What’s Up in the Nordics – Responsible Investor? Iceland Left Us Speechless (or at least got us to think!)

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    This article was written by Leila Räsänen and published by Finsif.

    Members of Nordic Sustainable Investment Forums met in Reykjavik

    Nordic countries have exchanged information on responsible investing for years. This summer, 165 participants from Nordic Sustainable Investment Forums, Dansif, Finsif, Icelandsif, Norsif and Swesif and their members, met in person in Reykjavik 15-16.6. Agenda of the year was “The Ocean”. Finsif had three delegates at the conference – Anna-Stina Wiklund (Board Member, Finsif), Marja Karttunen (Chairperson, Finsif) and Leila Räsänen (Operations Coordinator, Finsif). Before the actual meeting, hosts had arranged an informal reception to NordicSIF colleagues in order to make acquaintance after a 3-year break between in person NordicSIF meetings!

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    Finsif´s Chair, Marja Karttunen (left) passing flowers to IcelandSIF´s Chairperson Kristbjörg M Kristinsdóttir (right) from the behalf of other NordicSIF´s as a gesture of gratitude for the excellent conference.

    IcelandSIF, hosting the event for the first time, had put lots of effort in organizing this meeting and as a result, everything was professionally carried out to finest detail. The venue of the event was Harpa, a music hall and conference center situated at the seafront perfectly connecting the agenda of the meeting to the surrounding atmosphere.

    The two-day conference included many interesting speakers and working group interaction and ending with excursion to local companies. After COVID19 restrictions, it was refreshing to meet people face-to-face and the same vibe was easy to sense from the audience, too. Audience participated actively in conversations as well as proposed questions to the speakers.

    The Ocean was the perfect, refreshing theme to be focused on

    When looking at the planet Earth, it looks blue from the space as almost 80 % of the surface is covered by the water. Our planet is rather “a Water Planet” than a Planet Earth from this point of view. Thus, it is worth convert thinking from land use in finding possibilities of the seas- only 5 % of the seas are explored to date, lot of undiscovered potential to be found for creating businesses and making new discoveries for tacking global sustainability challenges. Blue economy goes beyond the surface – there can be minerals, undiscovered medicines, food alternatives, energy production possibilities etc. to be found. NordicSIF conference provided both the latest expertise of research (marine life, biodiversity, climate change, etc.) without forgetting investor and leader perspectives.

    It was brought up, that the Ocean is the 7th biggest economy, estimated to have doubled its growth by 2030 providing attractive investing possibilities. Next to new openings, oceans are facing several damaging factors and human stressors that need to be taken into consideration. Rising sea levels due to melting of icebergs, overfishing and disturbance of marine life and pollution that is sickening the seas, but what are other eye-opening changes we must understand? CO2 emissions are increasing greenhouse effect and cause chemical changes in sea water.  Rising temperature of the seawater is decreasing oceans´ ability to work as a carbon sink- water absorbs over 50 times more carbon than air.  Moreover, pH of seawater is changing that causes acidification – in some areas shells and other aragonite structures have begun to dissolve in the water (this can be seen as holes, undeveloped shells etc. other deformations of shellfish).

    Key takeaway for Nordics is- ocean acidification is problematic especially in Nordic seas (due to cold sea water, high wind speeds and the naturally low CaCO3 states). Good news is, though, that oceans can adapt to climate change and human causes to some extent BUT the problem-causing factors must be decreased to keep up the living ecosystems for the future.

    Data ja criticism?

    Responsible investing relies on data, factors, experts, information and understanding, listening to customers and regulators being agile, not forgetting to follow the ESG policies and strategies of the employer. How about service providers? How to interpret the data and choose the right boutique that serves one´s needs? One should be expert on the E (biodiversity, climate change, land-use, water scarcity etc.), S (supply-chains, human rights, diversity etc.) and G (currently MASTER the EU law & regulation packages in EVERY sector etc.)… It is a good time to take the breath here, right?

    Corporate responsibility, responsible investing and other sustainability activities sometimes face criticism of “washing” giving a negative stamp on the work. This time, on the table was discussion on “competence greenwashing” – it is impossible to be a subject expert in everything. Nowadays, when wearing multiple hats on, it is not responsible show of as expert without being one on a specific topic. Avoiding this, it is the time to diversify teams. When looking at ESG teams, it would be ideal to combine natural science people with analysts – in case of forest fund, hire a forest ecologist in the team etc.. This is something that leaves us something to digest and build those teams that go down to specialized level when needed.  Do not worry, it was not that long ago, though, when European Central Bank hired its climate specialist in the team…

    Source: The Iceland Ocean Cluster, Thor Sigfusson

    Icelandic  knowhow “Bluehow”

    Iceland makes 76 % use of the fish they have, compared to global average of 54 %. They even produce medical products out of cod skin used for healing burn or a diabetic wound (due to its molecular similarity to human skin). This is something to be learned from- globally, in seafood industry alone, 10 million tons of fish is tossed back to the sea or to the landfill.   Iceland as a county surrounded by sea, facing rough weather and rocky soil conditions, succeeded to present inspiring case studies of local people coming from modest conditions who have grown their fishing based sources of livelihoods to innovative global-scale businesses.

    Was it the taxi driver that came to pick me the day of arrival telling he should go and talk to the city council about some taxi related issues that must be solved (just like that, they seem to have a direct line to everyone)? Or was it the climate (that misty moist that seemed to be present daily but then again disappeared, sun was shining and then again that moisty vapor was back)?  The confidence and knowledge of the people we heard? The speech of the First Lady of Island or the charisma of the former president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson everyone listened in a peace (it was so quiet you could hear if a needle dropped on the floor)? The presence of other SIFs and the pleasant chatter around during the breaks and dinner?

    I do not know what hit me the most, but must say “- -You got me on my knees, Iceland- -”


    Leila Räsänen
    Operations Coordinator

    Video of the conference can be watched here.
    Presentations can be found from Icesif´s blog here.

    From the left: Marja Karttunen, Chair, Finsif, Anna-Stina Wiklund, Board Member, Finsif, Leila Räsänen, Operations Coordinator, Finsif


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