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Discreetly on behalf of nature

A general foundation can also be a significant funder of environmental work. Over the past three years, approximately a quarter of the grants, €30 million in all, awarded by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation have been allocated to projects for a more sustainable future.

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Henri Kähönen

nainen istuu korkealla kalliolla kauniin metsä- ja järvimaiseman äärellä

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In April, representatives of twelve Finnish foundations and the Academy of Finland convened at Puistokatu 4 – a Space for Science and Hope for the first peer network of environmental funders.

Nature and climate are for good reason focus areas for many foundations’ grant activities. Many organisations attending the event are actively focusing on tackling the problem of a sustainable future.

So-called general foundations also play a significant, though often discreet, role in enabling new solutions.

€30 million for the benefit of nature and the climate

The primary purpose of the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation is to promote and support research and teaching in the fields of technology, economics and medicine. We also promote arts and culture, as well as “sports and physical education and well-being”.

The Foundation’s bylaws make no mention of nature or climate. Nor have we carried out targeted calls for grant applications specifically for projects related to nature or climate.

Despite this, a quarter of our €123 million grants in 2021-23 were allocated to research projects aimed at a sustainable future.

For a Finnish foundation, we are a fairly significant funder of environmental work. How is this possible?

Firstly, we also award grants for research in other sciences when it enables and supports research in the fields set out in our bylaws, namely technology, medicine or economics.

That is why natural sciences in particular have accounted for a significant share of our grants year after year. It is difficult to imagine cutting-edge research in technology or medicine without high-calibre basic research in the natural sciences.

Secondly, the link between nature and climate and the Foundation’s focus areas is growing increasingly stronger, and this is reflected in the applications submitted to our Foundation. An increasing number of research projects, regardless of discipline, are related to sustainability. In the arts and culture sector, nature and climate have so far not been as strongly emphasised.

”It is difficult to imagine cutting-edge research in technology or medicine without high-calibre basic research in the natural sciences.”

From cloud properties to boreal forest fires

Over the past three years, we have awarded grants totalling more than €10 million for research directly related to nature and climate.

Projects we have supported have included the climate impacts of forest fires in the boreal region, monoterpenes released from forests, molecular mechanisms of plant growth, mining waste management, water treatment technologies, cloud properties, measuring black carbon, the role of coastal ecosystems in climate change mitigation, and indicators and consequences of biodiversity changes.

In addition to the topics mentioned above, we have awarded a total of €20 million in grants for other research to enable a sustainable future. Projects focused on areas such as clean steel production, new materials, food production, the circular economy and energy storage.

Photo: iStock

Nature and climate are an increasingly integral part of research in technology, medicine and economics. New technologies, from environmentally friendly cooling solutions to carbon dioxide conversion, are needed to reduce emissions and use of resources. We increasingly understand the impact of biodiversity on public health and the development of pandemics. In turn, well-designed economic incentives are key to making individuals and businesses more environmentally and climate sustainable.

Bringing together funders of environmental work

The cooperation between environmental funders launched in April creates new conditions for foundations to work for the benefit of nature and climate. The network aims to share good practices, develop tools and build a common knowledge base.

For example, we do not yet know how many millions of euros a year foundations allocate for work on nature and climate because research on the topic does not follow traditional disciplinary classifications. The language we use together also needs to be better defined: for example, are we talking about nature or the environment?

The foundations’ own environmental responsibility is a topic that will attract increasing interest in the coming years and where there will be demand for cooperation and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. Since the indirect climate impacts of foundations through grants and investment activities are significant, we need effective and appropriate means to minimise negative impacts.

Going forward, foundations and other funders – including us general foundations – will increasingly work together for nature and a sustainable future.

Jane ja Aatos Erkon säätiön uutiskirje

Uutiskirjeemme tilaajana saat ajankohtaiset kuulumiset sähköpostiisi neljästi vuodessa.

Tilaamalla uutiskirjeen hyväksyt tietosuojaselosteen.