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Channelling Nordic startup innovation towards global survival

Nordic startup innovation offers global organisations the green light towards sustainability

Large global organisations are finally being given the green light to explore more innovative and sustainable green agendas – and are looking to take the Nordic road to achieve such success. 

The eco conversation has, in recent years, transformed from being something of a tick-box exercise for many, to being a rushed differentiator without guidance, to now being a concerted arm of business strategy. Much in the same way that organisations have tried to become market leaders in digital transformation by hiring outsourced expertise, the same is now happening with the green agenda. 

Given that larger organisations are – without intervention – inherently more likely to generate more emissions and a more harmful carbon footprint, this acknowledgement of internal frailty is a step forward. 

But who to turn to for help? Perhaps a business ecosystem that is renowned the world over for its social leaning, its startup attributes of agility and speed, and its penchant for achieving business success through sustainable and ethical means? 

“Nordic countries are famed for their highly progressive and democratic cultures,” said Chris Ansara, founder and CEO of ALT/AVE, a company that is based in London but prides itself in its shared founding values of innovation mixed with a strong social conscience. The business was formed only in 2019, but has grown quickly by helping large financial institutions to digitise their regulated and mandatory document processes. 

“This process is highly complex and regulated and is often conducted using printed documents to aid their bespoke nature,” said Ansara. “But we couldn’t sleep at night thinking of the forests disappearing while mountains of needless paperwork were being sent around the world. There was a better way to reduce companies’ carbon emissions without sacrificing their economic prosperity.”

Pendulum shift towards Nordic tech 

ALT/AVE’s approach to enabling improved sustainability across one of the biggest and most traditional industries makes both commercial and ethical sense. 

“The massive diversity of technological capabilities available to businesses today is creating endless opportunities, often being driven by smaller companies offering microservices that can plug into existing architecture,” said Ansara. 

And even though it was only two years ago that this dynamic was formed, courtesy of smaller operators looking to convince larger players of their qualities, it has now been noted that the pendulum has shifted. Larger players are now actively seeking assistance, and are turning to the Nordics as a primary, logical port of call. 

“The conditions have definitely shifted where those in need of guidance are now coming to us,” said Harald Överholm, CEO of Alight, a company specialising in the solar sector, providing technology and manufacturing systems to larger businesses looking to power their operations in a greener, more decentralised way. 

“These large enterprises will find us and invite us to almost audit their current situations. This comes from environmental sustainability no longer just being a siloed consideration, or box to tick. Rather, they’re starting these conversations from a perspective of business efficiency and reputation,” he added.

While decarbonisation is the ultimate goal from a global survival standpoint, it should be acknowledged that the motivation does not have to be pure for this target to be reached – but it’s always nicer when it is. 

Överholm added: “Before, the conversation was around how these energy savings relate to overall business savings over a certain period of time. And even though that is still a critical consideration and selling point, there has also been a mindset shift where these businesses are genuinely wanting to positively contribute to the climate change agenda as well.” 

A region that challenges the status quo 

It is no coincidence that these high-level concerns are being brought to Nordic doors. As well as a host of socially conscious startups offering nimble and innovative solutions in this area, the region has a more embedded and experienced mindset around environmental sustainability that the rest of the world is looking to lean on. 

This expertise extends beyond commercial realms and also exists in the not-for-profit sector. 

Compensate is a Helsinki-based and born, non-profit startup that is helping both B2B and B2C players in their green transformations. Its Carbon Store platform, launched this year, is digitising the carbon offsetting process and proving once again that technological intervention is the perfect support act to eco improvement. 

“The voluntary carbon market has grown significantly in recent years, tripling in size since Compensate was launched in the spring of 2019,” said CEO Elina Kajosaari. “This aligns perfectly with a parallel trend where larger companies are now setting, at times, very ambitious carbon-neutrality or net-zero targets. 

“If large businesses want to buy into high-quality carbon offsetting, with true impact, they are increasingly turning to smaller market players. Service providers, especially from the Nordics, tend to be more critical about current market standards for sustainability and are more likely to challenge the status quo.” 

Leading the innovation and sustainability race 

Kajosaari agrees that this attention on the Nordic ecosystem should not come as a surprise. “Sustainability is not something where you can take shortcuts – especially when companies are increasingly under pressure from their customers, civil society and, increasingly in recent years, investors,” she said. 

“With that in mind, they need to know they are partnering, from the outset, with companies or NGOs [non-governmental organisations] that have high levels of integrity, because it will be those organisations that end up on the right side of history. 

“The Nordic region is not only an environmentally conscious group of countries, but also built of forward-thinking, nimble business clusters. They have vibrant startup communities and governments that encourage environmentally friendly innovations. This lays a strong foundation in building sustainable businesses – and that gives the region a strong perception in people’s minds when the green conversation is discussed.” 

As front-runners in both the innovation and sustainability race, it should be no surprise that the region’s leading startups are focusing on this area. To have the rest of the world taking note and seeking support from this ecosystem is a more significant step forward, however. 

Alight’s Överholm added: “Large companies need – and now want – to be aligned and attached to a more sustainable way of working and living. So why not attach themselves to the Nordics?” 

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