Annual report

The year 2021 was successful for the Finnish Environment Institute’s operations

In 2021 under a new Director General and assisted by all members of personnel, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE reviewed and clarified its strategy. The new vision for 2030 bears the title ”Sustainability Transformation”. The strategy review was carried out in dialogue with stakeholders. New channels were used to communicate about the clarified strategy. Videos of the strategy were shared on social media. The concept of sustainability transformation was explained in a Policy Brief publication, of which a video was also produced.

The sustainability transformation requires going beyond individual environmental problems to achieve society-wide, systemic change with the help of research-based technological, social and administrative innovations. Climate change and biodiversity loss are systemic challenges, and solving them requires fossil-free energy production and mobility, a safe circular economy, changes in the food system and new incentives. SYKE's expertise in the sustainability transformation is based on socially influential research projects and studies in which public administration, businesses and other users of data have a central role both as research subjects and as partners in producing data.

Schulman_Leif_20210115_5158_Kai_Widell.jpg
Director General Leif Schulman. © Kai Widell

In 2021, Finland and the world invested in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which resurfaced the challenges and urgency of reconciling economic growth and sustainable development. In Finland, recovery funding was channelled to research and business. At the same time, criteria were developed to ensure that the funding would be targeted to sustainable activities. SYKE was involved in several sustainable finance assessment projects and processes. SYKE was also successful in calls for applications for funding instruments that emphasised sustainability. EU policy for a fair green transition and sustainable growth in accordance with Finland's Government Programme server as key guidelines for new incentives and instruments.

The year 2021 also saw municipal elections held in Finland and significant legislative and strategic processes promoting sustainability. The need for sustainability transformation was highlighted, and public discourse over the issue intensified. Themes raised also included environmental risks, climate anxiety and the fairness of the sustainability transformation. SYKE participates in these discussions on the basis of research and in its work as an expert organisation.

Multidisciplinary research helps us understand society-wide developments and anticipate changes in them. SYKE's research on the sustainability transformation is extensive and internationally recognised. SYKE Research Professor Paula Kivimaa, who has studied energy and mobility transitions and incentives influencing the sustainability transformation, is among the most cited researchers in her field (Clarivate Analytics, Highly Cited Researchers).

Demand for environmental expertise reflected in our work

The year 2021 was successful for the Institute’s operations. Significant demand for sustainable solutions and environmental expertise was reflected in the scope of SYKE’s operations, and our number of personnel increased significantly. As the pandemic dragged on, we continued our work remotely. Although remote work also puts strain on employees, challenges schedules and lowers the cohesion of the work community, the commitment of our personnel was retained and the number of sick days remained low. We developed our new employee onboarding process and invested in bringing new employees as part of the work community despite the challenges posed by the remote work arrangements.

SYKE’s performance agreement with the Ministry of the Environment, which steers our operations, was revised for the years 2022–2023. Strategic performance targets for hydrology activities under the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry were set back in early 2017. SYKE has been very successful in achieving its targets.

During the year, SYKE actively participated in discourse about current affairs, especially through blog posts. New communication channels used also included podcasts, videos and recordings of events that were shared on social media platforms to reach a wide audience. This way, research-based expertise can be shared with the broader society in more ways than before. This was seen, for example, as fewer articles aimed at professionals even as the total number of publications remained unchanged. The number of peer-reviewed scientific articles published by SYKE employees grew slightly, which shows an increase in our scientific impact.

SYKE conducts research and expert work in a wide range of joint projects and disseminates their results. Many of our project partners are also members of Finnish and European networks that are important to SYKE. Through our partnerships, we are able to develop our expertise as well as predict the future, carry out advocacy work on a broad range of issues and serve public administration and various actors in society. Our most important partners are the members of the cooperation body of Finnish government institutes Tulanet, Partnership for European Environmental Research (PEER), European Network of the Heads of Environment Protection Agencies (EPA Network), Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network (ALTER-Net) and European Network of Freshwater Research Organisations (EurAqua). SYKE chaired EurAqua 2020–2021 and will begin leading the European Topic Centre on Sustainability Transitions in 2022. SYKE's research infrastructures are also built and available in large-scale and long-term networks.

Positives and negatives in financial development

Funding for operating expenses granted directly to SYKE through the government budget remained at the same level as in previous years, but the amount of external funding grew by more than 8% from 2020. This shows our success in applying for R&D funding in particular. The Academy of Finland's decisions on research infrastructure funding, which came at the end of the year, were also a success.

Despite the successes, financial risks have increased. The outputs of our activities are generated mainly in projects. In 2021, we had a total of some 1,000 projects underway. Together with their preceding projects, they form a significant continuum in various research areas. Any reduction in the amount of external funding would quickly have negative effects on SYKE’s operations and impact. On the other hand, it is difficult for SYKE to grow its operations to meet demand on external financing alone. The limits of growth are reached if funding for operating expenses remains at the same level as most projects also require self-financing.

SYKE’s operating financing
SYKE’s operating financing 1996–2021 © SYKE

Towards accessible and user-friendly research-based data

Building a strong core of environmental research and expert work is all the more important as environmental issues increasingly cut across all areas of society. Promoting green growth and improvements in systemic sustainability touches all aspects of society and requires the participation of all sectors. Under these conditions, we need research-based quality assurance and innovation, ambitious development of competence and strategic leadership. In accordance with its statutory mandate, SYKE's mission is to influence the development of a sustainable society through research, knowledge and services. Now more than ever, our mission is urgent.

In particular, demand for practical applications of complex environmental data is increasing. Climate change incentives and roadmaps have shown businesses and other economic operators that impacts can be reduced by including CO2 emissions and carbon balance as part of financial targets and reporting. This has also created expectations for the inclusion of mass balance, nutrient balance and impacts on nature in particular in assessments of financing, industries, businesses and products. In the future, SYKE will invest in efforts to ensure the knowledge base of various operational balance metrics and in developing new applications.

In 2022, SYKE will continue reforming its operations based on the revised strategy made in 2021. Our organisation will be restructured according to our strategy and in order to respond to the demands of the changing operating environment. Our goal is to provide condensed, easy-to-understand messages and a positive vision of the future from our multichannel advocacy work to encourage us all in the challenge to achieve the sustainability transformation.

More information:

Published 2020-03-09 at 16:36, updated 2022-10-14 at 15:11