Top navigation

CSR in the Nordics – a head start by default

Nordic Ministers in a panel debate on CSR
  • Published 24/10/2012
Nordic companies are overrepresented in international corporate social responsibility (CSR) rankings, and the Nordic countries are on top of the index of CSR performance, said Maria Gjølberg at the Nordic CSR conference in Trondheim.

- Nordic businesses have showed themselves as pioneers in CSR, says Gjølberg, Det Norske Veritas, based on her PhD study.


The starting point for CSR in the Nordics seems to be remarkably good. Why is this so?


- It is like a part of the Nordic DNA. This is why so many companies are addressing it voluntarily, says Kia Louise Klavenes from the Social Business Company.


What is then this DNA, this common platform for the Nordic countries? The Nordic welfare model is a good starting point, as stated by the Norwegian Minister for Trade and Industry, Trond Giske, in his opening speech at the conference.


- Many elements of CSR are at the core of the Nordic welfare model, such as decent work, gender equality, involvement and social dialogue. This together with a tripartite dialogue between workers’ unions, employers’ organizations and the government are key success factors for creating an enabling environment for working with CSR.


Maria Gjølberg also highlighted that the Nordic countries are small, open economies highly dependent on their export to the world market – and together with a strong commitment to international institutions like the UN and OECD, these are some reasons for the high achievements within CSR.


Competitive advantage?

The standard is high, but are there any differences between the countries? According to Gjølberg’s study there are traditionally two lines of government approaches to CSR in the Nordics. Norway and Sweden see CSR as global governance. The Foreign Ministry has the lead, and the focus is on humanitarian programs abroad, while Finland and Denmark promote CSR as a business policy to boost innovation and competitiveness. Today there is an ongoing shift in Norway and Sweden in the same direction as Denmark and Finland.


- It’s a competitive advantage to focus on these issues, and companies are expected to deal with them, says the Swedish Minister for Enterprise, Annie Lööf, during a panel debate.


The Nordic countries have recently launched a joint strategy for CSR, as a part of a Nordic co-operation program for innovation and business policy. The overall objective of the strategy is to strengthen the long-term sustainable competitiveness of the Nordic business community and to support Nordic co-ordination internationally in relation to CSR.


- The strategy begins with the vision that social, environmental and ethical concerns as a part of business operation will become mainstream practice, says Rune Gottlieb Skovgaard from the Danish Business Authority who presented the strategy at the conference.


Why CSR?

According to Gjølberg’s study the motivating factors for CSR engagement are primarily reputation, brand awareness, competitiveness and risk management. It is triggered by long tradition, good business opportunities and pressure from the stakeholders.


Setting policies and macro perspectives to the side – to really understand CSR we need to dig into the companies that actually carry out the work.


The Finnish company Durat has a 30-year long history as an ecologically responsible company.


- CSR is embedded in everything that we do, as we recycle post-industrial waste and make it into something useful and beautiful, says Heikki Karppinen, COO at Durat.


In Durat’s portfolio are among others sinks and bathtubs made of post-industrial waste, and their vision is to be able to reuse as much as possible of their own products.


- If a hotel wants to renovate a room we want to be able to take our products back and recycle them. Then they will be long-lasting, or virtually everlasting, said Karppinen.



Responsible for customers

Durat has found a way to make money at the same time as being responsible, but for other companies without an ecological product – can CSR still be profitable? Lena Hök, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Skandia, states that this depends on how CSR is run.


- Some things are financially profitable for us, others are not. The most important thing for us is that it brings an advantage to our customers, says Hök.


The Swedish engineering company Trelleborg says that they sell more products if they do it in the right why. This is why they have developed their own CSR program called the Blue dimension, with the goal to create shared valued with their customers and employees.


- For example we produce offset printing pads with a lower friction, which saves 20 % of the energy use for our customers, said Rosman Jahja, Communication Manager at Trelleborg.


The advice Maria Gjølberg wants to give to Nordic companies is to make the most of their Nordic heritage on an international level.


- This gives them a head start by default, due to the strict standards within health, service and environment, their strong skills in the dialogue with employees and other stakeholders and the fact that they already are adapted to high expectations in their home market, she says.