Finnish industries launch ‘game-changing’ bid to go green, digital

A consortium of twelve Finnish corporations calling themselves the “game-changers” have announced a new billion-euro offensive to build new digital infrastructure, saying the digital transition will be key to achieve green objectives after the COVID-19 crisis.

The investment decision was based on an analysis of the COVID-19 crisis, which identified opportunities in new digital services, including improved customer experience, climate-neutral industry and transport, remote industrial operations in the 5G environment and autonomous maritime logistics.

“The COVID-19 crisis has led to an acceleration of digitalisation around the world, which in turn is profoundly transforming the markets and business models,” the companies wrote in a statement.

“We have a unique opportunity in our hands that must not be wasted,” the group adds, saying Finland needs to “seize the moment” and invest in digital infrastructure.

The “digital game changers” brings together 12 companies: ABB, Cargotec, Finnair, Fortum, Konecranes, Kreab, Neste, Nokia, OP Financial Group, Varusteleka, VTT Research, and Wärtsilä.

And although they represent a wide range of sectors – their activities respectively include automation, distribution, aviation, energy, cranes, communication strategy, oil, telecommunications, financial services, tactical gear, technical research and maritime mechanics – they are united in their vision, explained Arun Aggarwal, senior vice-president at Fortum.

“These 12 companies are all strong believers in business ecosystems and innovation collaboration, and they share the view that the digital transition requires a cross-sectoral or even multi-disciplinary approach,” Aggerwal told EURACTIV in emailed comments.

All the companies in the group say they are committed to work towards a carbon neutral Europe. They are represented by Finnish industries, which supports the EU’s 55% European carbon reduction target by 2030, explained Taina Susiluoto of the Confederation of Finnish industries.

The investment plans are entirely aligned with the companies’ roadmaps towards climate neutrality, she told EURACTIV in a phone interview.

Cross-industry collaboration

The cross-industry collaboration was born during spring time, Susiluoto recalls, when the sudden switch to a “remote society” caused an “overnight” leap in digitalisation.

It was the chairman of Finnish industries, Pekka Lundmark, then CEO of Fortum and currently CEO of Nokia, who initiated the collaboration, she explained.

“He realised that all of the globally operating digital frontrunner companies are thinking about what will happen after this COVID crisis –  what are the permanent changes, and what are the sort of things that companies should think about in terms of their business models and the way of working.”

The fact that all 12 companies operate internationally certainly helped the collaboration, Susiluoto said. “Because they are all operating quite globally, they saw what was happening in the world – and they are not direct competitors – so they could share their global understanding of what was happening,” she said.

And that’s when the cross-sectoral links between energy and decarbonisation became clear, Susiluoto explained.

“What we realised is that when these companies talk about their digital programs, in most cases they are also talking about their climate solutions,” she said. “And that actually, through digitalisation, we now have better tools to combat climate change.”

Similar challenges, shared solutions?

The collaboration soon resulted in common projects when the companies realised that the challenges brought by the “remote society” were similar across sectors.

“They didn’t only share their understanding, but they started discussing common projects even if they are coming from completely different fields,” Susiluoto said.

For example, they discussed how to reduce the environmental impact of data centres – required for the remote operation of any sector – by using them as heat sources in a district heating system, Susiluoto explained.

But that is just one example of how digitalisation and green objectives can go hand in hand.

“During the collaboration, we identified synergies when working on topics such as sustainable energy systems, industrial 5G, logistics and automation, which all are needed in digital transition and the green economy,” Aggarwal explained.

“We also took a more long term approach and asked which changes in customer and employee behaviour will remain permanent,” he continued. “One of the findings was that all human interfaces need a world-class digital customer experience.”

Such permanent changes to customer’s digital expectations should be accommodated for in a green way from the start, Susiluoto explained, because not all digital investments will automatically be good for the climate.

“What we really should now do is target those investments so that these digitalisation and climate issues go hand in hand.”

EU recovery plan

The consortium now calls on other European companies and politicians to follow their lead. “This is not just an opportunity for Finland, it is an opportunity for all of Europe,” Susiluoto said.

The EU has adopted bold objectives for the green transition, digitalisation and global competitiveness, but investment decisions now need to clearly reflect those priorities, she said.

The EU’s €750 billion recovery plan “should be bravely focused on RD&I and making the investments now that are sustainable in the long run,” Susiluoto insisted, warning Europe against the temptation to “spread the money all over the place so that everyone can have their little share and everyone is happy.”

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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