatives, subsidies and tax breaks for EVs. The data allows us to see which policies work and which don’t. This gives us an important basis for making recommendations and implementing effective policies,” explains Loftsdóttir.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the main conclusions is that total cost is the single most decisive factor for consumers looking to buy electric vehicles.

“It’s easy to see why Norway is now the leader in terms of electric car sales worldwide. This didn’t take off until incentives were put in place to lower the price, making EVs cheaper than compatible gasoline driven cars.” Loftsdóttir adds that such incentives are necessary to encourage people to adopt this new technology and select the sustainable option – the electric car.

Future scenarios for sustainable freight transportation
Freight transportation is among the biggest sinners when it comes to traffic-generated carbon emissions. Six Energy & Transport projects addressed the issue, with the aim of increasing knowledge about emissions from road freight transport, experimenting with new materials, technological solutions and sustainable fuels, and providing insights into the logistics and distribution systems of the future.

SAFE – Scandinavian Analysis of Urban Freight Logistics using Electric Vehicles has studied the effect of integrating EVs into urban goods distribution networks. Its analysis has produced four potential future scenarios, depending on how cities choose to organise production, distribution and transport.

“Either traffic will continue to expand, with ever denser traffic environments, or we´ll see scenarios where only logistics and public transport will be allowed into cities. The other dimension is local or global organisation of goods production,” says Jens Christian Lodberg Høj, Cluster Manager at Insero E-mobility and Project Manager of
SAFE and the Nordic Sustainable Logistics Network.

Combining the two dimensions yields four possible scenarios. As an example, Lodberg Høj explains that in a system with local production and a city where traffic is limited, small EVs would drive directly from the production facility into warehouses in the city. In systems where urban traffic is dense and where production is global, the optimal solution would be a combination of long-haul trucks and redistribution centres outside the cities. From there, goods would be reloaded into smaller EVs that would then take care of distribution within the city.

“This is really about the different policies that cities and countries choose to apply to urban areas. The four scenarios are increasingly becoming a guideline for the creation of sustainable transport in cities,” says Lodberg Høj.

Alternative fuels and energy in the marine sector
The marine industry was the topic of Electric Ship Traffic, which examined the possibility of emission-free ship traffic, and SPIRETH, which studied the viability of using alcohol, di-methyl-ether and methanol as fuel for marine transport. This development has interesting perspectives, as some of the Nordic countries already produce sustainable methanol from wood biomass or geothermal boreholes, and from other sources.

Work on energy transition in the marine industry will be carried over into NordBio, a programme under the Icelandic Chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers, albeit from a slightly different angle.

“Whereas the primary focus of Energy & Transport was the end-user, NordBio’s philosophy is oriented towards more efficient resource management. NordBio’s Marina project complements our programme well due to its focus on sustainable fuels and energy at sea,” explains Loftsdóttir.

More attention on transportation needed
Lodberg Høj calls for continued commitment to the development of sustainable transport systems on the basis of the findings of the Nordic Energy & Transport programme.

”If we, as a Nordic region, want to maintain our status as a model example of sustainable energy, we need to focus on transport. That’s the real challenge. And if we want to address it properly, we need to invest and motivate business creation in the sustainable transport industry,” he maintains.

Ágústa Loftsdóttir also stresses the need for continued Nordic cooperation.

“A large majority of the participating researchers emphasised that the cooperation – the network – was invaluable to them. It’s important that this cooperation continue, even though the Energy & Transport programme will come to an end in March 2014,” she says.

The Nordic Energy Ministers have in fact just launched a new action plan for their cooperation priorities in 2014-17. A number of the projects from the Energy & Transport programme will feed into the activities under the action plan and the lessons learned will be carried into future Nordic cooperation in the energy field.


Green growth is also a gender issue

Women and men leave different ecological footprints. They approach environmental issues and sustainability in different ways. Their preferred means of transport vary, as do their general consumption patterns. Moreover, women in the world’s developing countries are affected more severely by climate change and natural disasters than men. These are some of the reasons why the gender dimension is being integrated into all activities forming part of the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth initiative.

