Attendees at the Nordic Circular Summit from Nordic Innovation, Nordic Circular Hotspot, Regeneration 2030 and DTU Skylab standing together smiling at the camera with a sunny copenhagen in the background.

Nordic Circular Summit 2021: "Collaboration is Key to Circularity”

Last week the second edition of the Nordic Circular Summit was held in Copenhagen. During the four days, over 150 speakers representing a range of organizations participated. Together with Nordic Circular Hotspot, we hosted 36 sessions, with participants from all over the Nordics and the rest of the world, who have taken part in engaging discussions, shared knowledge insights, and have presented a bunch of great ideas and learnings.

“The circular economy is an instrument and a new logic for businesses to remain competitive and survive. We support the Nordic Circular Summit because it brings together so many different actors across different themes in the Nordics”

– Svein Berg, Managing Director of Nordic Innovation

The first Nordic Circular Summit was held last year in collaboration with Nordic Circular Hotspot, aimed at helping SMEs to understand and utilize the value of a circular economy. Nordic Innovation's main task is to help make the Nordics a pioneering region for sustainable growth. We have worked with circular economy since 2018 and the Nordic Circular Summit is an important effort towards fulfilling that task.

Facts about the Nordic Circular Summit 2021

The Nordic Circular Summit is co-hosted by Nordic Circular Hotspot and Nordic Innovation
Regeneration 2030 and Cataly(c)st were official partners at the summit
More than 1400 people participated in the summit online
80 countries were represented at the summit (50% from the Nordic region)
Around 150 speakers spoke at the sessions
32 sessions were executed during the summit

The Nordic countries combined are a strong force and would be equal to a G20 country in size. We have the power to affect real change on the environment by reducing our footprint and we can act as a beacon for other countries and regions to follow. By committing to a future Nordic circular economy, we support the Nordic prime ministers’ vision that the Nordic region will become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030.

“[…] the Nordics could reduce emissions from imported materials and products by 20-30 million tons of CO2 per year by 2050 by taking circularity actions. […] That is more than the potential of our own territorial emissions which can be reduced by 10-20 million tons through circularity actions”

– Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, in the opening speech at the Nordic Circular Summit

We need to work together to create real change for our environment. The success of last year’s summit allowed us to organize a second edition this year, to maintain momentum and get even more people involved in the circular future of the Nordic region.  If we are to reach any climate goals, we need to work together – and with the Nordic Circular Summit, we have a platform to do just that.

“Circularity is key to sustainability. And collaboration is key to circularity”

- Einar Kleppe Holthe, Managing Partner in Nordic circular Hotspot

To ensure that we have dialogue and cooperation across generations, youth organizations ReGeneration 2030 and the Nordic CATALY(C)ST project managed by DTU Skylab were official Nordic Circular Summit partners. The Nordic Circular Summit shines a spotlight on the circular opportunities in the Nordic region and is a great platform for key players to connect, and for ideas and opinions to be shared.  

“Different approaches are the key to make circular economy a concrete tool for everyone to combat climate change and demonstrate that circular business models are the business logic for growth”

– Hanna Törmänen, Innovation Advisor, Nordic Innovation

The following issues and topics play a key role in several parts of Nordic Innovation’s work with circular economy:

Action plan: Circular Business Models

Mapping: Data sharing for a Circular Economy in the Nordics

Project: NSRS - Nordic Standard Sustainability Reporting for SMEs

Sustainability reporting SMEs – The importance demonstrating business value

On day two of the main sessions, Nordic Innovation dove into the new Nordic Sustainability Reporting Standard. We heard from one of the project partners from Accounting Norway about the standard, but also from the Danish Business Authority and their work with measuring companies CO2 footprint, as well as the European Investment Bank who shared the importance for sustainability reporting in investments.

Why do we have sustainability reporting? And what are the challenges, opportunities, and tools?

Sustainability reporting will be important for all businesses in the future. If you’re going to talk the talk, you will have to be able to show that you can also walk the walk. Yet there are some challenges to getting started. Businesses need to get a better understanding of WHY and HOW. While sustainability reporting may seem like a less attractive task, it can have significant financial value for the business and enable you to be at the forefront to meet future reporting requirements.


Businesses and their stakeholders, including board members and supply chains, need to get a better understanding of why sustainability reporting is so important: both in terms of accountability and profitability. Through sustainability reporting, it will also be easier to understand and demonstrate the value of a circular business model. Top management and board members can play an important role in driving the shift towards more circular business practices – we need to show them why it matters.


Where do you even start? Reporting can be challenging for SMEs. We need to find ways of making it easier for them to get started and keep going. Tools and standards to aid sustainability reporting are being developed and shared. Including: the Nordic Sustainability Reporting Standard, developed by Accounting Norway, Taloushallintoliitto (TAL) and Srf Konsulterna with co-funding from Nordic Innovation.

Danish companies can use the The Danish Climate Compass, developed by Danish Business Authority to calculate their CO2 footprint. There are a lot of other national tools as well. Nordic Innovation has also developed the Nordic Circular Economy Playbook, to enable businesses to achieve circular advantages, by learning how to get started with a circular business model. Tools and standards like these can help SMEs get started with their sustainability reporting.

