Towards more carbon wise digital health

Written by Elina Salla, Project coordinator, University of Oulu

The importance of being aware and taking steps towards sustainability is unquestionable but how to begin with practicalities can be another thing. NACCOP (Nordic Arctic Co-creation Platform) project’s virtual morning coffee event offered on the 31st of March perspectives on the challenges that organizations experience in developing their sustainability and responsibility. The purpose of the event was to increase the knowledge in sustainability and especially in carbon wisdom among small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and digital health actors across the borders of Nordic countries. The event included three expert presentations from different perspectives regarding the topic – the academia, the SME in digital health and the service provider in carbon footprint calculations.

The morning coffee event was a continuation from a prior workshop held regarding sustainable development in collaboration with a project called Smart RDI on the 3rd of March. The workshop gave perspective to the needs and the state of the sustainability development of companies and ecosystem actors in digital health. According to the workshop, many organizations experience lack of knowledge, resources and time to act upon sustainability and responsibility. It was also indicated that the organizations are unaware how to start their sustainability journey.


Mastering the terminology

Calculation of greenhouse gas emissions or carbon footprint is something that organizations have been doing for some time now, even though it needs to be highlighted that sustainability is a larger framework than just that. To expand the focus from the greenhouse gas emissions calculations, the morning coffee event familiarized the audience with a term carbon wisdom – it was a perfect chance to get a perspective on what it actually means. The carbon wisdom can be defined not only by the quantification of the carbon footprint but monitoring and acting upon to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in favor of business, and ultimately for society.

Also two other eye-opening terminologies are worth to mention: the carbon footprint and the carbon handprint. While the former refers to organization’s own emissions, the latter can have more role especially when referring to solutions around digital health. The carbon handprint means offering a solution that reduces not your own, but the users or customers carbon footprint. Imagine the potential in eHealth but also the role of health technology procurement within rural or long-distance areas such as the Nordics.


Sharing the experience

The sustainability holds potential for a new and more vital business and innovations. Even though the organizations might lack resources and time for setting up the sustainability actions, there are many favorable implications to make the investment. One quite powerful implication from the prior workshop was that sustainable companies tend to be more profitable. And accordingly, there are cases that imply that companies with sustainability in their strategy are also more resilient to crises which is not a bad ability in the world that we live in today.

The event served a glimpse of how other SME’s approach the sustainability challenge in real life, and it was peer learning at its finest! The health technology representative described how they company had started to estimate the environmental impact from the utilization of their solution. They had utilized the similarities from calculation of health economics impacts. By starting from small calculation units, they had reached the estimation of savings that was gained from utilization of the whole solution.


Take the first step

Based on both events, for any organization starting their sustainability journey, the advice is to introduce oneself with 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is a call for action for actors such as countries, companies and people. Within the framework, one possible concrete step can be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting a more carbon wise attitude. Finland has set goals to be carbon-neutral and the first fossil-free welfare society by 2035. Digital health ecosystems and SMEs should also aim to reach this target e.g. when applying for national or international funding that require the expression of sustainable strategies. As was mentioned by the SME representative in the morning coffee event, the funding mechanisms and public procurement processes can be more favorable for organizations that are able to communicate their ability to be more carbon wise.

It is obvious that in the beginning we are all learners when it comes to being more carbon wise. The terminology is new, and the internet is full of tools to use e.g. for calculation of carbon footprint. Luckily, there are opportunities in Oulu region to get shared experiences and expertise support on the related matters. Similarly, this is one of the goals of NACCOP project: to share the knowledge and best practices across the Nordic countries. It remains to be seen if the Nordics could push their efforts together perhaps in the form of more unified methods of sustainable development and calculation of carbon emissions. At the end, “the sustainability awareness will eventually become business as usual”.


The blog text was written as a part of the NACCOP project.


About NACCOP morning coffee event:

Morning coffee meetings are a series of shorter meetings in the NACCOP (Nordic Arctic Co-creation Platform) project. At these meetings the project presents interesting topics in line with its main goal. NACCOP´s aim is to strengthen the innovation work of SMEs in healthcare and wellbeing by offering an Arctic innovation platform for the Nordic countries. The platform supports ecosystem work and provides a network of innovation environments and co creation services. The platform brings together the stakeholders from social- and health care, research, education, SMEs, and citizens. The NACCOP project is co-funded by Interreg Nord, Lapinliitto and Region Norrbotten.

Piia Hyvämäki

Hoitotyön lehtori, OAMK. Hyvinvointi- ja terveysteknologian sote-asiantuntija.

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