Differences in behaviour and consumption
“There is a difference in how men and women act and consume things, which is interesting from an environmental and climate perspective,” says gender expert Charlotte Kirkegaard from the consulting company Unisex Progress. She will be incorporating the gender equality dimension into the programme design and implementation of three projects in the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth initiative. The process is called gender mainstreaming.

“Sustainability has to include both genders’ perspectives. If you lack the perspective of half the world’s population, you will not be able to find the right solutions to achieve your goals,” Kirkegaard says.

The three projects address cooperation on education and research on green growth, the inclusion of environmental and climate issues in Nordic development aid, and financing green investment and companies.

More research on the gender perspective
By definition, gender equality is about ensuring equal access to opportunities in society, whether social, political or economic. From a growth perspective, gender inequality prevents women from fully optimising their economic potential and thus restricts their ability to contribute to the shift towards a greener economy. An unbalanced society, in other words, does not fully benefit from its human capital.

One of the solutions to this problem is more research. European studies have shown a lack of research on the significance of the gender perspective to the economy. The research segment of the green growth initiative will therefore work towards further integrating the perspective into Nordic research. The aim is to ensure funding that will be targeted specifically at the linkage between green growth and the gender dimension.

“The gender perspective needs to be put on the climate change research agenda. We need to understand the situation today and explore ways to benefit more extensively from applying the gender dimension in research. This would promote green growth and gender equality at the same time,” says Kirkegaard.

Empowering women in decision making and business
Transportation is one of the major issues of the climate change debate. It is also an area where there is a clear difference between the behaviour of men and women. As an example, women use trains and busses to a larger extent then men, who, on the other hand, are more likely to choose cars and planes as their preferred means of transportation.

“Decision-making in the transportation and energy sectors is still very male dominated, while the gender ratio in climate change negotiations is slightly better. We don’t have a clear gender perspective or sufficient research into our own way of dealing with this,” Kirkegaard says.

She also points out that female entrepreneurs tend to be more environmentally aware than their male counterparts.

“Women in business are usually more aware of environmental issues, and CSR strategies around the world are very much driven by women. This is an area where we have some talent and knowledge that should be embraced much more than it is today.”

Gender equity in development aid
The Nordic countries aim to use a larger proportion of their development aid to support projects that encourage third world countries to make the transition towards greener economies. Fossil fuel subsidies reform is a prominent issue in this regard, and here, the gender perspective must be carefully considered.

“We need to be aware that taking this approach has a huge impact, especially on poor people and notably on women. Failure to take account of the gender dimension in the reform of fossil fuel subsidies could potentially create massive problems for women,” Kirkegaard emphasises.

One of the solutions to the problem of ensuring that the economic impact of a fossil fuel subsidies reform is borne equitably is to phase in refunds to those affected by them. This brings a very practical gender issue to light, namely the fact that women in developing countries often do not have access to bank accounts. They might therefore not get their fair share of compensation.

“If you don’t consider the problems that are specific to women, you cannot make sustainable development happen. The main point is that when you remove these subsidies and have to find alternatives, the strategy should be designed as a driver for development. It should ensure improved conditions for both men and women, but could also be used to promote women’s opportunities to create their own businesses,” Kirkegaard explains.

“This is about changing how resources are shared. Equality in funding is very important, you have to make sure that women get funding to make their projects a reality,” she continues.

Priority in the Nordic region for decades
The Nordic countries will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of cooperation on gender equality in 2014. The five countries are among the world’s leading nations when it comes to equal opportunities for men and women. In the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, a World Economic Forum report that ranks countries on their ability to close the gender gap in four key areas: health, education, political engagement and economic participation; Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden occupy the top four spots, while Denmark comes eighth on the list.

According to Kirkegaard, more insight is, however, still needed to fully understand the importance of including the gender dimension in Nordic programme design and policies.

“We’re just at the beginning of analysing gender inequality as a counterproductive element in the way we think about green growth. We need more knowledge on how the genders perform and how results from gender research could improve our ability to stimulate green growth, whether in the region itself or through development aid,” says Kirkegaard.

