Three Finnish companies with solutions that make a healthier planet

Durat, Woodly and Sulapac are three Finnish companies that are responding to the global demand for ways to cut plastic use.

Woodly and Sulapac replace plastic packaging with wood-based materials, while Durat mixes a sizeable percentage of post-industrial recycled plastic into its product. Keep reading to see how they do it.

Sulapac aims for top brand profile

“Many Finnish companies are pioneers for sustainability,” says Suvi Haimi (left), who cofounded Sulapac together with Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo.Photo: Sulapac

Biochemists Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo and Suvi Haimi founded Sulapac in response to a startling revelation: if the tide of plastic waste in the world’s oceans cannot be turned, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

“We wanted to use our biomaterial expertise and start solving the global plastic waste problem,” says Haimi. “We set out to develop a new material made of wood and natural binders to replace traditional plastics.”

Rather than producing it in granule form, they launched it as a finished product. The aesthetic appeal of the Sulapac jar, now part of the company’s Nordic Collection, drew the attention of established cosmetic and luxury brands. That appeal derives from the strength, versatility and pleasing finish of the material, which is recyclable by industrial composting.

“Our products and material have gained a lot of recognition in terms of awards and media coverage, and we have been fortunate to collaborate with leading global brands such as Chanel and Stora Enso, which adds to our credibility,” says Haimi.

“Many Finnish companies are on the right track for sustainability, and there are true pioneers among them. We are proud to collaborate with some of the leading Finnish brands including Fazer, Berner, and Lumene to introduce new, sustainable solutions. Our vision is to make Sulapac the number one sustainable material that is a substitute for plastic.”
Sulapac

Woodly builds on carbon-neutral versatility

Woodly is a unique wood-based, transparent packaging material. Photo: Woodly

Here’s a simple ecological paradox: food waste is a growing global problem. One solution is to prolong the shelf life of the food with packaging made from oil-derived plastics, but this generates more CO2 emissions. Motivated by this dilemma, Woodly was created in 2011 to develop carbon neutral, recyclable film packaging solutions, under the umbrella of Finnish solutions agency Seedi. The signing in 2019 of a strategic agreement with Wipak, one of the world’s biggest flexible packaging companies, was a significant milestone in Woodly’s progress.

“Woodly is a very versatile and unique wood-based, transparent packaging material which can be used in various applications, in products or in packaging,” says CEO Jaakko Kaminen.

The prime aim is carbon neutrality, and Woodly’s recyclability is part of that, he says. Similar products are under development elsewhere, but Woodly’s scalability and versatility for combatting climate change are key assets that can set it apart.

“We are confident that we can successfully enter the market,” he says. “Our strategy is to communicate the material directly to the consumer. When the consumer recognises the Woodly brand, that will be the game changer.”
Woodly

Durat’s solid solution for waste

Durat’s Torni washbasins are made partly from waste.Photo: Durat

Durat’s solid surface product is partly made from waste − and totally recyclable.

The durability, strength and solidity of Durat set it apart from other plastic innovations.

“Durat was developed in the 1990s,” says CEO Heikki Karppinen. “The founders developed the material from scratch and used waste materials from local suppliers.”

He says it is the only solid surface product made with recycled plastic content.

“The waste material is post-industrial waste from local sources,” he explains.

“We process the waste, granulate and mix it with the Durat material. Using waste material not only gives a new life to waste plastic but reduces the need for virgin raw materials. We use about 30% of recycled content in the material and the product is itself 100% recyclable.”

Custom tabletops and vanity units are the main finished products, which can be found in restaurants, retail spaces, hotels and public bathrooms.

“We also supply sheets and sinks to be fabricated locally. The interest for recycled content materials has gone up dramatically in the last two or three years. We believe that in the next ten years or so, the whole construction and design industry will transform to a circular economy model.”
Durat

By Tim Bird, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2020

Hometown Helsinki holds special place in choreographer’s heart

Ima Iduozee started his career as breakdancer, winning the Finnish national championship three times. In 2016 he graduated from the Theatre Academy of Helsinki’s University of the Arts.

