Meet HÅKAN NORDIN, The Green Man
One of the founders of Greenpeace Sweden in 1983 and a former policy adviser to Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, Håkan Nordin has spent more than 30 years working with companies such as Ikea and H&M to improve their sustainability credentials, as well as developing wider environmental labeling systems for products.
“I love being in nature,” Nordin explains of his career path. “But from the earliest days, I saw how acid rain was destroying our lakes.” Today, Nordin does not have to work as hard to communicate his message as he once did. “The pressure to address sustainability and the link to climate is such a hot topic now in business,” he explains. “The big difference in the last 5 to 10 years has been growing attention towards climate and sustainability.”
Nowhere is this more true than at Bolon, which first called on Nordin’s expertise in 2010 to consult on developing a new strategy on circularity and climate within its production processes. Since August 2019, Nordin has been back at the company’s headquarters in Ulricehamn to set this strategy in motion, exerting a direct influence on the firm’s organisational structure and communication.
“Today, every organisation has to deal with sustainability and climate, and has to do it in a good way,” he says. “Businesses are facing more – and deeper – questions about these issues than before: What do you do about circularity? How do you reduce your climate footprint?”
To help answer these questions and guide development, companies often call in environmental consultants like Nordin. Such appointments represent a way to introduce sustainability expertise as brands try to negotiate growing awareness of climate change and the environmental impacts of production. Nevertheless, Nordin is careful to stress that a truly sustainable attitude has to start from within and permeate all aspects of a business.
“There are many companies waking up too late to these issues which will find themselves in trouble,” he warns. “More and more companies are trying to build sustainable organisations in-house, and then employ a consultant from time to time to help develop things. But you need to build your own sustainable organisation and you need to have it in your business communication. It needs to be present in the way that you are selling things and the demands that you put to your suppliers. Companies have to be clear about what their position is but also need to understand the market. What is the need out there; where are the customers; what is the debate?”
To simultaneously grow a business and drive a sustainable agenda is often tricky for large companies. High-street fashion chains, for instance, are trying to retroactively deal with the consequences of years of large-scale rapid production by introducing in-store clothes recycling points. Since 2015, & Other Stories has offered in-store recycling points for textiles, while Nike’s 25-year-old Grind programme – which processes old products to create materials for new – now has a number of in-store collection points. For skeptics, this move seems too little, too late, but Nordin thinks that business growth and sustainability do not have to be at odds. True environmental responsibility is already a major advantage in the marketplace.
“We need to change, to reduce climate impact, to recycle and we need those elements functioning properly so we can sell,” he says. “There are other companies out there wanting to show that they are responsible. So if you don’t deal with it, it can put the brakes on your business.”
More widely, recent movements such as Extinction Rebellion and the youth climate strikes have helped climate change finally reach the mainstream agenda.
“On the one hand, I’m surprised that these kinds of movements haven’t happened earlier due to the urgency of the matter,” says Nordin. “But I do think there is a need to build pressure and opinion on many levels across the globe.” He is optimistic that business can play an important role in making change happen. “It is possible to have a future without fossil fuel,” he says. “We have all the solutions both from a technical and economic perspective. We now need a balance of strong voices showing that it’s urgent and leading us towards sustainable solutions.”
First published in Bolon’s We Love Magazine 2020. bolon.com
Words: Riya Patel
Photography: Elisabeth Toll