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The world’s 3rd most sustainable company about making a Swedish island fossil free in only one year

This summer, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel from waste and residues presents Zero Island in Stockholm’s archipelago. And it has been full of challenges.

Words: Johan Magnusson

With a €14.9 billion revenue last year, Finnish Neste is large enough to make an impact. Over the past ten years, Marketing Director Sirpa Tuomi explains, the company has transformed from a regional oil refining company into a global provider in renewable fuels and circular solutions as well as a forerunner in sustainability. When they’re placed 3rd on the Global 100 list of the most sustainable companies in the world, that was the 13th consecutive time they were included on the list.

— Our wide range of renewable products, such as Renewable Diesel and Renewable Jet Fuel, enable our customers to reach their carbon neutrality targets, she says. In 2018, we helped our customers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 7.9 million tons, equaling the annual carbon footprint of 1.2 million average EU citizens [source: the World Bank] or the removal of 3 million passenger cars from the roads for a full year.

When Sweden announced its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045, Neste took the challenge to see what it takes to reach this goal and what solutions are already available. The Zero Island, located at Lidö a couple of hours ride from central Stockholm, became a kind of test lab.

— We wanted to see if we could make an entire island carbon neutral within just one year, says Tuomi, continuing,

— The project is a part of our Journey to Zero initiatve, where we are exploring ways to build a world with minimal emissions. In addition to making an entire island carbon-neutral, we also introduced the acclaimed Zero Cabin, Nolla, to the island guests. This prototype of sustainable living was first introduced in Finland last year, and it has since become an Airbnb favourite — featured in Lonely Planet and Dezeen, among others.

What have been the funniest and most difficult things initiating this?

— It’s been most rewarding to work with multiple partners who want to make the change towards a better, carbon-neutral future. We chose Lidö partly because it’s a popular destination and a charming island and the location and size were perfect. But also since the entrepreneurs on Lidö Värdshus, Olle Telje and Hugo Olofsson, were enthusiastic and committed to the cause and this partnership, which of course was important to a year-long project. We’ve been driven by our aim to really make the change and show concrete examples that we can and we must act now to solve the climate crisis.

— The most challenging part has been figuring out how to place all different kinds of puzzle pieces together and create sustainable solutions on the island. It has been a long and eventful journey but we are proud that we’ve been able to solve so many questions from logistics to our overall environmental impact on the island. However, I must emphasize that we haven’t been on this quest for sustainability alone. Many of the answers have been found as a result of successful collaboration with our partners and stakeholders, says Tuomi.

What are the visitors’ response?

— We’ve been happy to see them embrace the concept and express genuine interest in the solutions and emissions cuts on the island. It has been a popular destination from campers and boaters to families who all have enjoyed the possibilities to learn more about minimal, climate-friendly lifestyles. It has been great to see that so many of the visitors have been enthusiastic about our idea that sustainable lifestyles are possible to achieve with modern solutions, and ecological choices can be adopted without giving up everything fun. They have also been amazed that we’ve been able to reduce the emissions considerably with existing, easily attainable solutions. Overall, a combination of the different solutions and a switch to renewable fuel and green electricity brought the island’s annual carbon dioxide emissions down from 180 tonnes CO2e to 40 tonnes CO2e. This means that the island’s emissions were cut by 78%. The residual emissions are compensated through a Gold Standard verified emission reduction program.

The solutions chosen for the island included using air-water heat pumps, LED street lights, Neste’s MY Renewable Diesel in vehicles as well as in the ferry traffic to the island, and electricity company Fortum’s solar power and fossil-free electricity solutions.

— In addition, many of the visitors have been interested in the sustainable accommodation and food options that we offer on the island, says Tuomi. She continues: The Zero Cabin, Nolla, has let visitors experience a way of living that has a minimal carbon footprint in every aspect. In addition, the sustainable Zero Menu has offered a taste of local ingredients and star chef Jonas Svensson’s ingenuity, for just a quarter of the average carbon footprint of an equivalent meal. The menu has taken into account all possible sources of emissions from the field to the table: the ingredients on the menu are sustainable and produced locally, transported with lower fossil emissions, cooked by using a minimum amount of energy and without food waste. Sustainable travel and staycations are a topic that has been well received in the media as well, with several articles promoting Zero Island as a sustainable holiday destination for Swedes.

The solutions that were introduced to the island are long-term and Neste’s aim is to show that these changes don’t have to be drastic and that there are feasible solutions available. They now continue to promote sustainability and responsibility in various industries.

— For example, we have brought back the award-winning Zero Cabin, Nolla, for the second summer in Vallisaari island, just about 20 minutes off the coast of Helsinki, says Tuomi. This is the original prototype designed by Robin Falck that was later introduced also in the Lidö island in Sweden. The Nolla cabin is named after Finnish word for zero, illustrating our efforts to create solutions that enable living with zero emissions. The cabin has been built from sustainable materials, and it is designed for a simple lifestyle with minimal to no emissions, taking into account the surrounding nature in every respect. The Zero Cabin gained a huge popularity in Finland last summer, and the success of the first Zero Cabin also inspired us to take on the Zero Island project in Sweden.