Once more the Finnish sustainability commitments – What makes them real?

April 16th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my three previous posts I have discussed the Finnish Sustainability Commitments and their relevance for our EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL). In the first blog I described the model, in the second one I shifted the emphasis to the sustainability of apprentice training and in the third one I discussed the transferability of the commitment model to the Learning Layers project.

In the meantime I have had some talks with my colleagues on this model and its applicability. Some of the comments have been inspired: There seems to be something attractive in the approach. Some of the comments have been characterised  by scepticism: Isn’t this yet another one of those campaigns that end up as lip service without major impact? Below I try to give some further insights into the model itself and into mechanisms that can make it work as a real thing.

1. What is so special about these Sustainability Commitments?

The inspiring aspect of these Sustainability Commitments is that they are part of a nation-wide strategy for Sustainable Development – targeted to the year 2050 – but they are operative commitments agreed in particular organisations. They refer to a four-page reference document that outlines seven sustainability goals. And then it is up to each organisation to agree which of these goals it will select for its own operative commitments. Once this discussion is through the organisation has to agree on the time frame of the commitment and on the indicators for assessing the success. When these decisions have been made the organisation can register its commitment on the special website http://sitoumus2050.fi (Commitment 2050). And when the commitment has been registered and published, the organisation has the responsibility to report on the progress.

Altogether, this model is that of a Societal Commitment Process – it transforms the implementation of the national strategy into a movement that consists of into sets of goal-oriented local and domain-specific commitment processes. When an insider-expert tells how this model came into being, it is easy to sense the inspiration and creative energy. Yet, it is worthwhile to ask, what mechanisms and  measures can prevent it from falling into ritualism and lip service.

2. What makes these commitments become real measures with impact?

It is worthwhile to consider, what kinds of background factors, mechanisms, efforts, initiatives etc. have been provided to make these commitment processes work towards the desired change. I will try to list some of these below:

a) High level policy support: The national commission for sustainable development has been chaired by the prime minister and the commitment processes have been taken up by ministries, central government bodies, employers’ confederations, trade unions, political parties, big enterprises etc. Key players in national politics want to be involved in such processes.

b) Facilitation and assistance by expert organisations: In the field of vocational education and training (VET) – as well as in general and adult education – a  special expert organisation (the OKKA foundation) has developed Sustainability certificates for educational establishments. In a similar way universities (among others the Aalto University) have made commitments to support their partner organisations in joining the commitment processes and in reaching their objectives.

c) Expanding the range of commitments after first pilots: Several regional consortia for VET (the inter-municipal ‘holding’ organisations of VET institutes) have started their commitment processes with one institute and educational domain candidating for a Sustainability certificate of the OKKA foundation. After a successful pilot they have continued with further commitments involving other institutes and educational domains.

d) Cooperative chains and business networks as promoters of commitments: The leading cooperative chain – the S-group with its shops, department stores, supermarkets and hotels – has committed itself nation-wide to link sustainable development into its processes of inducting new employees. In a similar way a nation-wide network of social responsibility managers has made its own commitments for its member enterprises.

e) NGOs as promoters of commitments: In the dissemination activities the Ministry of Environment and the participating organisations are supported by creative NGOs. In particular the NGO “Yllätetään yhteiskunta” (Let’s surprise the society) has specialised in organising dissemination events – such as sustainability jams – that give visibility to particular initiatives.

f) The role of social media: So far the Commitment process has been supported by a static website. Yet, the according to the newest plans (that were reported in the Finnish radio podcast, http://areena.yle.fi/radio/2630343) the website is being transformed into a social networking website and the commitment processes are being transformed into community processes. The launch of the new platform is scheduled for the 3rd of June 2015.

I think these points were already enough to give an impression, what all is making the commitment process work. And I will try to find out more in due time.

More blogs to come …

 

Learning from Finnish campaigns for sustainable development – Part 1: The sustainability commitments

March 31st, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few years my blogs on “Working and Learning” have been almost exclusively on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time I will have a look at something else – and this ‘something else’ is happening in my home country Finland. Yet, when I have got to the end of my story, I think it has quite a lot of relevance for the LL project.

1. Looking at facebook, listening to the radio podcast

This all started when I looked at the facebook page of a friend of old, Mr Sauli Rouhinen from the Finnish Ministry of  the Environment. I had known Sauli from the time when he was a junior researcher at the University of Tampere and I was a student at the same university. Sauli was specialising in social ecology and was well positioned to start in the newly established Ministry of the Environment when it was taking its initial steps. What is more important, is the fact that he became the civil servant in charge of the government commissions for and civic participation in the national strategies for Sustainable Development.

