Modeling Green Economics: A Finnish Researcher Offers a New Tool for Assessing Environmental Impacts of Businesses Practices

By Tucker, Patrick | The Futurist, January-February 2014 | Go to article overview

Modeling Green Economics: A Finnish Researcher Offers a New Tool for Assessing Environmental Impacts of Businesses Practices


Tucker, Patrick, The Futurist


Some critics have argued that you can't protect the environment without hurting the most profitable sectors of the economy. New research suggests, however, that the sectors with the worst effects on the planet don't contribute as much to economic growth as had previously been thought.

Tuomas Mattila, an industrial ecologist and researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), took a deep dive into how the economic sectors of Finland interacted with ecosystems and with the climate. He found that Finland's worst industries, from the perspective of biodiversity loss, land use, and environmental stress (ecotoxicity), were energy production, logging, fishing, and farming. The commercial activities that added the most value to the economy were related to real estate, retail, and public services--and these had little environmental impact.

"It was surprising to note that the gross domestic product and ecological footprint are caused by different parts of the economy. It is often thought that reducing environmental impacts would strain the economy," Mattila says in a press release from SYKE.

More importantly, of the 23,000 different businesses, business practices, and other variables that Mattila examined for his study, only 0.3% were related to big carbon-dioxide emissions. The finding suggests that regulators and business leaders have room to reduce the environmental harms associated with a growing economy without hurting a significant number of business practices.

In their current form, some industries contribute too little economic benefit for the price they extol. For instance, while most would agree that people need wood products, Mattila found that Finland was producing too much wood for foreign buyers for too little profit. That's a problem, because more than 86% of the forest industries' C[O.sub.2] output in Finland comes from wood products created for exports.

"In the Finnish economy, the export industry consumes considerable amounts of energy and land area, but provides little value added. …

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