For the fifth year in a row, Finland ranks as the happiest country in the world in the UN World Happiness Report. The success seems sustainable enough, too, as it is rooted in tremendous societal stability and, among other things, a pretty unique relationship with nature. But what is it about Finland that makes the country a forerunner in sustainable technologies, as well?
Let's start with the sustainability of the Finnish welfare model. Finland, ranked as the most stable nation in the world, has also the best governance in the world as measured by voter turnout, legislative independence and the number of women in Parliament.
Sustainability stems from trust. As many as 85% of Finns agree or strongly agree that they can trust most of their fellow citizens – the highest percentage in the EU. Then there's the ever-important freedom to make your own decisions: Finland ranks first among countries with the most political and civil freedom.
Clearly, these factors contribute to a robust society that can face adversity and still thrive. But there's another brand of sustainability worth talking about, too: the one concerned with carbon footprints, green transition and circular economy.
Finnish companies have already succeeded in developing significant business from solutions that reduce climate emissions – but the eventual aim goes even deeper. Going forward, Finland is in a good position to build successful export business through solutions that reduce the global human ecological footprint.
Advancing global urbanisation calls for new solutions.
This means, for example, that as advancing global urbanisation calls for new solutions, such as wastewater and waste management, sustainable mobility infrastructure and technology that helps adapt to climate change and extreme weather events – Finns can come up with some desperately needed answers.
Protecting biodiversity is the newest frontier for sustainability. The World Economic Forum has estimated that solutions that enhance the state of nature could generate annual business benefits to the tune of USD 10 trillion globally; for instance, through new business, resource efficiency and cost reduction – all known as Finnish fortes.
But what is the link between happiness and sustainability? Philosopher Maija-Riitta Ollila, former Professor of Practice from University of Turku, says that the topic is not without controversy.
"Looking at ecological, social and economic sustainability, one could say that it's like a family with lots of in-fighting," she says.
"The entire concept of progress needs renovation," says Philosopher Maija-Riitta Ollila.
"If we really want to take care of ecological sustainability, we can not view economic progress as the sole basis for happiness. The entire concept of progress needs renovation: one has to transition from overconsumption ideals towards inner riches."
Fellow philosopher Frank Martela, a happiness Researcher from Aalto University, agrees: there are many happiness-producing elements in a person's life that have nothing to do with material things. This is the direction that all people, also Finns, should pursue with more vigour. "We could probably maintain our present level of happiness, while using less resources and causing less emissions," he points out.
"We could maintain our present level of happiness, while using less resources," states Philosopher Frank Martela.
Martela acknowledges that for Finns, closeness to nature is a great source of inner power and contentment. "Still, a strong relationship with nature is no guarantee that your way of life is sustainable."
Professor Alf Rehn from the University of Southern Denmark has also pondered these themes. He feels that Finland, as a wealthy nation with educated people and technological prowess, is obligated, in a sense, to push for green innovations.
"In countries like Finland, one has to recognise that all growth should be sustainable, there's really no way around it," he says, adding that the Nordic nations are privileged in many ways and, therefore, have to show the way to a greener future. "For example, circular economy is one clear arena where Finland can serve as a frontrunner."
"Circular economy is one clear arena where Finland can serve as a frontrunner," says Professor Alf Rehn.
According to World Economic Forum, examples of green growth sectors include clean energy construction, energy efficiency in buildings and circular economy solutions in the automotive industry, appliances and electronics and textiles sectors. The new sustainable wave could also create nearly 400 million green-collar jobs globally by 2030.
Finland aims to be carbon-neutral and the first fossil-free welfare society by 2035. To reach this objective requires even faster emissions reductions in all sectors and stronger carbon sinks – and new innovations to tackle the global challenges we are facing.