A dramatic change in the sustainability work of Finnish companies

2 joulukuuta 2021

The Sustainability in Finland 2021 survey by FIBS published today shows that unprecedented and massive changes have occurred in the sustainability efforts of Finnish companies in the last two years. The sustainability activities of companies are more strategic, goal-oriented and organised than ever. The business opportunities of sustainable development, however, remain unexplored. Companies should be more ambitious about taking sustainability challenges into account in their future development.

According to the Sustainability in Finland 2021 survey by FIBS, the sustainability work of Finnish companies has started to reach a good level in many respects. Nearly all (93%) Finnish companies have already included sustainable development in their strategy (2019: 85%). For a significantly larger share of companies, sustainability is reflected in measurable short-term goals: up to 37% already aim at a growth of sales (2019: 18%), and one in five at increased share value (2019: 7%); the numbers are even higher for publicly listed companies.

Sustainability is already discussed regularly by the boards of directors and management teams of nearly every other company, and both groups include more and more members who are experts in sustainability issues. The companies’ internal sustainability steering and working groups have also become exponentially more common: three out of every four companies have such groups, which was the case for only roughly one in two companies in 2019. Most companies (76%) also have a corporate responsibility manager or director.

“Even though so much has happened around the world in the last two years, ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to the increasingly severe climate crisis, the scope of this change is still staggering compared to our last survey in 2019,” says Director Helena Kekki, FIBS.

“It seems that we are now getting closer to reaching the ultimate goal of sustainability work: sustainability is at the heart of all decision-making in companies, and its benefits are starting to become visible in the results, too.”

The business opportunities of sustainable development remain unexplored

Finnish companies have already recognised the strategic importance of sustainability. However, it seems that the focus of sustainability work is still on mitigating the negative effects of operations, such as reducing environmental impacts. Few respondents state that they are offering solutions for global problems, and sustainability is a significant factor for innovation and development work for less than 10%. Despite this, nearly every company that participated in the survey (97%) believes that they have a positive effect on the environment and/or the society.

According to Helena Kekki, companies deserve recognition for their work, but she also calls for the management of companies to set more ambitious business goals in the future.

“It’s great that companies are now clearly aiming to minimise the harmful impact of their activities on the society and the environment. The demand for sustainable products and services around the world is growing rapidly, however. This means that the management of companies should set even more ambitious business goals and think about ways to develop productive solutions for the greatest sustainability challenges of our time. Many Finnish companies already have a good competitive position in this area, but I believe that many of them also have plenty of unused expertise that they could package for a growing customer base.”

Survey

Sustainability in Finland 2021 offers a comprehensive overview of the practices, challenges and outlook of the sustainability activities of large and medium-sized Finnish companies. The participants included 179 CEOs and corporate responsibility managers and directors from the thousand largest companies in Finland, as well as the most important cooperatives and other actors. The survey was conducted as a telephone and email survey between 15 June 2021 and 12 October 2021. The survey was conducted by Innolink. FIBS has already conducted the survey eight times starting from 2013, with the previous survey in 2019.

Sustainability in Finland 2021 report is available for FIBS members here

More information

Helena Kekki, Director, FIBS, tel. +358 50 3451 966, helena.kekki@fibsry.fi

FIBS is the largest sustainability network in the Nordic countries and a leading promoter of sustainable business and developer of expertise. FIBS’s goal is to inspire more Finnish companies to start innovating productive solutions to local and global problems in cooperation with other companies and organisations. FIBS already has close to 400 members, including the 10 largest companies in Finland and most of the hundred largest companies. All companies and organisations that promote sustainable business can become members of FIBS. 

Sustainability in Finland 2021 – Other key survey results

Themes, focus areas and measures of sustainability work

  • Biodiversity is still the least important sustainability theme for companies: only 13% of companies (2019: 8%) consider biodiversity an important theme – just as little weight is given to water issues
  • Climate change as a theme is more important for companies than ever (66% of respondents; 2019: 58%)
  • Already nearly every other (47%) company has drawn up a human rights risk analysis (2019: 35%)
  • Most (83%) companies have instructions on the responsible processing and use of data
  • Information about key financial figures for the most important operating countries is published by 58% (2019: 41%)
  • 88% of companies take sustainability criteria into account when making purchasing and acquisition decisions (2019: 73%)
  • An increasing number (64%; 2019: 45%) of companies explains their payment of taxes and tax footprint – despite this, tax issues are an important focus area of sustainability activities for no more than 14%
  • A large share (80%) of companies already has principles and a system against corruption (2019: 70%)
  • Whistleblowing mechanisms have become clearly more common; most companies have already implemented them (80%; 2019: 64%)

Strategic, goal-oriented and organised sustainability work

  • Sustainability is now relevant for every company (2019: 99%)
  • Sustainability has become significantly more goal-oriented: as many as 83% of companies set qualitative goals on sustainability (2019: 65%), and 81% set quantitative goals (2019: 56%)
  • Most (84%) of companies feel that the business benefits gained from sustainability are worth more than the resources used to ensure it
  • As many as 36% of publicly listed companies state that increasing the value of shares is one of the three most important business benefits sought via sustainability (2019: 16%)
  • Sustainability experts are moving from communications units to sustainability and operative management units; however, relatively few (39%) companies still have experts in the field as members of the management team
  • Of the CEOs, 69% estimated that sustainability is extremely important for their own company right now, but despite that, only 43% stated that they give great weight to the views of sustainability experts

Measuring sustainability and its effectiveness

  • Sustainability has become more common in incentive systems – it can nevertheless be found in the incentive and bonus systems of personnel (47% of the companies; 2019: 31%) more often than those of the management (40%; 2019: 27%). Incentives are primarily focused on social responsibility measures such as occupational safety and wellbeing, even though the focus of sustainability work is on climate change.
  • The most sustainability incentives can be found in companies in the HVAC field (64% of respondents), and the least in the wholesale and retail business (26%) and industry (34%)
  • Even though nearly every (97%) company feels that its activities have positive effects on the environment and/or the society, just roughly a quarter (28%) has strong proof of the effects. The verified positive effects of companies are focused especially on mitigating the climate change (67% of respondents).

Sustainability challenges and outlook

  • Fewer and fewer (54%; 2019: 62%) companies feel that measuring and integrating sustainability into the business (48%; 2019: 65%) is a significant challenge for sustainability management – one possible explanation is that sustainability is managed in a more organised and professional manner from the top down
  • Ensuring the commitment of business partners and subcontractors to sustainability is now clearly more challenging for companies (40% of respondents) than in 2019 (29%).
  • Significantly more companies (51%; 2019: 31%) estimated that the importance of sustainability will increase a lot from the perspective of their own company in the next five years; the belief in the growth of its importance is strongest in the field of construction (64% of respondents).
  • Only approximately every tenth company believes that the resources spent on sustainability will increase significantly in the coming years.
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