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Norway taking tangible steps on sustainability

Norway is striving to transition from oil & gas dependency to a low carbon, green innovation economy. There is still much to do but government and business heads are raising their ambitions and backing them with actions. This is a guest post by Stuart Brewer.

A college lecturer once taught me a basic yet profound lesson: a country cannot call itself climate friendly based on ambitions only. It needs to continually strive towards acting responsibly. Actions speak louder than words.

Here in Norway we have already seen that the Norwegian government is moving from talk to action on sustainability. In spite of having amassed $885bn (£727bn) in its sovereign wealth fund – easily enough to cope with the cost of looking after a population of 5.2 million as it ages – its political leaders are driving for a greener future and have set 2030 targets for emission reductions and to become a low carbon society by 2050. To meet the goals, there’s an omstilling (the name for Norway’s restructuring process) underway to diversify the economy away from an overreliance on hydrocarbons.

Speaking at the NHO (Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise) conference in Oslo, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said, “Norway faces many challenges ahead. The oil industry that has brought wealth and welfare for many years cannot sustain Norway forever. Also, there’s the escalating climate risks the economy faces. We must therefore continue our push for a green, sustainable future.”

Changing landscape

PM Solberg firmly believes “Norway has the strengths to make the shift, and is uniquely well positioned to take advantage of the changing landscape”, but warned, “we are also vulnerable to decline if we do not transform ourselves.”

“Everyone must work for a greener future. The government cannot do it alone,” emphasised PM Solberg and added, “There must be a concerted effort by politicians, public authorities, businesses, investors and entrepreneurs. Through our joint efforts we can create new and more sustainable business models, develop productive, profitable and exciting work places that attract skilled workers, investment and bring manufacturing back home to Norway. Also, businesses have an integral role to play and must adapt, become green, smart and innovative to ensure competitiveness in a low carbon society, while creating many new jobs that will be required in the restructuring process.”

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Structural barrier

But the journey towards sustainability is not without its challenges as pointed out by NHO Director General Kristin Skogen Lund, “It will take the use of technology, competence, leadership, frameworks and access to capital. Also, we need to address structural barriers such as relevant competence and education, innovation and effective public services, to speed up our move towards a low carbon, sustainable future.”

In spite of the challenges, Lund views the green shift as an opportunity to expand sectors, diversify the economy and establish policies to drive investment. Also, she firmly believes it is possible for businesses to flourish in the green space. “Creating value, solutions and jobs requires a big effort but there are many companies already achieving profitability and competitiveness, and we need to make sure that those who are succeeding get the visibility and promotion they deserve. This will hopefully lead to scale-up and encourage others to follow suit.”

Well-kept secret

Lund is right. There is ample evidence that new and established businesses are seizing the opportunities the green economy offers. Oil, gas and industry have long been the mainstays but there is more to the Norwegian economy, including sustainable energy (hydro power) which is used not just in traditional industrial manufacturing but also data centres and battery manufacturing companies, for example. Med-tech and the healthcare sector in general is another important value generating sector, as is aquaculture. Also, Norway has a huge pool of software-engineering talent and thriving tech ecosystem, which is proving useful as it advances in areas such as clean-tech, med-tech, fin-tech and digital finance. Indeed, Norway is a pioneering country, steeped in sustainability and technology, but this is a well-kept secret for many outside Norway.

Raising the profile of Norway as a forward-facing economy is something Anita Krohn Traaseth is actively engaged in as CEO of Innovation Norway. Under Traaseth’s leadership, the development body is playing an integral role in Norway’s drive for change.

“Green business is at the very heart of modern commercial innovation and technological transformation. Here in Norway we are fortunate to have leading companies and startups, but we can do more to fully exploit the potential in this important, fast-evolving field,” said Traaseth.

Innovation Norway has identified six possible new areas: ocean space, clean energy, bio-economy, health and welfare, smart communities and creative industry & tourism. Traaseth believes these are areas where Norwegian business and industry already has advantages in terms of existing expertise.

“Norway has a cluster of competitive advantages that equip it to make the transition successfully. Key will be continued collaboration between policymakers and business. We have the opportunity, technologies and resources to make a real tangible difference,” said Traaseth.

Advancing ocean sustainability

Further evidence that Norway is delivering on its commitment was seen at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, where PM Solberg launched a major Inter-governmental panel on the new ocean economy.

Through this initiative, Norway is taking a leading role in international efforts in this field. A key deliverable will be a report on the importance of the ocean economy for sustainable development. The panel will work closely with the United Nations (UN) and engage with other international initiatives.

This was followed by an announcement that the UN Global Compact’s new Business Action Platform for the Ocean is up and running with many well-known Norwegian companies taking the lead, including the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, DNV GL, Wilhelmsen, Kongsberg Maritime and Aker BioMarine to name a few. Statoil, Norway’s state-owned energy group, is also a key participant in the new platform, which seeks to spur change through business opportunities.

Business solutions to help meet UN goals

Linking UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to actual commercial interests is important for getting stronger commitments from business, not only for advancing ocean sustainability but also to help meet all the UN’s goals for 2030 on human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption believes Bjorn K. Haugland, Chief Sustainability Officer at DNV GL.

Speaking on the sidelines at the recent launch of the Global Opportunity Report 2018, Haugland said, “While there has been a considerable shift in understanding and commitment among business leaders, with sustainability increasingly being seen as a strategic priority, there is still much to be done. Creating a strong, solutions-based narrative around sustainability is vital in helping companies to convert risk into opportunity and reconnect with their original purpose: to serve the needs of society. And that’s why we, together with the UN Global Compact and Sustainia, have published the Global Opportunity Report, which shows how innovative private sector solutions can drive progress to achieve the SDGs.”

Catalysing action

Haugland firmly believes catalysing action starts with progressive leadership. “It is up to government and business leaders to collaborate and contribute to an equitable, flourishing society. It’s about having the courage to lead and to realise we can do more than we think. It’s great to see the Norwegian government and business leaders making a determined effort to show leadership and take action on sustainability.”

So will Norway make the shift to a sustainable economy ? It would be foolhardy to try to answer the question as no one can predict the future but this much is true: It’s unlikely that Norway will roll back its role as fossil fuels producer any time soon but diversification and climate resilience are very much at the heart of the current government’s sustainability drive – and it’s raising its ambitions and backing them with actions.

As PM Solberg pointed out: “Reshaping Norway’s economy will not be easy. It will require more time, innovation, disruption and changing mindsets.”

If its leaders continue to make intelligent choices, leverage its technology and sustainability expertise and firmly addresses its challenges, Norway will be in a strong position to succeed in its transition to a sustainable low carbon economy.

Actions speak louder than words…

 

This post was originally published by Stuart Brewer on LinkedIn.

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