“Helsinki is my home,” he says. “I grew up here and forged my career here. My love for Helsinki stems from the feeling that it’s always nice to come back here.”

Iduozee spent his youth in the neighbourhoods of Maunula and Pitäjänmäki in the north end of Helsinki. Both districts had residents from all over the world. “It now feels like the whole city has gone through a cycle of change in a very short time,” says Iduozee. “There are many things to immerse yourself in, in terms of culture, arts and music.”

Ima Iduozee toured 15 countries with his debut work, This is the Title.

Finnish innovation fund Sitra lists the most important trends of the 2020s

Sitra, a Finnish fund focused on future-oriented study and research, provides the Megatrends 2020 list, an overview of the issues we should focus on in the coming years.

A megatrend is a general direction of development consisting of various phenomena and entailing widespread change. They often occur at the global level, and their development is often expected to continue in the same direction.

Sitra’s Megatrends 2020 update highlights five trends and the links and tensions between them:
  • Ecological reconstruction is a matter of urgency
  • Relational power is strengthening
  • The population is ageing and becoming increasingly diverse
  • The economy is seeking direction
  • Technology is becoming embedded in everything

 

Get your season tickets now – from a Finnish library

When Helsinki’s swanky and enormous new central library Oodi (the name means “ode”) opened at the end of 2018, it attracted as much international attention for the variety of its services and facilities as for its fabulous architecture.

Finnish people, while hugely proud of the new landmark, were not greatly surprised that the library concept now embraced sewing machines and 3D printers, available for use at Oodi.

Oodi is the most conspicuous example of Finnish libraries’ established tradition of widening the horizons for public lending. The newest imaginative loan option has been gaining momentum in and beyond the capital: season tickets for sporting and cultural events.

People who invest in season tickets, reserving the same seats for every game or concert of the season, sometimes lend them to friends or business contacts, but now you can borrow certain tickets from the library. For a week or two, you are a season ticket holder.

Seagulls lead the way

Helsinki Seagulls’ Trae Bell-Haynes (right) makes a break around Aatu Kivimäki of Vilpas, a club from the southwestern town of Salo, in Finland Cup action on January 25, 2020. The Seagulls won, 94–93.Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva

The concept was pioneered by Toni Leppänen, sports director of the Helsinki Seagulls basketball club, in autumn 2019. His initiative to make several season tickets to Seagulls matches available through the local library in the Töölö neighbourhood has caught on a big way. Now libraries throughout the capital and the rest of the country are making similar lending options available for all sorts of events.

“As far as I know, the cooperation between the Seagulls and Töölö Library was the first one of its kind,” says Rauha Maarno, secretary general of the Finnish Library Association. As far as she is aware, the concept of loaning season tickets is unique to Finland.

“It spread throughout Finland in a very organic way. People got excited and started thinking that this was something they could do locally.”

This democratisation of event access brings in spectators who normally wouldn’t, or couldn’t, spend money for tickets. And it’s also neighbourhood outreach for the teams – the season tickets are typically located at a library near the venue.

“The same kind of concept spread beyond sporting events to cultural events and concerts,” says Maarno. “I think it’s a really excellent innovation because it’s quite easy to make it happen. Libraries have the infrastructure to manage the season tickets and it’s easy to do anywhere in Finland.”

Ice hockey teams with tickets at libraries include JYP in Jyväskylä, Jokerit in Helsinki and both Tampere teams (Ilves and Tappara). In Vaasa you can borrow tickets to the hockey arena, the concert hall or the city theatre. Oodi’s collection includes the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Ahead of the game

The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra plays on the main stage at the Music Centre, across the plaza from the Oodi Library, where you can conveniently borrow season tickets to their concerts.Photo: Heikki Tuuli

The original debate about whether Finnish libraries should expand their offerings beyond the customary books, music and films was settled long ago, at the beginning of the millennium. The surprising catalogue of items already available to borrowers at various libraries ranges from electric drills and snowshoes to garden equipment and a rowboat (stowed at the nearest beach, rather than on a bookshelf).

It also helps that Finnish law requires every municipality to be equipped with a public library. Some areas might face demographic challenges, such as falling tax revenues in ageing rural communities, but imaginative developments can help maintain the healthy 60-percent library usage rate recorded across the country.

