Bringing Clean Technology to Russia
- By Alexander Teddy
- Mar. 17 2010 00:00
"Russian cities are now eager to renovate waste management. This needs significant investments, experience and expertise," said Pekko Kohonen, development director for Finland's Lassila & Tikanoja. "It's important to start building up environmental management for sustainable development right from the start."
L&T, a specialist environmental and waste management company, operates in a number of Russian towns, such as the science city Dubna, where it recently began the construction of a sorting and recycling center that will be able to process 30,000 tons of material per year. Its projects range from the sublime, such as ecological housing management, to the rudimentary — namely bio-toilets.
The company has growing operations in Russia, with international sales to the tune of 606 million euros ($891 million), and is one of a number of Finnish firms increasing the inflow of environmentally friendly technology into Russia via its Nordic window.
"Finland has some of the world's leading companies in environmental technology, especially forestry protection," said Timo Leinonen, a spokesman at the Finnish embassy in Moscow. Indeed, he estimated the investment plans by Finnish forestry firms into Russia to total one billion euros, although some of that will have to be postponed as the economic crisis bites.
Examples of the green-clean-Finnish move into Russia are visible on subtler levels. Finnair's vice president for sustainable development, Kati Ihamaki, described how her company's airplanes will make "step by step" descents to save on fuel. "What is more, 90 percent of the ecological footprint of the airline comes from the engines, so it's really important to keep your fleet new. Which we do." Finnair flies to Russia, but also to Asian destinations, crossing Siberia, where, she said, "the tundra is melting".
"We've even been talking to Airbus to have some kind of sensors on planes to monitor Siberian air quality. It's a complex phenomenon, something I'd like to do more of," Ihamaki said. And other Finnish companies, such as Nokia and Nokia Siemens, are keen to keep tabs on their emissions and footprint, keeping in close contact with the airline and its monitoring processes, she said.
Finland has a dedicated forum for the distribution of its "Clean Tech Cluster" companies into foreign markets, with Russia being a key destination. As part of the initiative, the Lahti Science and Business Park is responsible for directing clean tech firms to Russia, where Lahti has an office in St. Petersburg, a hotspot for Finnish clean technological innovation. Such innovation is suitably illustrated by the 20-year modernization project of St. Petersburg's Vodokanal.
Vodokanal is the state firm in St. Petersburg responsible for cleaning and supply water and sewage systems to the city. Virpi Suonien of the Russo-Finnish Chamber of Commerce singled out the project as one of the "strongest examples of Finnish participation in Russia's green technological sphere". The joint-venture project, which from the Finnish perspective was kick-started in June by the Cleantech Finland for Russia group, will see the city's canalization equipment and cleaning facilities overhauled by a consortium of Finnish help.
Elena Eybshits, from the Finnish Institute for International Trade, which has conducted surveys on Finnish business in Russia, said that this "wave" of clean technology is encouraging, but that firms need to do their homework. "Finnish companies looking to operate their technological businesses here [in Russia] must use clear terms, find appropriate partners and they need to look very carefully at the laws. Russia is still not quite like Finland, which means that companies, even those with specific new technologies, need to work by local standards. Those standards are not necessarily inferior, but different."
And yet not all Finnish companies in Russia appear preoccupied by the application of clean technology to their operations — even those working closely with the natural world.
"We haven't seen much progress on that [the clean technology] front," said Kali Puustinen, sales manager for sawmills at Finnish firm,Jartek. "There is a very good record for this in Finland, of course, but not so much here," he said. "Nevertheless, our timber production helps Russia on one, straightforward environmental level — people build houses out of timber and not synthetic materials. And, besides, emissions are not so vital in saw milling."
Finland's forestry industry has a good record in Russia, and there have been plenty of initiatives taken since the collapse of the Soviet Union to help the industry's record for sustainability, such as the bilateral program on developing sustainable forest management and conservation of biological diversity in Russia's northwest, begun as far back as 1997.
So, while the Russian state pushes hard on local technological innovation, as can be seen with the formation of giant holdings Rostekhnologii and Rusnano, the Finns seem as helpful as anyone in contributing to the cleanliness of new technologies appearing in this huge territory.