Each of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ sectors is now working on strategies for how best to promote the gender equality issue through Nordic cooperation.

”The time horizon depends on the political will to push the gender dimension forward. It takes political courage and resources to develop these issues, conduct the research and introduce this extra dimension on a professional basis,” she concludes.

gender equality

Nordic support for reform of fossil fuel subsidies in developing countries

The Nordic Prime Ministers’ desire for a shift towards greener economies is not limited to the region itself. One of the objectives of their initiative, The Nordic Region – Leading in Green Growth, is to integrate environmental and climate considerations into development aid. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is currently exploring how Nordic development aid supports fossil fuel subsidy reform and could contribute towards greener economies in a socially responsible way.

Subsidy reform and sustainable development
IISD is conducting a pre-study that will shed light on how Nordic cooperation could underpin efforts made around the world to phase out inefficient and harmful fossil fuel subsidies.

“This project with the Nordic Council of Ministers falls under our Global Subsidies Initiative that looks at government subsidies and their impact on sustainable development,” says Project Manager Damon Vis-Dunbar of the IISD.

“We’re studying the work that’s being done on fossil fuel subsidy reform across the region, with an emphasis on how Nordics are supporting developing countries in making these changes,” explains Laura Merrill, Senior Researcher at IISD.

Apart from affording the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) an insight into current efforts, the study will provide ideas on how the Nordic region could further support developing country reform of fossil fuel subsidies and enable environmental and social advancement through development aid. The results of the study will be presented to the NCM in February 2014.

“Subsidising fossil fuels is bad environmental policy”
Fossil fuel subsidies can be divided into two main categories: upstream subsidies, which go to oil and gas producers, and downstream subsidies, which is when the government lowers the price that consumers pay at the pump. The latter is the Nordic project’s main focus.

“In many countries, the price of fuel, whether it’s petrol, diesel or kerosene, is below what the market price should be. The government subsidies that keep prices artificially low add up to hundreds of billions of dollars each year,” Vis-Dunbar points out.

This partly explains why oil prices vary significantly from country to country. While the price in Venezuela is 23 cents per litre, Norwegian consumers pay more than two US dollars for the same quantity. IISD estimates that combined global downstream subsidies are between USD 500-700 billion per year. For example, Indonesia has spent about USD 20 billion per year on average on fuel subsidies – which is more than the country’s entire budget for education and health care.

“Clearly, subsidising fossil fuels is bad environmental policy, but these subsidies have often been put in place to make energy affordable to the poorer sections of the population. They do so to an extent, but not very effectively, as the bulk of the money goes to higher income groups – those who use the most fuel,” says Vis-Dunbar.

Impact on different groups in society must be analysed
While the environmental benefit of reducing fossil fuel subsidies is clear, it is important to understand how the reforms will affect various groups in society, notably the poorer sections of the population.

“We have to make these big shifts in the economy and change the pricing of fossil fuels, but we need to manage this in an environmentally and socially fair way,” says Merrill.

This is a key point in the collaboration between the Nordic Council of Ministers and the IISD. The main objective of the study is to identify options and opportunities for Nordic cooperation on the reform of fossil fuel subsidises in developing countries. The pre-study will look for areas of collaboration around technical assistance, leadership on policy in global arenas such as the UN, country partners and links to climate change, poverty reduction and gender equality.

“It’s easy to say that we have a climate change problem that we could address through a reduction in fossil fuel subsidies and other initiatives relating to energy efficiency and energy alternatives. But we also need to think about what the social impacts will be. How are households in poor countries going to adapt to higher fuel prices and what do governments need to do to support those who are vulnerable to the changes?” asks Vis-Dunbar.

Another of the Nordic cooperation’s objectives is to find ways in which the Nordics can support research to understand the impacts of reform, where higher fuel prices pose a risk to vulnerable parts of the population, and then help governments implement policies to mitigate those impacts. One potential area of focus is on the different ways men and women are affected by changing fuel and transport prices.

“Thought is sometimes given to how different businesses are affected, how the poor and the middle class are affected, but we don’t see much about how women and men are differently affected. We need to pay attention to that difference and how you respond to that,” continues Vis-Dunbar.