“Finnish libraries are known for being ahead of the game, innovating and trying out new ideas,” says Maarno. “Librarians are very open; they want to develop services and are good at adapting to new ideas. There might be times when the libraries are short-staffed, so then there might be challenges, but I think the season ticket service is quite easy to offer.”

By Tim Bird, January 2020

“Only in Finland”: A story of banknotes, post-it notes and social media posts

It’s strangely fitting that this story happened at a company that handles online advertising, because it seems to be a case of social media visibility springing up organically, without preplanning or algorithms.

It all started with a cleaner at Smartly.io, a Helsinki-based international company that optimises online advertising for brands in many different industries.

In late January 2020, the cleaner found a five-euro bill on the floor and left in on a table with a blue post-it note that read, “Found under the table. Cleaner.” That set off a chain of responses that stretched over several days.

A Smartly employee returning to work later stuck a yellow post-it below the blue one: “I guess this is your tip now. You deserve it!” Another colleague added a separate note: “Fully agree!” Smartly has both Finnish and foreign employees, so the exchange took place in English.

“Thanks guys but I can’t accept it! :-),” wrote the cleaner, who works for a company called Laatutakuu (which means “quality guarantee”). By this time people from Smartly were posting pictures of the exchange on their social media channels. (I noticed it in the Facebook feed of a friend who works at Smartly.)

Nobility and charity

Banknotes and post-it notes on a table at Smartly.io

Within several days, post-it notes and banknotes covered the table. In the end, the employees decided to donate the money to charity.Photo courtesy of Smartly.io

A comment appeared under my friend’s Facebook post: “#onlyinfinland”. Finland recently placed first in an assessment of how much people in EU nations trust their fellow citizens. In addition, the Corruption Perceptions Index has repeatedly named Finland one of the least corrupt countries in the world.

Back at the Smartly office, though, things were just getting started. The chain of post-it notes remained on the table and grew longer.

“If we purchase a small gift would you accept that?” someone asked. To which the cleaner responded, “I already got my gift through your appreciation. Thank you very much indeed!”

A few notes down the chain, another five-euro note appeared, held down by a post-it that said, “Someone on social media saw a post [of] this thread and wanted to double the pot.” With the following note, the direction changed: “We should donate this money to a charity! Cleaner, which charity?”

The thread continues

Collection jar that says "Put your money here."

A collection jar appeared on the table with a note that said, “Put your money here.”Photo courtesy of Smartly.io

The next person to write a note suggested Kympin Lapset, a non-profit that supports children who have cancer, and their families. The cleaner herself then contributed five euros. Several more donations appeared, five- and ten-euro bills, followed by an orange post-it reading, “You can donate via MobilePay too to Kympin Lapset. I did it already!”

Off to the side, a new blue post-it appeared: “Case closed! :-)”

Not quite: An ecosystem was developing around the notes. Last time we checked, a collection jar had materialised, with a yellow post-it encouraging people to “Put your money here.” There were already several banknotes in the jar.

By Peter Marten, January 2020

Finnish city of Tampere declares itself sauna capital of the world

Whether you’re an active sauna-goer or a newbie interested in experiencing authentic Finnish sauna culture, Tampere is the place to go. This city in central western Finland is the sauna capital of the world.

The historic gem is the Rajaportti sauna – the oldest public sauna still operating in Finland. It’s located in the old working-class district of ​​Pispala, and its roots date back to 1906.

If you’re looking for a lakefront sauna, head for the legendary Rauhaniemi or Kaupinoja saunas. Both offer the opportunity to go for a swim, too – even in the winter, if you have the guts (or sisu, as Finnish people call it) to take a dip in ice-cold water.

Kaukajärvi is a lake just outside Tampere with a beach and a sauna, and the cleanest water in the whole Pirkanmaa region. Suomensaari, a sauna in the Lielahti district, is renowned for its feisty heat and friendly service.

Tohloppi and Hervanta, also just outside of town, offer unique experiences at delightful lakeside locations. The former is a barrel-shaped portable cottage. At Sauna Restaurant Kuuma (kuuma means “hot”), visitors can enjoy a sauna and some good food, and even take a dip in the lake all year round.