During the weekend I discovered that Sauli had been interviewed by the Finnish public radio (YLE) for a special program on economic affairs “Mikä maksaa?” (Twist of words between the questions: ‘What does it cost?’ and ‘ What does it take to achieve …?’). And this time it was all about Sustainable development. So, I took my time and listened to the program and it was worthwhile. For those who understand Finnish (we are over 5 million people who speak this language), here is the link:

http://areena.yle.fi/radio/2630343

2. The Finnish approach to engage people, organisations and public bodies via commitments

In the program Sauli told firstly about the early stage of the work with the theme ‘Sustainable development’. This phase produced green papers, white papers and recommendations which were well-written but did not have a strong impact on decision-making and everyday life. In the next phase the overarching strategy papers were chopped down to smaller ones – but this led to a multitude of strategies on which nobody could have an overview.  Therefore, narrowing down the focus didn’t improve the chances to implement the strategies and to monitor the impact.

The fundamental change in the approach was taken when the campaigning for sustainable development was turned into participative process based on Sustainability commitments. As a first step, eight central goals for sustainability were formulated as concise documents that provided a basis for making one’s own commitments. Then, different kinds of organisations as well as publicly known opinion leaders were invited to make their specific commitments. In this way the leaders of the campaign (the civil servants and their supporters) could reach public bodies, civic organisations (like employers’ federations or trade unions but also other voluntary organisations) and individual companies or chains of companies. And the ones who had made such commitments were enabled to invite others to join in this process.

3. How are such commitments made and how are they put into practice?

Firstly, it is worthwhile to note that the sustainability goals require specific measures to change the status quo in order to ensure the attainment of these goals. Secondly, the organisations or individuals have to specify their actions and set clear objectives in a time frame that they have defined for themselves. Thirdly, they have to define indicators or clarify in an alternative way, how their progress can be monitored. When all these criteria have been met, the Ministry of the Environment will register the commitments. After the registration, the organisations are obliged to report on annual basis on their progress in reaching their objectives.

Initially this process with Sustainability commitments was launched by a small ‘task force’ in the ministry. However, when the process started to take off, it became hard for the civil servants to check the draft commitments and to give feedback on them. Therefore, in the current phase the process is being taken to a database. After this transition, it is possible to use web tools to check whether the commitments meet the criteria. Also, the database works as a social network platform for a community of practice. So, the community is expected to give feedback on the proposals and on the progress. Here , it is necessary to emphasise the role of some NGOs like the one – “Yllätetään yhteiskunta” (‘Let’s surprise the society’) – that play an active role in mobilising such civic participation and public interest.

4. What kinds of commitments have been made and and what kind of actions have emerged?

Currently all registered commitments can be viewed on the platform Sitoumus2050.fi – Kestävän kehityksen toimenpidesitoumukset (Commitment2050.fi – Commitments to measures for sustainable development). The opening page gives a general introduction and them lists the most recent registered commitments. At the bottom of the page there are link buttons to different domains of sustainability commitments such as “Työtä kestävästi” (‘To work in a sustainable way’) or “Hiilineutraali yhteiskunta” (Carbon-neutral society) or “Luontoa kunnioittava päätöksenteko” (Decision-making that respects nature).

Looking more closely at the domain “Työtä kestävästi” (‘To work in a sustainable way’) we see different actors making different kinds of commitments:

  • The Ministry of Education and Culture has committed itself to organise campaigns that raise awareness on sustainable developments in different educational sectors.
  • The OKKA foundation has committed itself to produce training materials on sustainable development for different educational establishments.
  • Some regional consortia of vocational schools and colleges have committed themselves to obtain sustainability certificates in their initial vocational education programs.
  • Some consortia that have already obtained such certificates for initial vocational education and training (iVET) have committed themselves to obtain such certificates for the continuing vocational education and training (cVET) provisions.
  • The national grouping of co-operative shops, markets and catering services (S-ryhmä) commits itself to introduce principles of sustainable development at work to its trainees and apprentices….

I think this is enough to give an idea of the Finnish approach to work with a participative process of Sustainability commitments. In my next post I will discuss, how this kind of approach could be taken up in the field of vocational education and training (VET) and in the Learning Layers (LL) project.

PS. After publishing this blog I was informed by Sauli that he has presented the Finnish approach at the events of the  European Sustainable Development Network  and that they have published his presentations as well as the Finnish Commitment template. I am happy to share this news.

More blogs to come …

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