Research to Go

Sustainability in Norway: Where are we now?

Researchers have studied the willingness in Norway to go green, what it takes to reach the climate goals and why change is so difficult.

BI Norwegian Business School is most known for offering education in economics and management. However, the institution also has a long tradition of contributing to research and debate on sustainability issues. Already in 1972, former President and Professor Jørgen Randers co-authored "Limits to growth". In 2020, the self-explanatory title of the book is not that controversial anymore, but perhaps more relevant than ever.

The researchers hit the nail on the head with ideas that became a precursor to the modern environmental movement. Sustainability and environmental issues now represent some of the greatest challenges facing business and society, and are therefore also an integral part of BI. In the following you will se how these issues are addressed across academic disciplines and fields of research - from climate psychology to green business strategies.

The greenest companies

Professor Eli Moen has studied the role of business in the green shift and what companies can do to become more sustainable. Part of this is about developing products and processes that take the limited resources of the globe into account.

Moen points to four characteristics of such companies. Sustainability is central to the business model, they are so-called learning organizations, they create and orchestrate new ecosystems of knowledge exchange, and they include all relevant actors in innovation processes. One example of the latter is Borregård, where all employees are organised in interdisciplinary teams that all contribute in product development. This is part of the reason why they are one of the most advanced bio refineries in the world.

Norway and the other Nordic countries are at the forefront of such production of renewable biological resources. Because this is one of the most effective ways to create a green economy, this also means the Nordic region is at the forefront of innovation in the development of sustainability in general. Moen's research indicates that it is primarily the companies themselves that have made this progress possible through a number of initiatives.

And what about the consumers?

If we shift focus to Norwegian consumers and a survey measures their satisfaction and loyalty, the findings will be somewhat more disappointing.

Lecturer Pål Rasmus Silseth has, over the past 15 years, monitored how sustainability affects companies' reputation and how loyal consumers are to these businesses.

It turns out that although we say we care about what companies do, 66% are only willing to pay more for sustainable products if the quality is better too. In the survey, several banks get worryingly low sustainability scores, but customers admit not to emphasize this at all.

Psychology affects environmental issues

Why have we not changed more despite global warming and all the facts that makes it clear that we have to? Through psychological research, Associate Professor Per Espen Stoknes has identified five mental barriers that make it difficult for us to make environmentally friendly choices:

  • The challenges are perceived as far away. Most of us do not see the melting icebergs and extreme weather in everyday life. In addition, the consequences of climate change feel like they are in a distant future.
  • We are tired of doomsday warnings. In the absence of practical solutions, our helplessness grows and we shy away from topics that involve loss or sacrifice.
  • There is a conflict between what we know and what we do. If we continue as before, we will feel a discomfort. Action affects attitude, so the path is paved to start doubting knowledge.
  • Denial is good self-defence. By disputing the facts, we escape fear and guilt.
  • News is filtered through our identity. If new insights require change, we will feel that we need to change our identity as well. That is why we seek information that confirms our values - not challenges them.

Fortunately, Stoknes has also identified five strategies for talking about climate in a way that is motivating. In his 2017 TED talk in New York, he explained these solutions and the rationale behind them.

How to transform apocalypse fatigue into action on global warming

This is how we can reach the climate goals

There is a broad consensus among scientists that renewable energy is the future. Anything else can be a disaster for our planet. So why don't we just stop oil production today?

Solar and wind power sceptics often argue that these types of energy are nowhere near being able to meet the needs of humans, that they are too expensive and that development is happening far too slow. Per Espen Stoknes explains why, on the contrary, there is good reason to be optimistic.

The answer lies in the so-called S-curve, which describes how new technology has developed historically. It has not steadily increased from year to year. First, it spreads slowly, then fast, then it flattens out as the technology spreads a little slower again. The other side of the S-curve represents how costs drop as the technology can benefit from scale and investments start to pay off.

In the period 2006 to 2018, the amount of solar energy installed each year doubled more than 5 times - from 3 to about 100 GW. During the same period, costs fell by more than 90%, and more than 1 million panels are now installed daily. Stoknes' research shows that three more doubles is all it takes for the S-curve to flatten in the 2030s. When the prices of both solar and wind power start to drop at an increasing rate, renewable energy will quickly become the cheapest option anywhere - with coverage to supply all the world's inhabitants.

Green energy as competitiveness

Luckily, Stoknes is not alone in his conviction of the value of renewable energy. According to researchers from BI and the Institute of Energy Technology, such solutions are not only necessary to reach the climate goals, but can create business opportunities and global competitiveness for Norway.

Norway is a pioneer in energy production. 50 years of experience in the construction and operation of offshore oil and gas fields has given us internationally leading expertise in floating installations. Researchers are suggesting that this competitive advantage should be used to develop floating offshore wind turbines. These can be installed almost anywhere in the world and produce profitable and sustainable energy without disturbing areas of untouched nature. This way, Norway can create a whole new export industry.

These are just some examples of research that gives hope that Norway may not always depend on oil, but instead be a part of a new green energy solution.