Taxing of negative externalities
Merrill explains that part of the transition towards societies based on green growth involves getting the prices right, i.e. closing the gap between international market prices and prices paid by the consumer.

“The next step after that is to discuss whether fossil fuel is being taxed according to the environmental and health impacts associated with the use of fossil fuels, the so-called externalities,” she explains.

This process could free up and generate public money, which could then be used to stimulate other areas of the economy such as green technologies and renewable energy, or invested back into health and education.

“Transparency is an important issue for us – that people should know where public money is going. From there one can discuss whether the priorities are right or whether one thinks the money should be spent differently,” Vis-Dunbar adds.

Transition can be supported in various ways
According to Laura Merrill, developing countries can be supported in many different ways in their efforts to reform their fossil fuel subsidies.

“The Nordics currently do this through their aid budgets, by supporting projects that help countries making the transition, and also by exerting their influence in international forums, such as the OECD, G20 and UNFCCC,” Merrill says.

Vis-Dunbar also points to funding for research aimed at gaining a better understanding of the impacts of fossil fuel subsidy reforms, studies looking at the competitiveness of industries or the protection of weaker groups that could be affected, and the contribution of communication aimed at raising public awareness of the issue.

“In countries that have a growing middle class and growing environmental awareness, there is good public appreciation of the opportunity that exists for transitioning to low-carbon technology and renewable energy. Keeping fossil fuel prices too low really frustrates attempts to transition to cleaner, renewable types of energy,” he concludes.


Multiple benefits of reducing food waste in the Nordic region

About one third of all food for human consumption in the world – amounting to a staggering 1,3 billion tons – is wasted every year. Reducing food waste at all stages of the food value chain holds out considerable social, environmental and economic potential, which is why the Nordic Prime Ministers have decided to focus more closely on the issue.

Nordic PMs prioritise waste as a resource
One of the eight priorities listed in the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth initiative is to develop methods and technologies for reducing waste generation, and for processing selected types of waste.

Food waste is among the categories identified as particularly interesting in the context of green growth and environmental impact. While food waste can, for example, prove a valuable resource when used in the production of fuel and chemicals, experts agree that the most pressing issue is bringing down volumes through sustainable production and consumption.

“There’s a political consensus on the importance of reducing food waste. It’s high on the agenda in the Nordic countries, the EU, the OECD countries and the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations,” says Ingela Dahlin of the Swedish National Food Agency.

Dahlin is the coordinator of three Nordic food waste projects recently launched as part of the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth initiative, The Nordic Region – Leading in Green Growth. The projects aim to create common Nordic definitions and methods for measuring and dealing with food waste, improving food labelling in order to minimise waste, and exploring the prospects of establishing food banks in the Nordic countries.

These initiatives are managed by the Swedish Board of Agriculture, the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira and Norwegian Ostfold Research. Other organisations involved are MTT Agrifood Research Finland, the Danish Nature Agency, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, Norwegian Food Safety Authority, food research institute Nofima and the Swedish National Food Agency.

Food waste reduction helps the economy and the environment
Two key terms are used to apply to discarded food: food waste and food wastage. The former refers to food which is discarded though still edible, while the latter also includes food which is thrown away due to deterioration. The Nordic initiative focuses mainly on food waste.

“As an example of the volumes we’re talking about, food wastage in Sweden amounts to around 1 million tons per year while in Europe food waste totals a massive 90 million tons per year,” Dahlin says.

Aside from throwing commodities of economic value directly into the rubbish bin, the production of excess food has a negative effect on the environment. For every kilo of food produced, CO2 is emitted, while incineration and use of food waste in landfills comes at a cost.

“Reducing food waste is a significant part of our effort to minimise the agriculture sector’s environmental impact. Our objective is to contribute to halving Nordic waste of edible food before 2020, a target defined by the European Commission,” says Dahlin.

Common Nordic definitions and methods
The food legislation and organisational setup in the Nordic countries is similar, which makes collaboration on reducing food waste easier. The Swedish Board of Agriculture is running a project aimed at establishing common Nordic definitions of food waste, how it should be measured and reduced.

