3x1: How to masterfully surf the green wave?


March 2024

Photo by:

Anna Rusi

Finland’s fashion, design, and architecture sectors are busy developing new tools to transform consumption patterns towards sustainability and fairness. Where there’s will, there’s also hope. 

The green transition is a phrase on everyone’s lips. The concept refers to cutting down on fossil fuel consumption, saving natural resources, and opting for low-carbon and recycled solutions. This transition is an essential direction in terms of environmental protection but is also necessary from the viewpoint of global fairness and justice. In order for developing nations to prosper, others – including Finns – need to consume less and consume with care.

How does it happen? 

The average consumer might first think of energy, mobility, and recycling. We can choose to power our homes through renewable energy sources, switch combustion engines to electric cars, and buy used items instead of new ones. 

But what if you are decorating your home and want something new? What kinds of choices have an impact on environmental sustainability? And when one’s work involves selecting materials: how can they be ranked? And in terms of clothing: has the era of fast fashion passed? 

Materialisting’s CEO Hilda Rantanen shares ideas on how her company helps the construction sector to evaluate the environmental impact of certain materials. Professor Kirsi Niinimäki recounts her experience of the clothing and textile industry by describing upcoming ruptures in the field. Finnish Design Shop – an online marketplace for design from Finland – launched a criteria of sustainable design in autumn 2023. The list can serve as reference for anyone to gain information on sustainable interior decoration, with Reetta Noukka as our guide. 

A wise use of power

Reetta Noukka, Chief Operating Officer, Finnish Design Shop 

Reetta Noukka. photo: Finnish Design Shop

“Finnish Design Shop is an online retailer of design goods. We work in direct contact with consumers. The brands are in charge of the design and production of their products, and our logistics partner handles transportation.  

We started to draft our responsibility strategy in 2018. We calculated our carbon footprint and built new geothermally heated premises with rooftop solar panels. We examined our packaging materials and how we could optimise their use. We also founded a marketplace for used design items, Franckly.   

These days, the carbon footprint traced to our own direct actions is smaller than the carbon footprint of the average Finn. However, this is not yet enough as we need to address the whole value chain of our business. Major environmental impacts take place outside our own walls. 

We launched our Product Sustainability Framework as an evaluation tool to answer questions on eco-friendly production, climate impact, working conditions and labour, sustainable materials, and circular design and sustainable design. Our suppliers answer questions product per product, after which the products receive a sustainability rating. One leaf means a good level of sustainability and three leaves means an excellent one. 

Our first thought was to use the sustainability criteria as an internal tool. We then decided to also publish it for all our customers. A broad swathe of consumers agree with the statement that information on the sustainable aspects of products is hard to find. 

At the present moment, more than half of our products have been evaluated. This adds up to 12,000 items. If you are buying an Artek stool, for example, you can click on the sustainability details when examining the product. You will instantly see the stool’s sustainability rating, and have a chance to also examine more closely how the product meets the criteria. We believe that a sustainability criteria also helps people who make purchases of interior goods in a professional role. Many initiatives today also include some demand for sustainability criteria. 

We hope that in years to come Finnish Design Shop’s selection will only include products that meet the sustainability criteria. One of our suppliers described our role at the criteria’s launch event by saying that this is a case of exercising power in a wise way. As a retailer, we encourage all producers to change their ways. That’s where our biggest opportunity for impact lies.” 

The fashion industry's new look

Kirsi Niinimäki, professor, Aalto University 

Kirsi Niinimäki. photo: Kukka-Maria Rosenlund

“I work as a professor at Aalto University where I lead the Fashion/Textile Futures research group. The core of the said group is in sustainable textile and fashion design. We approach the topic from many angles, including design, production, business, and consumption. 

A couple of years ago, the European Union agreed on a transition towards the circular economy. The action plan involves drawing up new regulations and making legal changes. As of 2025, an obligation for the separate collection and recycling of textile waste will enter into force in all EU countries. In years to come, clothing items will need to be repairable, recyclable, and contain recycled materials. The transparency of the procurement chain will also improve with the introduction of a digital product passport. 

In the future, the export of textile waste outside the EU may come to an end. In this case, it will be up to us to assume responsibility over our textile waste instead of dumping it into developing countries, as has occurred until now. A discussion has also picked up on the disposal of unsold products through incineration. This development will have an impact on fast fashion and online retail of clothing. 

But what kind of systems and business logic will be required to implement these decisions? What will it cost and who will pick up the tab? These points have provoked a lot of discussion. Many Finnish companies are either small or medium-sized ventures, and lack the required capital necessitated by these changes. On the other hand, it is precisely smaller companies who would have the best conditions for more sustainable operations. They are already producing high-quality products in close contact with end consumers. 

In 2019, we started an academic research project called Finix with funding from the Research Council of Finland. Within this framework, we study and support the green transition of the textile industry as well as system-level change. The project includes several focus areas such as design strategies, textile fibres and their recycling, utilisation of data, business models, addressing social concerns, and informing consumers. Together with the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, we have invited companies to join our workshops. We worked together to consider what kind of changes the company participants would be ready to endorse voluntarily. We hope that politicians will not disregard the voices of companies.

Change is inevitable. The environmental impacts of the industry are immense. There is no easy or fast path, but I remain optimistic. Consumers have shown their own readiness. We have started to see services for clothing lending and rental, and sales of used clothing items have grown rapidly. I dream of a future with more local production and a more diverse European textile industry. Perhaps flax, hemp, and nettles could be grown on Finnish soil? The price should not be the only decisive factor for us to produce more sustainable products in practice.”

Fighting greenwashing with data

Hilda Rantanen, CEO, Materialisting

Hilda Rantanen

“Property development is a shockingly emission-intensive industry. The sector produces around forty percent of the global emissions contributing to global warming. About half of all raw materials are used for construction efforts and about a third of all waste can be traced to property development.

Until now, designers have primarily chosen materials used in projects according to their technical or visual qualities. Environmental friendliness has only been evaluated afterwards, and mostly just as an exercise in accumulating neutral data. In the past decade, energy saving has received much attention in practice, such that the relative share of emissions linked to structures and materials has increased. In order to reach national and EU-level goals, emissions related to construction property development should drop to near zero by 2050, both for energy use and material-bound emissions.

But how can we compare the environmental impacts of materials? My background is in interior architecture and I pinpointed problems in my line of work. I set out to interview other designers and I noticed that both material producers and property owners faced similar issues. 

I founded Materialisting in 2021. We are a platform service based on emission data calculated throughout the lifecycle of products. Our service can be used, for example, by architects, designers, or other professional buyers making product choices and seeking to compare the environmental impacts of materials already at the start of a project, which, as research has shown, is the most crucial point of impact in terms of total emissions. We have compiled product emission data on our platform that would otherwise be scattered around various public data sources, and presented it in an understandable form that allows for evaluation and comparison. Without a central platform, data collection can prove to be an overwhelming effort for an individual operator. 

The consideration of environmental impact will continue to become more and more mandatory through both legislation and market forces. As an example, an EU-wide Green Claims Directive is in preparation to forbid companies from making environmental claims about their products or services that do not recognise emission data over the full lifecycle. The data found on our platform is data-based, comparable, and fairly presented from the point of view of material manufacturers. We want to do our part to make the market trustworthy, and to combat greenwashing.

I used to feel anxious about environmental issues, but nowadays I am enthusiastic. I feel that my work has meaning. For example, last year (2023) we were featured in the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra's Most Interesting Data Economy Solutions in Finland listing, even before the official launch of our service. Our goal is to become the best-known tool in Europe for making sustainable material choices."

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