Why is Finland So Eco-Friendly?
Updated: Nov 17, 2023
How have the Nordic countries become a model for European sustainability? What do they do differently from the rest of the continent?
In fact, it is no mystery that at the top of the countries that make the most use of renewables are Scandinavian countries, with Iceland getting 87% of its energy from renewable sources, followed by neighbouring Norway, which gets 72%. Finland is in the top 10 with 35%, against a European average of 18%. However, it should be noted that this statistic excludes the use of biomass, which accounts for 85% of Finnish renewable sources. Biomass, simply put, is naturally biodegradable waste, or in some cases specially cultivated crops, that is transformed into biofuels and then burnt to produce energy. It is a very controversial method of obtaining energy, but is heavily exploited in Northern Europe.
But on a practical level, how does it work in everyday life?
In the Tripla shopping centre, the second largest in Finland and the biggest in Helsinki, in its underground car park there are almost 300 charging stations for electric cars. Here in fact if you buy an electric car that does not cost more than 50k euro the state will provide a subsidy of 2000€, if you convert your petrol or diesel car to run on gas the subsidy will be 1000€. If you are talking about vans or trucks the subsidies are even higher. That’s because maintaining a car here is a luxury, vehicle taxes are the third highest in Europe, in 2019 the state earned more than 2500 euros per vehicle from taxes, as if that wasn't enough, fuel taxation starts from a minimum of 22 cents up to more than 80 cents per litre (but we're talking about aviation fuel), depending on whether you use a low or high environmental impact fuel. This provides an incentive to use public transport, which is extremely efficient and arrives everywhere. Furthermore, Helsinki is an extremely enjoyable city to travel on foot or by bicycle, the streets are very often wide and equipped with a wide cycle lane.
Back in Tripla, if we go up one floor from the parking lot we’ll find ourselves in the supermarket area, in a small side aisle there are these peculiar machines, what are they for? If you come here and buy some plastic bottles or cans, you will notice that they almost all have a small symbol where a small amount of money is written, it means that the container is recyclable and can be collected in the dispensers that scan the barcode and when you are finished they give you a ticket to present at the checkout, the discount indicated on the receipt will be applied to the shopping, or even get the money in cash. This is called Pantti and with this methodology the recovery of bottles and cans is 90%, one of the highest in the world.
The city of Helsinki itself has ambitious plans to become totally carbon neutral by 2030 alone,
In fact, if we take a walk in the city centre we notice another strong focus of sustainability here in Finland: the many second-hand clothes shops, entire chains with shops in the streets of the city centre. Second-hand goods in general are very much in vogue in this country and not only for clothes, but also for furniture for example. But we're not just talking about fashion, second-hand goods have a very strong presence in Finnish culture both in terms of saving and reusing things, but also for the pleasure of never knowing what you'll find in such a shop, you might find very valuable items at an extremely affordable price. Among other things, they are very often run by non-governmental organisations, so part of the proceeds go to support humanitarian causes.
Because we are talking about a cultural phenomenon, not an exclusively political one. Finns, as I said at the beginning, really care about their greenery and want to preserve it as much as possible in order to enjoy it for a long time. In fact, 78% of the Finns interviewed in a survey believe it is important to live a sustainable life, and 53% have already activated measures to live in a less impactful way.