What values does a collaborative solution for environmental issues bring?

Our current world faces problems that are so complicated that not one party, may that party be a company, a university, an NGO, a government and so on, will ever alone solve such problems. One such a problem is global warming, or more broadly environmental crises in form of pollution, extinction of species, a threat to habitats, and debilitation of soil. Given the latest global warming reports, the general public has raised its awareness to issues of environment and faced the fear of losing our habitat.

blog_pia_maj_2019.jpg

To provide a fraction of solutions to environmental issues, Strategic Research Council (SCR) at the Academy of Finland have granted funds for a consortium that “studies and develops collaborative action in environmental planning and decision-making”. To find collaborative solutions, the project also involves research collaboration with several universities (University of Eastern Finland, HANKEN, Tampere University of Technology, and University of Jyväskylä) and organizations (Suomen Ympäristökeskus and Linnunmaa), and in several disciplines: business management, law, environmental sciences, geographical and historical studies, and sociology.

CORE seeks solutions and theoretical understanding for environmental conflicts such as should we keep or kill wolfs, how should we use forest, should we allow an international mining company to start its operations in Finland, what kind of renewable energy should we invest in, and so on. One of the theoretical concepts used in the project is value. What values different parties gain if and when an environmental solution is provided?

The above question seems self-evident and simple but is not. At first glimpse, it seems that we all, all the parties and actors, benefit from solving an environmental problem may it be pollution or extinction. However, our physical and not to mention social reality is more complex. Furthermore, value is multidimensional and thus as complex as the social reality around it. Let’s take an example from an establishment of a factory similar to that of Metsä Group in Kemijärvi (Valtavaara, 2019).

When it comes to factories, they clearly provide economic value for those who are employed by the factory and for the countries and municipalities that can claim income generation and taxation revenues from the factory operations. In many cases, factories provide economic benefits for many. Metsä Group’s investment in Kemijärvi would, for example, provide 3.000 new workplaces but some of the competitors feel they loose (Valtavaara, 2019).

However, value is multifaceted. On top of economic value, the factory can provide social value for those involved in its operations. The practices around the factory provide a feeling of community and belonging, and in the long run, the factory becomes almost an identity or a brand of a place. Its existence has been rooted deeply into the society around it. However, this social value might benefit only some; those who work in the factory and the other groups in the region might feel marginalised from the factory identity.

Sometimes the very factory causes environmental problems of a sort. Even if it would not pollute it might influence on the aesthetics of the place. Its’ aesthetic value is negative as the beauty of the place might be destroyed by the buildings and operations of the factory, and also by extraction of natural resources like forests or bedrock. Thus, the people and the place that get economic value may lose aesthetic value. Depending on their own position, they might value more the practical value in form of money than the semiotic value of beauty. For example, in the case of Metsä Group investment, it might be a fight between environmental values and production of cellulose (Niskakangas, 2019).

I mentioned above economic, social, aesthetic, practical, and semiotic value. In different cases, there might also exist other value categories, such as utility, functional, ethical, use, conditional, fantasy, emotional, epistemic, hedonic, involvement, fulfilment, identity, and prestige value of the factory, to name few. These different types of value may co-exist in different levels of analysis. For example, the very example factory employs an individual and thus produces economic value but may at the same time destroy nature around the individual’s home or summer cottage, thus, providing negative value for the health and aesthetics of the same individual.

So, there will be conflicting value propositions by the factory to the individual. The individual and his/her different roles as a breadwinner (economic value) and as a family wo/man (health and aesthetic value) provide conflicting signals about the value to that very individual. The news from Metsä Group investment made one of the citizens happy about the increased employment but at the same time, he was worried about the noise the new factory would make (Kanerva & Kettunen, 2019).

The same applies to the other levels of analysis. There might be value for the society at large from the factory but not for the individual or another region or company like in the case of Kemijärvi. When it comes to the environmental issues, the factory may pollute the society at large even beyond national borders but give employment only for those geographically near, thus, providing economic and identity value for them but creating negative value in form of pollution to the other levels of analysis such as region, country, and global.

In the CORE project, the team of Hanken and Tampere University of Technology are researching value in collaborative environmental decision-making. By looking at the multifaceted value of environment in multi-layered and multi-level society, our work package is not only building upon theories of value that often involve research on customer-supplier dyads but how value evolves in situations where other interests than only those between customer and supplier are present. That way we hope to evolve the theory of value but also provide practical solutions. By mapping multiparty value in environmental decision-making situations that involved municipalities, NGOs, companies, customers, employees and so on, we might provide more understanding of each other’s value premises and that way find solutions to seemingly incompatible issues.

Pia Polsa

Associate Professor of Marketing

References

Niskakangas, Tuomas (2019). Näin paljon metsää Kemin uusi sellutehdas söisi – asiantuntija arvioi, että puuta riittäisi niukin naukin. Helsingin Sanomat, 27.4.2019.

Valtavaara, Marjo (2019). Kampittaako Kemiin suunniteltu jättitehdas Kemijärvellä paljon pidemmällä olevan hankkeen? ”Peli on tosi raakaa”, sanoo hallituksen puheenjohtaja. Helsingin Sanomat, 30.4.2019.

Kanerva, Arla & Kettunen. Ari (2019). Kemissä iloitaan tehdasuutisesta, muuttoliikekin voi kääntyä: ”Kovin toivottu välipäätös kaupungillemme”. Helsingin Sanomat, 27.4.2019.