Between spring 2020 and summer 2021 we interviewed local government employees and entrepreneurs in Finnish Lapland about how green economy and sustainability have been implemented in their work and in the municipalities in general. We also wanted to find out what were the bottlenecks in implementing sustainable practices and what actions should be taken in order to advance green economy in a most efficient way in the area.
From the sphere of business, we interviewed people from, for example, fishing, heating, travelling and construction industries. From the municipalities, we spoke to a central kitchen manager, energy production worker and a fishing brand officer. In this text, we introduce the main results from the interviews.
Sustainable Wood Chip Heating Systems
One of the green economy practices that was pointed out by the energy production company was updating of heating systems from oil to wood chip heating in municipal properties. According to the business owner, the use of wood chip heating systems increases employment, security of supply and degree of self-sufficiency while decreasing dependency on fossil fuels. In addition, wood chip heating systems are also cost-effective.
The heating industry entrepreneur also presumed that one of the reasons why wood chip heating systems are not more common in municipalities is that the decision-makers are not aware of its potential and the positive effects it would have on local economy.
Developing Arctic Fishing
The fishing industry representative explained that their local fishing community has benefited significantly from development projects. Through the projects, the community has been able to recruit more fishermen, and thus, secure the continuity of the business and sufficient production volumes in the area.
The new fishermen have been welcomed in the community and they have been given information about the best fishing places, transportation and processing methods, as well as, other important professional knowledge. The fisherman we interviewed, however, recognized the low level of general knowledge about the industry, as a potential threat for professional fishing in the future.
Cooperation in Tourism Business
The travelling business operator explained, that they utilize local knowledge in their village as a resource when producing travelling services. The company had, for example, mapped out the know-how of the local people and other travelling businesses in the area, and their aim was to develop the local services in collaboration with them.
This mode of operation allowed them to focus on their core business activities as accommodation service producers. Moreover, the business owner considered that collaboration with other service producers supported their position in the local community and increased profitability of their business.
Ecological Building with Timber
The timber building entrepreneur considered timber building itself as a sustainable practice. He explained that timber sequestrates carbon for tens or even hundreds of years. Wood is a renewable building material that can eventually be utilized in energy production.
The increasing problems with indoor air quality, especially in public buildings, has also motivated municipalities to build schools, day-care centres, etc. from timber. The business owner believes that the increasing good experiences from timber building, will positively affect its popularity also in the future.
Responsible Procurement in Municipalities
Some of the municipalities in Lapland have set a goal to increase the amount of local food in public food services. The central kitchen manager we interviewed, explained that understanding the logic in bidding, is one of the key factors in procuring local food.
The procurement law itself does not compel to choose the most inexpensive bidding. Instead, it leaves room for the implementation of other criteria that, for example, favour locally produced items. According to the central kitchen manager, the main challenge in utilizing local food production, is the lack of knowledge about public procurements in municipalities, as well as, insufficient local supply.
District Heating with Forest Chip
Forest chip is the primary source of energy for district heating systems in Finland. It is a renewable source of energy which also provides employment in municipalities. Furthermore, ash, which is one of the sidestreams of energy production, is refined into a form that is suitable for forest fertilization.
According to the local government employee we interviewed about energy production, the demand for ash is stable, and by spreading it in the forests, it is possible to reduce the costs of storing ash in landfills. One thing that needs to be monitored when using ash as a fertilizer, is the amount of heavy metals it consists. This can be controlled, however, by choosing the correct burning technique.
One of the local government employees also pointed out the importance of branding for active business life and local economy. Municipalities are key actors in creating strong local brands that attract many kinds of businesses to the area. When municipalities support businesses that sustainably use natural resources, they help accelerate green transition in the whole society.
Kalle Santala, Project Specialist, Lapland University of Applied Sciences
Henna Kukkonen, Project Specialist, Lapland University of Applied Sciences