In Tampere, every day is a sauna day.

Genome research in Finland is cracking the code

Professor Mark Daly, director of the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), sees the big picture. He believes Finnish health technology is well positioned to make its mark in international markets.

“Finland has a strong history in technology development and investment,” Mark Daly says. “What’s more, you already have the right legal structure. This is often a prerequisite for scientific breakthroughs in our field.”

Daly knows a thing or ten about the frontiers of scientific research and innovation. During his 20-year career he has made major contributions to human genetics and genomics. A couple years ago, after long and productive periods at Harvard Medical School and, most recently, at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, he decided to head north and push the boundaries of genetic research. He arrived at FIMM in February 2018.

What can the University of Helsinki offer that MIT and Harvard can’t?

“When you look at things such as technology, resources and brain power, you can’t beat the Boston area,” he says. “But there is a research ecosystem here in Finland that simply does not exist in the US.”

The North remembers

Aarno Palotie, research director of the human genomics project at FIMM, is also scientific director of the FinnGen project.Photo: Linda Tammisto/FIMM

Daly marvels at Finland’s comprehensive national healthcare system, which not only collects information on patients and archives the data, but also exists in a legal framework that allows the data to be utilised in research. “Outside of the Nordic countries, this just can’t be done,” he says.

The strength of Finland’s biobank legislation is its empowering, innovation-positive framework that, at the same time, contains multiple protective mechanisms to make sure everything is done in an ethically and legally correct way. It is safe for biobank customers to deal with the Finns. The rights and self-determination of people who provide samples are respected.

Daly describes the Finns as pro-science, with enough trust in the authorities to make all this a reality. He also praises legislators for passing forward-looking laws. Finnish biobank laws are very progressive and support the scientific cause, he says.

The recently initiated FinnGen research project rises from that ecosystem. FinnGen integrates genomic and medical registry information from 500,000 individuals in all, about 10 percent of the Finnish population. Daly calls FinnGen one of the foremost biobank genetics projects in the world.

“A project such as FinnGen is only possible in very few places,” he says.

Daly is also impressed by the government’s decision to establish a full-blown genome centre to boost the development of personalised medicine and public health: “Finland is ideally set up to launch a genome centre and to be at the forefront of defining responsible and impactful clinical use of genome information.”

This means that Finnish research can really make a difference – around the world.

Treasures of the deep

“A project such as FinnGen is only possible in very few places,” says Mark Daly.Photo: Samuli Skantsi

When you start data mining in the genomic vaults – using AI tools, for instance – there’s no telling what solutions you may uncover. “There are tremendous opportunities to boost national healthcare, starting with better means to predict disease,” says Daly.

He perceives a variety of ways in which partnership with the Finnish population can advance research and industry in a world-leading way. By the same token, Finnish people will be the first to receive the medical benefits of genome information in clinical settings. This knowledge will then cascade into other countries, too.

Daly envisions FIMM as the “pre-eminent institution in human genetics in Europe,” spurred on by the partnership between the University of Helsinki and Broad Institute, as well as the Nordic EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) Partnership in Molecular Medicine.

“Working through these partnerships, there will be an outstanding opportunity for FIMM, and research throughout Finland, in the coming years,” Daly says. FIMM is poised to make a big splash in the scientific world, being powered by – in part – its multicultural research teams, which combine expertise from various parts of the planet.

Superstar power

For the Finnish genetics field, having Daly on board is equivalent to a Helsinki basketball team adding LeBron James to their roster. Daly has, for instance, made seminal discoveries in understanding the structure of the human genome and developing software tools to analyse the impact of genetic variations on various diseases. He’s also the most cited scientist in Finland, with over 130,000 citations under his belt.

To Daly’s mind, people should not suffer needlessly when there are cures and better treatments just around the corner.

“We can take the first steps towards a longer, healthier life right here in Helsinki,” he says. And while science is not a 100-metre dash, some results should be visible in just a few years.

“By the mid-2020s, we will have concrete solutions allowing us to [notice] disease and intervene early.”

By Sami Anteroinen, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2020