Participants in Sustainability Reporting and Financing for SMEs

• Liselotte Engstam, Chair of Board, Boards Impact Forum
• Anna-Leena Asikainen, Economist, European Investment Bank
• Hans Christian Ellefsen, Head of Technology and Innovation, Accounting Norway
• Markus Bjerre, Special Advisor, Danish Business Authority
• Arnt Otnes, CEO, SIFA
• Hanna Törmänen, Innovation Adviser, Nordic Innovation
• Moderated by: Bjarni Herrera, Head of Sustainability, KPMG Iceland

Technology as an enabler for a circular economy

Our recently published Data Sharing for a Circular Economy in the Nordics mapping looks at the value of and the barriers to data sharing in the circular economy. From the mapping, carried out by Accenture, we used key findings to discuss technology in the circular economy at the Circular Economy and Digitalisation session held by the Lifestyle and Design Cluster.

Technology is essential tool to achieving a circular transition. It makes it easier for companies and consumers to make smart and sustainable choices, and additional value can be created with data sharing and a circular business model. Technology can also be seen as an enabler of the circular economy agenda.

We can leverage digital solutions to drive sustainability. Through data sharing across the value chain, we can get new insights to improve efficient use of resources. However, currently, data sharing in the Nordics is characterized by data sharing internally in the company or between a few trusted actors in the value chain. This needs to change.

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Image: Andreas Raun Photography.

We need to fix the trust and sharing culture in the Nordics so that the data needed to improve sustainability is available and shared. The Nordic region has a highly digital population. So, the potential value of data sharing is especially high. Yet, the current situation is overall characterized by low maturity.

Rapid development of new technologies is a game changer for circular business models. But the technologies are underpinned by the ability to share and utilize data. By learning the value of sharing data, the Nordic countries can achieve more sustainable circular solutions and as such, achieve a competitive advantage.

Key findings from Data Sharing for a circular economy in the Nordics

The value of data sharing
- reduction of costs
- improvement of brand image
- reduction of risk
- increase in revenue

The barriers: There are four different groups of barriers to data sharing in the circular economy:
Value case
- Lack understanding of holistic value
- Lack willingness to invest based on current incentives
- Lack clear legislation
- Lack incentivizing legislation
- Presence of inhibiting legislation
- Siloed data bases
- Lack data interoperability
- Poor data quality
- Data security and privacy challenges
Knowledge/culture based
- Lack knowledge of circular economy and data sharing
- Skepticism towards data sharing and lack of trust

Participants in Circular Economy and Digitalisation

• Louise Koch, Global Social Impact Sales Strategy & Customer Engagement, Dell Technologies
• Dr. Julia Wolny, Professor, EADA Business School Barcelona & Founder, New Way Smart Things
• Jyri Arponen, Project Director, the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra
• Niina Aagaard, COO, Nordic Innovation

Battling the barriers for sustainable change in the Nordics

Together with our co-host Nordic Circular Hotspot, we closed the second Nordic Circular Summit with the Battling Barriers for Sustainable Change session. During the session we summed up the key takeaways from the four summit-days, and we had a panel with partner-representatives from the two youth organizations, where they shared what they found to be key in accelerating the sustainable shift towards a circular economy.

We face a number of barriers to sustainable change. But that does not mean it’s impossible. The Nordic region needs to work on battling these barriers and take advantage of the opportunities that lie in a circular economy. By doing this, we will gain a competitive advantage and become a leading example for other businesses and regions.

What are the current barriers and how do we overcome them? The key word here is CHANGE.

Image: Andreas Raun Photography

If we want a more sustainable future, then something needs to change. But change hurts. Several barriers are hindering or slowing the shift towards more circular and sustainable societies.

Participants in the closing session

The Japanese Model of Positive Degrowth
Jesper Koll, Okinawa Institute for Science and Technology

The Pros and Cons of Democracy in the Need of Sudden Changes
Karolina Olofsson, The Oslo Centre

Remembering Where we Have Come From
Carol Anne Hilton, Indigenomics Institute
Panel Comments: Thina Margrethe Saltvedt, Nordea

2nd Round Panel Debate: A Call to Action from the Youth
Jia Johannes Chen, Jia Johannes Chen Studio
Floris van der Marel, Aalto Design Factory
Ugnė Budriūnaitė, ReGeneration 2030
Adelina Laura Burlacu, ReGeneration 2030

How do we battle the barriers?

We need to revise how we think about growth in the economic context. It is not just about growth in terms of getting more or bigger. Growth cannot come at the expense of our environment. If we are going to succeed with a circular economy, then we need to work together, across sectors and across markets. We need to scale up the market and get out of our silos.

“I am not saying it is all it takes to get there, but the Nordic region has a common vision to work towards, as well as a Nordic action plan with common Nordic activities and goals”

– Marthe Haugland, Senior Innovation Adviser at Nordic Innovation

Nordic Innovation is implementing one pillar of the Nordic action plan on circular economy, especially focusing on diverse strategies for increased uptake on circular business models by businesses and organizations. This is in addition to the national strategies and action plans. The Nordic action plan is carried out at Nordic Innovation through the Circular Business Models program.

Read more about Nordic Innovation’s work with the circular economy

We look forward to repeating this year’s success in Stockholm in 2022.  


Portrait Marthe Haugland

Marthe Haugland

Senior Innovation Adviser
Marthe combines her international experience with her knowledge of business development and innovation to promote Nordic cooperation within the circular economy. She belives Nordic cooperation can drive the systemic change and give Nordic companies a competitive edge going forward.

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Hanna Törmänen

Hanna Törmänen

Innovation Adviser
Hanna has background in Nordic and international exports, public-private cooperation, project management and market analysis. Her focus at Nordic Innovation is to support Nordic businesses and ecosystems in their transition towards sustainable and circular business models.