American corporate social responsibility expert and sustainable business consultant Susan McPherson visited Finnish Lapland and was impressed. Here in Lapland, sustainable development is seen as something that goes without saying.
Lapland currently has every opportunity to get involved in the globally rising trend of sustainable development. The easy-to-reach untouched nature and beauty, as well as fresh, clean air combined with entrepreneurs, authorities and residents committed to responsible business activities, are seen as Lapland’s greatest assets by world traveller and CSR consultant Susan McPherson.
In January, McPherson visited Lapland, hosted by Chairman of the Board Miia Porkkala of AhoGroup, House of Lapland and Visit Rovaniemi, and spent five days getting acquainted with local businesses. In Kuusamo, Ruka Mountain took her on a husky sleigh ride, ice swimming and to enjoy the Finnish sauna. In Posio, Anu Pentik showed McPherson her studio and farm in Timisjärvi and told her about her upcoming art exhibition. In Rovaniemi, she visited the playground manufacturer Lappset as well as the Arctic Treehouse Hotel and the Arctic SnowHotel. At the Arctic Circle, she got to meet Santa Claus and visit Santa Park.
McPherson was impressed by what she saw. Her trip to Lapland was one of her best and most memorable ones.
– It was great to learn so many new things about a place I had only been dreaming about. There’s a great sense of getting things done here.
The highlight of the trip was the people. McPherson was surprised by how open and hospitable Finnish people are, contrary to her preconceptions.
– The people were incredibly welcoming and proud of Lapland and what they do. They were definitely committed to what they were doing. I’ve traveled to numerous countries and I can honestly say that I’ve never had such a welcome anywhere else.
Strong women in the business sector
McPherson runs her own New York-based consulting business McPherson Strategies, which focuses on responsible business activities. She says that sustainable development and corporate responsibility will be obvious requirements in the future. It can be seen as both environmental and social responsibility.
– The young generation already knows to demand responsibility from the businesses whose services they use. They want to support businesses that make the right decisions from their point of view.
Gender equality is one part of responsibility. In Lapland, McPherson was pleasantly surprised by how many women were involved in the business sector. She was also delighted to see that successful women were often supported by a considerate husband and a tight family community.
– It’s great that Finnish society enables women to be successful as well. For example, the Pentik company founded by Anu Pentik in Posio is a major employer that also employs a considerable number of women, McPherson praises.
McPherson also noted how families often collaborate on business activities. In many of the businesses she visited, the whole family was involved in running the business one way or another. This contributes to businesses making responsible decisions.
Nordic design is well-known
In the US, Nordic design is an institution. According to McPherson, the best-known designers come from Denmark, but Marimekko also has a retail outlet in New York, for example. She believes that Finnish design could reach a higher level of demand on the East Coast.
– For example, the products by Pentik are very unique, so instead of the masses, they could generate more interest among a more niche audience that values hand-crafted products and individuality.
With the US market in mind, McPherson says that responsibility could be an important source of attraction for Lapland-based brands. Lapland has good conditions for that. All the businesses that McPherson visited during her trip to Lapland impressed her in that respect as well.
– Each and every one of these entrepreneurs stressed that responsibility and taking care of their own were a central part of their business activities. It’s like it was written in their DNA, an integral part of it, how they saw themselves as entrepreneurs. It should definitely be brought up when marketing outwards, McPherson says encouragingly.
Potential in tourism
The US is full of ski resorts, and the Canadian wilderness is not too far away. However, McPherson believes that the exotic Lapland interests American people as well. They see Finland as a different, somewhat mystical country in which nature is considered especially important.
Thus, McPherson believes that there is a particularly high tourism potential in Lapland.
– I think the entrepreneurs of Lapland don’t necessarily even understand yet how unique a product they have on their hands. Just the fact that the tap water is completely safe to drink anywhere is exotic to many foreigners. All the restaurants I ate at during my trip used ingredients that come from the local area. I even got to cook fish that I’d ice-fished myself. That’s unique!
McPherson says that businesses in the tourism industry should bring up responsibility and sustainable development in their marketing. She suspects that Finnish businesses may not see the significance of responsibility in its entirety, as for many, these things seem to go without saying.
McPherson sees the distances as a challenge for tourism in Lapland. From the United States’ perspective, Finland is far away.
– Nowadays, many people avoid long flights. Then again, Finnair is one of the world’s leading airline companies using renewable fuel, and known for its responsibility. That’s a clear strength Finnair has in this competitive industry.
Because of the long distances, McPherson sees Lapland as a destination especially for well-off people. However, you do not have to be particularly rich in order to make a trip to Lapland happen.
– I’d say that the greatest potential lies in couples aged 50‒70 with more time and money at their disposal. However, I think that skiing and snow-related activities in general interest families as well.
McPherson also hopes that special attention will be paid to mining companies’ operations in Lapland. Clean nature is something to be taken good care of.
Stories to remember
What does the world traveler from Brooklyn, New York find to be the most memorable thing about Lapland?
The welcoming people, as well as the incredible sky that was a feast for the eyes, day and night.
– The Northern lights as well as the sky changing from light pink to blue between sunrises and sunsets were breathtaking. I will also always remember the story about brides that I heard at a sauna in Kuusamo. According to the story, soon-to-be brides are given a sauna bath before the wedding, and they must run around the sauna building naked as many times as they’ve had lovers. What wonderful, crazy people you are!
Make responsibility an asset for your sustainable business
- Showcase your business’ responsibility at fairs and in your marketing
- Always favor local producers
- Make sure that your employees know the values of your business as well
- Utilize nature tourism in your business activities