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Attaining sustainability

By Richard Scrase, October 2008

© Nokia 2008

Research and development helps companies create more effective processes and products, increasing eco-efficiency at the same time.

A "clean technology" conference in Helsinki shows how Finland and its high-technology economy are taking the environment seriously. Government strategy and company implementation combine to give Finland an increasing reputation for cleantech.

Business and industry are often seen as detrimental to the environment because of their energy use, waste creation and demand for raw materials. Now businesses are dramatically improving productivity while also reducing pollution, encouraged in part by government regulation and consumer pressure.

How industry is meeting the challenges of eco-efficiency formed the subject of Cleantech Finland, a recent conference in Helsinki. The event also covered the role of government in enabling this process.

Kirsi Sormunen, vice president and head of environmental affairs at Finnish mobile communications giant Nokia, spoke at the conference. When asked what steps Nokia is taking to reduce energy use, she says:

"The energy embedded in our products has reduced over the years as we have made them lighter – from 4.8 kilograms for the Nokia Talkman back in 1984 to around 80 grams today. We have also increased the functions within one device so a modern phone can replace a phone, an MP3 player and a camera."

Changing behaviour

© Nokia 2008
Click to enlarge the picture
The energy needed to make a mobile phone has decreased over the years, and many of the materials can be recycled.

Sormunen adds, "We are also very conscious of how much energy is used by phone chargers, whether they are actually charging a phone or just left on. Our phones are becoming more efficient, from needing around 0.5 watts in 2000 to 0.3 watts today – and we aim to reduce this by half by 2010.

"But the biggest use of energy is when people leave their chargers on – about two-thirds do this, enough to power 100,000 European homes! We can try to change behaviour with our phones now telling their owners when they are full, but we have also redesigned our chargers so they only use a few percent of the power they used to when on standby."

And are these moves in response to government regulation? "Obviously regulation is one factor, but we aim to be ahead of regulatory requirements," Sormunen says.

Reducing footprints

© Metso Automation
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Machines such as Metso Automation’s PaperIQ Plus significantly reduce the materials and energy used when producing paper.

How can industry reduce its environmental footprint? Metso is an international technology corporation serving the paper, energy and raw materials industries. Pasi Laine, president of Metso Automation, tells me that Metso does not set specific targets for energy reduction, but rather has a continuous program of research aimed at making their own and their customers' production processes more efficient.

He sees international competition driving their company as much as government regulation, and names the example of Metso's world-leading biofuel boilers, which are designed to burn whatever wood waste is available.

A visit to Metso Automation's R&D facility in Tampere provides the chance to see these incremental improvements in more detail. Added together, they allow paper producers to reduce energy use by 25 percent. When newly made paper is being fed through rollers, for example, its thickness is one critical quality measure. Metso applies the same technology used in your CD player – reflected laser light – to measure thickness in real time, allowing better control of the process and saving up to 5 percent in energy and materials.

Richard Scrase is a science journalist based in London.

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