Innovation for Sustainable Development in the Nordics

What makes innovation in the Nordic countries so successful?

Nordic Council Sessions 2017, Helsinki. © Magnus Fröderberg/ / CC BY-NC.SA 4.0
Nordic Council Sessions 2017, Helsinki.

Innovation is increasingly being seen by many international organizations, governments, corporates, academia and civil society as a potential route towards tackling the major global economic, social and environmental challenges of our times. 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 all sectors, challenging the traditional models of the 20th century. 


Nevertheless, a good idea is not a good innovation yet. As a result, it is important to build legal and economic conditions that encourage companies, public institutions and societal actors to invest in innovation for the sake of modernization and sustainable development. 


The Nordic countries’ vision is to become the world's most sustainable and integrated region until 2030 that is green, competitive as well as socially sustainable. These countries are of particular interest due to their high ambitions in the fields of digital solutions and smart specialization, circular bioeconomy and low-carbon transition towards climate neutral societies. In doing so, they manage to build a sustainable welfare state through innovation.


In 2020, Sweden was listed as the reigning EU innovation leader by the European Innovation Scoreboard, followed by Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, having held this position several years in a row (European Commission, 2020). Furthermore, from an international perspective, Sweden and Finland were named as two of the global leading innovative countries in 2020 (Global Innovation Index, 2020), while at the same time being ranked amongst the top five most prosperous countries in the world (Legatum institute foundation, 2020). 


In this project, the KAS Nordic Countries project wants to explore the circumstances under which innovation for sustainable development can best emerge and be implemented, using examples from the Nordic countries, mainly focussing on Sweden and Finland. Thereby, we want to answer the question why innovation for sustainable development in the Nordics is so successful and what are the main challenges.


  • How is the innovation ecosystem in Finland and Sweden organized, how are the main stakeholders and how do they work together?
  • What are the political, financial and legal conditions under which innovation for sustainable development can emerge and be implemented? 
  • What are the biggest challenges that innovation for sustainable development faces in the Nordics?
  • What is needed in terms of political, financial and legal support to scale up and speed up the transition towards Sustainable Development through innovation?


Goal setting and concept

With this project we hope to stimulate the discussion about how innovation can foster sustainable development between the Nordics, Germany and other EU member stares. Explaining Nordic innovation policies and sustainable development initiatives, addressing experts as well as political and economic decision makers in the Nordic countries and Germany, the project’s overarching aim is to support international dialogue about current and future challenges in the pursuit of a strong, sustainable, innovative, and prosperous European Union of tomorrow - a carbon neutral continent.


The project will center on a written assessment about the current innovation ecosystem in Sweden and Finland that fosters sustainable development. Based on the identified opportunities and challenges, a network of decision makers and innovators from the public, science, business and public sector will be established to foster dialogue, mutual learning, and collaboration across borders.



Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung's guiding theme "Shaping.Democracy.Together" is supported by several thematic focus areas that the foundation will be dealing with intensively in the coming years: security, representation and participation, and  innovation. With this project, we hope to support the latter with examples and best practices from the Nordic countries, who in many ways lead by example towards a more sustainable Europe. 


Leonie Schiedek

Leonie Schiedek

Projektkoordinatorin für das Projekt "Innovation für Nachhaltige Entwicklung in den Nordischen Ländern" +46 (0) 8-611 7000
August 26, 2021
To the Online Event
September 11, 2021
Zoom and the KAS Nordics YouTube channel
To the Online Event