Leena Sarvaranta was a teenager when she experienced an environmental awakening for the first time.
“When I experienced an environmental awakening for the first time it was in the 70’s. That’s when the environmental awareness began to increase and people were talking about pollution of the water system”, Sarvaranta explains.
Later on, she came to realise it was important to fight the battle, and so she decided to study chemical engineering at Åbo Akademi. After that, Sarvaranta worked at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, until she found herself doing something entirely different.
”When Finland joined the European Union, I decided to apply to be an EU official. I got the job and lived in Brussels for three years. It was a whole new world for me.”
In Brussels, Sarvaranta saw the political machinery from the inside and learned a lot about policy-making and the long, complicated processes involved. Upon her return to Finland, she began working in EU affairs at VTT.
Now her job is to follow the EU’s policy-making processes and help VTT and its partners to navigate their way through complexity. Sustainable development has always been, and still is an important part of Sarvaranta’s work.
”Our strategy at VTT is based on addressing societal challenges, such as energy, climate and moving towards a resource efficient society. Supporting responsible research and business plays a crucial role here.”
Smart does not restrict to digital
While working with the EU affairs, Sarvaranta has gradually worked her way up to collaboration with the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council by taking a part in the regional strategy process.
She sees a great deal of smartness in the Helsinki region, but thinking smart does not restrict to thinking digitally.
”For me, it can be our beautiful nature, sustainable values and green solutions. Or our internationally recognised companies, universities, research facilities and schools. Or the great cultural offerings like theatre, music and art.”
Sarvaranta asks if we are looking at our world through the narrow lens.
”Sometimes I’m allergic to all this technological hype. We see digitalisation, numbers and analytics when we should also be seeing culture and people. I’m afraid we might destroy something valuable simply because it’s old, but something being old does not always make it poor.”
Aiming at mutual understanding
Sarvaranta thinks that we should be proud to live in such a wonderful place as the Helsinki Region. She feels that it is too easy to complain, yet there is much to be happy about.
She believes that the core issue is a dialogue, which is something that should be improved both at the regional and national level. People tend to misunderstand each other, sometimes on purpose. In order to increase mutual understanding, we must learn to have conversations in our families, workplaces and why not in elevators.
According to Sarvaranta we should bring together wide, representative groups and institutions to discuss and pursue shared goals: public administration, business and academia.
“But more than that, we need people of all age groups and backgrounds. Youngsters under the age of 20 must be reached, since they will take Finland to the next 100.”
The climate cannot wait
Sarvaranta has learned a great deal during her career, but above all she has learned how to be patient. Often it takes a long time to make an impact. Ten years is almost nothing in terms of societal change.
Sarvaranta has learned how to wait, but she also knows there is something that cannot wait any longer.
”I once thought the climate catastrophe was something that will occur after I’m gone, but now I’ve realised that it’s already happening. That means we have to act right now.”
This is part of the Smart minds series introducing visionary people from the Helsinki Smart Region. Image credits Vilja Pursiainen.
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