Innovation and Sustainable Development in the Nordics

von Leonie Schiedek

Five determinants of Finland and Sweden's preparedness for the green transformation

This paper seeks to better understand how the Nordic countries use innovation to move the green transition forward and handle sustainable development challenges. Sweden and Finland are highlighted as examples due to their outstanding international performance in being both - sustainable and competitive. By doing so, we seek to shed light on some reasons why we think that some Nordic countries are well prepared to use innovation for sustainable development. The report is mainly based on the analysis of institutions and policy documents, like official communications, or goal and target settings, but also newspaper articles.

Many international organizations, governments, corporations, universities, and civil society organizations regard innovation as one of the most successful responses to the world's biggest economic, social, and environmental concerns [1]. It opens the door to new potential solutions for problems concerning climate change, growing inequality, or the depletion of natural resources. The transition towards sustainable and resilient systems involves innovations and alternative solutions to the existing problems across sectors, challenging the traditional models of the 20th century. However, a good concept alone does not constitute an invention capable of transforming our present system into a more contemporary and sustainable one. As a result, it is critical to create legal and economic conditions that encourage businesses, government agencies, and societal actors to invest in innovation for the sake of scaling up solutions that accelerate the systems transition as a whole.


The Nordic countries' vision is to be the world's most sustainable and integrated region by 2030, one that is environmentally friendly, competitive, and socially responsible [2]. These countries are particularly noteworthy for their lofty ambitions in the areas of digital solutions, circular bioeconomy, and low-carbon transition to climate neutral societies. They aim to accomplish this vision by utilizing innovation to create a sustainable welfare state. Sweden for example was named the EU's innovation leader in 2020 by the European Innovation Scoreboard, having held the position for several years in a row, following Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands [3]. Additionally, Finland and Sweden were among the world's leading innovators in 2020 [4], ranking among the world's top five most prosperous countries [5].


[1] Grosclaude, J. Y., Pachauri, R. K., & Tubiana, L. (Eds.). (2014). Innovation for Sustainable Development. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).
[2] Nordic Co-operation (2019). Our Vision. URL: https://www.norden.org/en/declaration/our-vision-2030 (last accessed: 06.07.2021)
[3] European Commission (2020). European innovation scoreboard. URL: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/policy/innovation/scoreboards_en (last accessed: 28.05.2021)
[4] Global Innovation Index (2020). GLOBAL INNOVATION INDEX 2020. Who Will Finance Innovation? URL: https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/home (last accessed: 28.05.2021)
[5] Legatum institute foundation (2020). The legatum prosperity index. URL: https://www.prosperity.com/rankings (last accessed: 28.05.2021)


Leonie Schiedek

Projektkoordinatorin für das Projekt "Innovation für Nachhaltige Entwicklung in den Nordischen Ländern"


Richard Forsén

Richard Forsén

Projektkoordinator und Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter

richard.forsen@kas.de +46 (0) 8 611 7000