14.09.2016

Hello Helsinki, it’s Washington calling!

This story begins on an August night – not a very dark or stormy one – when I received an email that I first thought was spam. ‘United States Secretary of State John Kerry requests you to join the Our Ocean conference in Washington, and speak there of your successful work protecting the Baltic Sea.’ Yeah right, was my first thought, but after reading the message all the way through, I realized that perhaps it was not spam after all.  I really was being asked, as an invited guest, to speak on our solutions for protecting the Baltic Sea to the US government and a group of participants consisting of major corporation managers, secretaries of state, ministers of the environment, and stakeholders who finance environmental protection work.

Our very own Baltic Sea, the small northern pool of brackish water, an equal amongst the great oceans! And our tiny Finnish foundation explaining to American corporate managers and environmental protection foundations ten times our size how marine protection is done! Hurrah!

After my initial bewilderment I realized how the invitation had in fact ended up in my email. Last spring, in connection with the NutriTrade project led by the Foundation, we joined the Embassy of the United States in organising a meeting in Helsinki for American nutrient trade experts and Finnish environmental policy developers. During the intensive week we had spent together, we had apparently managed to convince the Americans that the Foundation’s way of working for the protection of the sea is an example with global relevance.

What sets the Our Ocean conference apart from its European peers is the fact that instead of the stuffy and hierarchic formal speech style of EU conferences, it seeks for inspiration, fresh ideas and solutions, and leadership on the grassroots level. This approach is of course a perfect fit for us, the agile and nimble Baltic Sea protection first aid team from Pasila!

For quite a long time, I contemplated the aspects of our work that I would like to share during my five-minute presentation. During the past ten years we had done so many things worth sharing and telling about.   I decided to focus on three main messages: first, in line with the motto of our Foundation, nothing is impossible:  in the Gulf of Finland, it has taken a mere ten years to cut up to 85% of the nutrient loads that are usable to algae, a feat achieved with two highly efficient measures implemented in Russia: the improved efficiency of wastewater treatment in St. Petersburg, and directing the discharges from the fertilizer factory on the River Luga to treatment facilities. We can already see the positive impact this has had on the environment.  Secondly, in protection work as in business, it is important to be a ‘number cruncher’ and focus relentlessly on achieving the greatest possible impact on the environment: this should be our main concern, not minor details or formal speeches. Thirdly, even complex environmental problems that involve many countries can be solved when, instead of accusations, we can make the parties see the real significance of the problem, and provide them with an action plan and a shared vision.  I believe that we all share the desire and the ability to do good, and even be real-life environmental heroes.

Yesterday in London, on my way to the event, I received the final programme of the conference – and almost needed to pick my jaw off the floor. In addition to the host, Secretary of State John Kerry, the speakers included none other than President Barack Obama himself, and many secretaries of state – from the UK and Norway, for example –  and ministers of the environment from various countries around the world.   These names were not enough to impress my daughters, but they did start showing some respect to their mother after hearing that she would share the stage also with Prince Charles and Leonardo di Caprio.

During the past ten years, our Foundation has protected the Baltic Sea in Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, making business trips an everyday thing for me. Those trips are always about concrete work, aiming at reducing nutrient loads at treatment facilities, manure pools and landfills – not to mention endless challenging negotiations with various stakeholders, working to find the abovementioned shared vision. Fighting discharges with my sleeves rolled up, at the ‘source’, you could say, is a prosaic way to sum up my everyday work.

This business trip will be of an entirely different nature. After ten years of hard work, I can share a success story with the entire world, telling how we in tiny Finland managed to do the impossible: achieve a positive change in the status of the sea in our lifetime. For this, thanks are due to our Finnish supporters and partners, who have during the years made our work possible in so many different ways!

Who can still say that Finland lacks innovation, or the ability to work together? We, a small nation on this planet, scored a goal that was far more spectacular than those by the Icelandic football team.  This is why on Friday, when I take the stage and speak of the success story of the Gulf of Finland to heads of state and those working on great oceans, I will be especially proud of my home country.  And how all that went – I will let you know after Friday!

Marjukka Porvari will speak at the conference panel ‘Stemming the Tide of Ocean Pollution’ on Friday, 16 September. Find out more about the conference here http://ourocean2016.org/

 

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