Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to more than 75 countries and meet with business leaders from around the globe. Last month, I spent a week in Finnish Lapland, where I got to know corporate executives, family businesses and entrepreneurs building innovative startups.

Of all the places I’ve been, few have impressed me as much as Finland on the sustainability front. Every business leader I spoke with demonstrated a commitment to the environment, to his and her employees and to the community – not as some separate corporate responsibility (CSR) initiative, but as an essential element of the business and the fabric of the company. In this northern winter wonderland, sustainability is a de-facto part of how business is done.

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Finland

To begin... What’s more sustainable than sleeping in an igloo? I had the pleasure of visiting the Arctic Snow Hotel, which sleeps 70 guests and is made entirely of snow and ice – meaning that it melts and get rebuilt every year. I also spent time at the Ruka Ski Resort, a family business run by five siblings that runs on green power. The resort’s lifts, snowmaking and lighting produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, and its snowmaking process is designed to both extend the ski season and improve efficiency – making it a winning choice for environmentally conscious, outdoor-loving families.

In this northern winter wonderland, sustainability is a de-facto part of how business is done.

Every hotel I visited offered delicious meals, all featuring locally sourced ingredients – including juniper berries, smoked salmon and reindeer (I passed on the reindeer as I don’t eat red meat, and quite frankly fell in love with every single one I laid eyes on). One of the most memorable meals of my trip was the perch I caught and helped prepare myself as part of a sustainable ice-fishing trip with one of Finland’s top fisherman. These fish are considered highly sustainable according to the WWF’s seafood guide.

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Finland

Lapland offers an array of activities sure to delight your inner-child, with SantaPark and magical forest Joulukka at the top of the list. Run by a lovely Finnish couple, these attractions offer winter wonderland-esque experiences that dazzle guests while also respecting the natural environment. Joulukka is built mainly from natural materials – wood, stones and logs – and employees rely on candles for light and fire for food preparation.

Equally as magical is the famed Pentik Ceramic Factory and Artist Residency, run by 77-year-old visionary Anu Pentik, who founded the Pentik company more than 40 years ago. The company’s small-batch, meticulously designed ceramic products are stunning to look at and sourced from local materials whenever possible. As soon as I met Anu, I knew she was a force of nature and could see immediately why her company has grown so successfully. Long before “transparency” became a CSR buzzword, Anu emphasized the importance of open communication with her team, keeping employees in the loop about the company’s profits and debt throughout the years. Not surprisingly, Pentik today has 340 team members and zero vacancies. Employees tend to stick around. 

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Finland

Even the neighborhood playgrounds embody principles of sustainability. Lappset, a company that produces playground equipment made from Finnish wood, has been an environmental pioneer since its founding in the 1970s. Run by the founder’s daughter, Johanna Ikaheimo, Lappset’s entire production process – from design to transport – is designed to minimize resource consumption, extend the lifespan of products and support Finnish the economy and ecosystem.

In beautiful northern Finland, environmental responsibility and respect for the community are ways of life

As I journeyed through these Lapland destinations and met with business leaders, what struck me most was that no one felt the need to use marketing speak or industry jargon to discuss CSR. In the US sustainability tends to be a tangential speaking point for many CEOs and founders. Even the ones who authentically believe in the importance of CSR often focus on standards or initiatives in conversation, rather than fundamental values. 

Virgin Unite, Sustainability, Finland

In beautiful northern Finland, environmental responsibility and respect for the community are ways of life – and so it flows naturally that these principles also drive business success, inform operations and dictate how business leaders treat their people. 

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