Impact Pathway Map – Finland

In Finland, the aim of the expert interviews was to map expert viewpoints on factors that have an impact on the climate-smartness, or more widely, ecological sustainability of dairy consumption. In particular, we were interested in factors that would have a 1) positive effect or would represent 2) a barrier or 3) a food-system level effect on the sustainability/climate-smartness of dairy consumption. For simplicity, henceforth we use the term climate-smartness although in the interviews we also referred to ecological sustainability in a wider sense. 

The data collected included five interviews carried out with experts who acted in various positions in research, government, and non-profit organisations, and who had expertise in issues related to food, eating, and sustainability. The interviewees included an academy fellow for the Research Council of Finland, a professor, a governmental official, a director at a food-related NGO, and an investor. The interviews were conducted face-to-face or via Zoom in October and November 2022. All members of the Finnish research team in 2022 participated in carrying out the interviews.  

The interviews were composed of three larger themes. First, we focused on the interviewees’ work in relation to food consumption and climate-smartness. Second, we discussed the key characteristics of climate-smart food culture and the climate-smartness of current Finnish food consumption. The third theme focused specifically on the role of milk and alternative products in Finnish food consumption at present and in the future. We were interested in the interviewees’ thoughts about the role of milk products in Finnish food culture now and within the next 20–30 years and the factors that might impede or slow down change towards a more climate-smart ‘dairy culture’. In addition, they were asked to reflect on the food cultural role and climate-smartness of alternative products (plant-based, cellular agriculture-based) now and in the future. 

Figure 1. Impact pathway map of factors affecting climate-smart / ecologically sustainable dairy consumption in Finland. Light blue boxes represent consumption side effects, purple box represent production side effects, and dark blue boxes present lower-level themes associated with the effects. The colours of the arrows denote positive effects (green), barriers (red) and system-level effects (blue dashed line). 

The interviewees reflected on the interview themes each from their own angle, resulting in a rich overall description of not only food cultural but also societal, political, and economic factors associated with sustainable dairy consumption. What is more, this richness meant that the interviewees had varying starting points, approaches and viewpoints, and that their interpretations of both the current state of and desirable future of the climate-smartness of dairy production and consumption in Finland varied. The impact pathway map shown in Figure 1 was formed by first drawing a map based on one interview, and then adding viewpoints from other interviews that could be integrated into this map. In the map the factors are divided into 1) consumption and production side effects (differentiated by the colours of the boxes) and 2) into positive, negative and system-level effects (differentiated by the colours of the arrows).  

The interviewees identified a variety of consumption-side effects on climate-smart dairy consumption. Decline in dairy product consumption, the development of alternative, plant-based and cellular agriculture-based products – both already ongoing – as well as improved consumer information about the sustainability of farming were raised as developments that advance climate-smart dairy consumption either directly or indirectly. On the negative side, the current strong position of dairy products in food culture, the public discourses praising the sustainability of domestic food (the often heard argument that ‘all Finnish food is sustainable’) as well as the use of ‘security of supply discourse’ as an excuse for unsustainable practices were seen to slow down change. The heated discourses on sustainability of food production and consumption and factors related to social sustainability (e.g., nutrition, social inequalities, age/generation-related patterns of eating) were seen to have both positive and negative impacts on climate-smart dairy consumption. 

On the production side, combined beef and milk production (the majority of Finnish beef originates from dairy cows) and the use of various means to reduce carbon emissions in farming were seen to be important means to advance climate-smart dairy consumption. In addition, technological development, such as new technologies to use grass fields to produce food for humans instead of feed for animals as well as cellular agriculture were regarded as offering potentially significant benefits.  

On the system level, ongoing policies, research and development programmes related to sustainability and current EU and national agricultural subsidies were seen to provide significant potential to promote climate-smartness. However, the current subsidy mechanisms were not regarded to function in the best possible way for this target.