Sustainable businesses buck the trend

  • 2009-07-16
  • By Ashley Brettell

GOING GREEN: Some companies in the Baltics are following Scandinavia's lead and taking a more environmentally sustainable approach to development.


In a world where more people are making a conscious effort to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, a Norwegian and Estonian collaboration is providing the key to doing just that.
Nordic Houses OU was established in 1999 and has two manufacturing plants just outside Tallinn. It specializes in traditional Nordic Log Houses as well as providing state of the art wooden homes for the luxury market.

The use of quality materials and the careful selection and vetting of dealers, guarantees that customers will keep recommending their products.
The company has set exacting standards for building quality and insulation. So much so that Nordic Houses has to export vast quantities of products to Norway itself, which has traditionally been a quality lead market.

Many environmentalists believe people's homes are the cause of almost half of the planets carbon dioxide emissions. Because of this, it is crucial that people have the option of acquiring eco-friendly housing.

Eco-friendly log houses also help save money on energy, heating and cooling costs. This is because wooden homes possess the ability to absorb and release heat, enabling them to provide a comfortable temperature throughout the year.
Nordic Houses also provides the option of environmental green roofs. Also known as "living roofs," green roofs serve several purposes for a building, such as absorbing rainwater, providing insulation, creating a habitat for wildlife, and helping to lower urban air temperatures.  They also help the building completely melt into a rural landscape.

Despite the current world economic woes, Nordic has started to develop markets in Switzerland, France, Finland as well as seeing growing interest in its home market of Estonia.
One of the benefits of a traditional log house is the sustainable nature of the production materials. Nordic Houses mainly uses Spruce and Pine for its external and internal finishings respectively. Both materials are farmed commercially and therefore do not leave a carbon footprint.

When Nordic started its activities in Estonia it had to work with local suppliers to develop and improve the quality of its products. However, now that those suppliers have raised their game, Nordic is able to provide a high specification finish for its customers throughout the world.
Waste products are not discarded at Nordic Houses. Any waste in the factory is reused and burnt to provide heating fuel for the factories.

"We are in a remote location and the local workforce has really put their heart and soul into the business," General Manger Argo Saul said.
"We have extended families working here and they really put their personal pride into their work. To me it really feels like a family business."
"Ultimately you can have all the systems you like, but if the people aren't committed, you can't be successful.  We are looking forward to developing the business with them in future years," he said.


The Oxford Sustainable Group is an international development company that has a strong presence in the Baltics. The Baltic Times spoke to the founder of the company, British citizen and Estonian resident Hadley Barrett, about the latest sustainable investment fund, the Oxford Renewable Energy Fund 9. 

When you talk about "sustainable projects" what do you mean and how are they successful?
"We don't try to be 'Eco-Warriors' but we passionately believe that sustainable investment is the way of the future. It is core to our business. We have been developing sustainable/renewable projects for many years and have achieved very good returns for our shareholders and clients."
"We have created a methodology, the 'Oxford 360 degree Sustainability Index' for investment and development. I will explain how it works. Let's take a biomass unit, for example. Normally you would expect a developer to consider profit and minimum government requirements. The United Nations goes further and considers the environmental, economic and social impact of its projects."

"We of course do that, but we try to take a wider view. We assess the needs of all the stakeholders, including our investors, local residents, local/national government and think about national/global carbon emissions, local infrastructure, the sustainable supply chain and similar factors."
"For instance, this would include the impact of water use, transport, education improvement and the local needs in general."

"By having a team on-the-ground with both broad and deep skills in analysis, investment, project management, and technical specifics, and using an intelligent approach, we are able to manage a project completely from investment to completion ourselves without intermediaries. This is fairly unique."

"We analyze all stakeholders' needs and exploit local opportunities, while giving something back, so that all stakeholders gain at least something in the process. This ensures a very coherent and effective project."
"In my view, this is common sense and that is why I believe that most companies will take a more sustainable approach within 10 years, once they have learned how to apply this way of working and have created an effective full-lifecycle team, rather than using sustainability as simply a PR slogan."

You are undertaking renewable energy projects. What is involved and how far do you take the projects? 
"We have been developing projects throughout the CEE region for many years. This has enabled us to build up considerable experience, strong contacts and relationships along with an understanding of local regulation."

"We have been active throughout the Baltic States but have found the legislation in Estonia particularly stable, where we are currently more active."
"Our latest fund, the Oxford Renewable Energy Fund 9, is due to close for investment in December. Attracting up to 200 million euros, it is expected to generate between 1-2 billion euros in final project value and produce a net 20 percent return per year. It has already been extremely well received by investors."

"To date, over 50 percent of our project value is own capital, because we know our projects are very successful investments and we put our money where our mouth is."
"We intend to identify areas for renewable energy facilities and develop projects for those sites.  When all the preparatory work is done and planning permission secured we will transfer the site to a renewable energy company who will complete the project."
"The projects as I have mentioned will be developed with our 360 degree stakeholder mentality and will consist of Wind and Biomass projects in the Baltic region."

In the current economic environment do you think this is a good time to be creating such funds and making such investments? 
"The economic situation is challenging and the bottom of the market is exactly the right time for investors to step in, since asset prices, labor costs and construction costs are low."
"We have consistently delivered high returns to our investors and we believe the current political will is there for further sustainable development. President Obama and Prime Minister Brown are very supportive of such projects 's and if you add to that German and Scandinavian support, there is a very positive political environment at the moment, combined with business and consumer support."

How green would the biomass units be? 
"A correctly developed biomass unit would be carbon negative, which is good. The energy is produced from sustainable materials such as wood products. The fuel could be waste or farmed wood or crops that can be replaced."
"Add to that the filters that such units employ and there is a considerable positive impact on the environment, certainly in Estonia where the major alternative is burning oil shale."

Do you think the man on the street is prepared to pay more for environmentally friendly products and services?
"Personally I think they are prepared to pay a little more. But the challenge is to make the clean alternative more competitive, so that there is no dilemma. That is what our team tries to achieve and are striving to improve."
"Ultimately we have to always keep the end consumers in mind and deliver the same socially acceptable lifestyle we experience today without extra cost."