”Applying the same definitions and methodologies gives us an accurate comparison of food waste in the region and a more comprehensive understanding of what it means in economic and environmental terms,” says Dahlin.

The project group will carry out a mapping of both the extent of food waste in the region and its distribution among the major primary industry product groups.

“It is important to know which product groups food waste is centred around so as to be able to react appropriately. The environmental effect of throwing away meat is much greater than in the case of salad, for instance, and requires other methods.”

Better understanding of labelling reduces waste
Food labelling is another of the food waste focus areas. According to Dahlin, the difference in terms of use and interpretation between the two most common kinds of labelling, ‘best before’ and ‘use by’, needs to be addressed.

“’Use by’ means you must not eat the food after the date on the label. ’Best before’, on the other hand, implies that the food can be eaten as long as it smells right and tastes right,” Dahlin explains.

A more judicious approach to labelling would result in considerable reduction of food waste.

“In some countries, ‘use by’ labelling is probably applied more than necessary. This leads to unnecessary waste because people believe the food is dangerous to eat, even when it’s not.”

The aim of the labelling project is to evaluate and suggest improvements to the labelling of food in the Nordic countries and, provided sufficient funding is forthcoming, develop a Nordic information campaign on the different labelling categories. The project is managed by the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira.

Nordic Food Banks
The third project will look into the possibility of establishing Nordic food banks, which could channel surplus food from businesses to people in need. The food bank initiative is lead by Ostfold Research in Norway.

”If a shop or a restaurant, for example, has food that cannot be sold because it’s getting too old, it can be donated to a food bank that distributes it to the poor and the homeless. Of course this must be done in accordance with the law and with the quality of the food in mind,” says Dahlin.

“Our food bank project will make life easier for companies that want to donate food and the organisations that receive it,” she adds.

The project will share the experience acquired by food banks in different countries and consider the various ways of setting up such organisations. It will also look into the question of whether there are obstacles in existing Nordic legislation to the establishment of food banks.

Results will contribute to European food waste efforts
The results of the three Nordic projects forming part of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ green growth initiative will serve as input to EU FUSIONS, a collaborative project that works towards a more resource-efficient Europe by significantly reducing food waste.

“Our food waste initiatives will create stronger bonds between the Nordic authorities. Nordic cooperation enables us to take a leading role and spread our knowledge and common standpoints within the EU and other international forums,” Ingela Dahlin concludes.


New methods for recycling plastic and textile waste

One of today’s most pressing environmental issues is the increase in materials use and waste generation. Finding new methods to process waste and utilise it as a resource is among the Nordic Prime Ministers’ green growth priorities, and a new initiative, Resource Efficient Recycling of Plastic and Textile Waste, has just been launched. The objective is to develop Nordic waste collection and waste treatment methods, as well as new business models that contribute to green growth and can be exported to the rest of the world.

Significant potential for greater resource efficiency
The Nordic Waste Group (NWG), a working group under the Nordic Council of Ministers, has initiated six projects aimed at identifying ways in which the recycling of plastic and textile waste can be increased.

“The potential is significant. The Nordic countries discard over 1,5 million tons of plastic waste every year. Only around 20% of these materials are recycled today,” says project coordinator Jon Fonnlid Larsen, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Environment Agency.

While the Nordic population is accustomed to the idea of recycling plastic, textile recycling is a relatively unknown concept.

“If you look at the Nordic region today, only approximately 17% of textiles are reused and no more than 2% are actually recycled. The rest is either incinerated or landfilled. By using these resources in new ways, we would reduce harmful emissions and waste treatment costs, all while making a profit on recycling and reuse,” says project coordinator Yvonne Augustsson of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

A whole new industry can be created
Increased reuse of textiles would mean a more developed second-hand market with potential for devising new business models, both for commercial actors and the voluntary organisations that account for the majority of Nordic textile collection today. Industrial recycling capacity in the Nordic region and Europe is both limited and dominated by downcycling methods. If the Nordic countries are to exploit the growth opportunities available in the industry, further technological development will be needed.

“By developing an efficient collection, sorting, reuse and recycling system, we could establish a whole new industry involving voluntary and commercial actors alike. This offers considerable potential for job creation and economic growth,” Augustsson says.

The aim is to ensure that reuse will be given top priority, as according to the EU waste hierarchy, and that aspects like durability and recycling possibilities are integrated all along the textile value chain. One of the issues at hand is the fact that garments and textiles are often made from fabric blends, which complicates the recycling process.

“This is a design issue, which clearly illustrates that we need to look at the process in all its phases – design, production, use, collection and the waste phase,” says Augustsson.

The Nordic Textile and Recycling Commitment project aims at developing a common quality system for companies involved in textile collection, sorting, reuse and recycling. A Nordic Strategy for Collection, Sorting, Reuse and Recycling of Textiles seeks to improve the region’s reuse and recycling infrastructure.

The third project, An Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) System and New Business Models to increase Recycling of Textiles in the Nordic Region, will develop policy instruments for Nordic authorities and suggest new business models to the textile industry.

In addition, the project will develop an Extended Producer Responsibility model, specifying producer involvement in the effort to reduce their products’ environmental impact. This includes making textiles which are more suitable for repair, reuse and recycling, and making sure that they do not contain hazardous substances.

Substantial carbon emission savings in plastic recycling
The plastic waste projects forming part of the initiative are aimed at improving existing collection and recycling systems, optimising Nordic plastic value chains, and developing guidelines for plastic sorting at municipal recycling centres.

The first objective will be achieved by charting collection and recycling systems in the Nordic countries and through subsequent analysis of the key factors that contribute to successful collection. For the second project, electrical and electronic waste has been chosen to provide a case study of how to optimise Nordic plastic value chains. The aim is to analyse which types of plastic are suitable for recycling and how hazardous substances can be identified.

The third project will be concerned with drawing up guidelines on how municipal recycling centres can reduce the quantity of plastic waste sent for incineration and instead step up recycling rates. As with the textile projects, the work will be conducted in cooperation with reference groups comprising of relevant stakeholders in the Nordic waste and recycling industry.

Fonnlid Larsen explains that increasing the recycling of plastic waste to 40-45% would result in a reduction in CO2 emissions equivalent to three times the emissions from the entire car fleet in Copenhagen.

“Recycling one ton of plastic instead of incinerating it reduces CO2 emissions by 2,4 tons – a factor of 2,4 – and saves energy that would otherwise have gone into the production of new plastic. So there is a large environmental benefit in increasing the quantity,” he says.

Large volumes a prerequisite for profitable recycling
The Nordic countries have participated actively in developing the so-called ’end of waste criteria’ in the EU. These establish when various materials can be treated as raw product rather than just waste. This has already been achieved in the case of steel, aluminium, copper and glass, and the EU is now directing its attention to plastic materials.

“This is certainly a growing field in Europe and internationally. There will be more and more recycling of plastics and it is likely that EU targets for recycling will be raised significantly towards 2020. It is important that we stimulate the Nordic market, get volumes up, and develop technologies for sorting, identification and recycling of different types of plastic,” Fonnlid Larsen points out.

“The central challenge is to make systems that allow collection and sorting of very large volumes of plastic waste types, of sufficient quality to enable high-grade, profitable recycling,” he adds.

According to Augustsson, optimising the economic potential of the Nordic recycling industry requires the Nordic countries to work together. “One of the main challenges for recycling in the Nordic region is the relatively small size of each country. Large volumes are a prerequisite for a profitable recycling industry, which is why we need to come together on this issue.”

Growth all along the value chain
Fonnlid Larsen hopes that recycling of plastic waste can become a profitable Nordic industry in the coming years and decades.

“Recycled plastic raw materials can either be utilised by the Nordic market or exported to increase our share of the European market,” he explains.

“Internationally, we can contribute to a more sustainable economy by demonstrating how to develop cost-effective collection systems and technologies that secure a high degree of waste collection and recycling, without the risk of unintentional content of harmful substances in the end products. This would spur growth along the entire value chain,” Fonnlid Larsen concludes.