What do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for the Swedish steel industry: an existential challenge, given the industry’s considerable emissions, or an opportunity for an innovative sector to develop the full societal potential of a uniquely recyclable and durable material? These were a central questions when SEI and the Swedish Steel Producers’ Association (Jernkontoret) brought together key industry stakeholders and a broad set of representatives from Swedish society to explore how Swedish steel can contribute to a better future.
Since the Middle Ages, technical innovation has been a key driver in the fortunes of the Swedish steel industry. Today, the steel industry accounts for €4.3 billion in export value, or 4% of total Swedish exports, largely thanks to high-grade products targeting specialized niche markets. SEI is working with the industry to harness its innovative potential and its opportunity to become a global leader in the sustainability transformation.
The workshop, which took place on 14 February, looked not only at the constraints and opportunities created by national SDG implementation, but also how the Swedish steel industry could use the SDGs to competitively contribute to a transformed, low-carbon global society (see figure).
“The SDGs are essentially the biggest purchase order the world has ever seen, and Swedish steel has unique qualities to offer,” says Eva Blixt, Senior Environmental Adviser and Research Manager at Jernkontoret.
The workshop marked the first major step in a new project jointly implemented by SEI, Jernkontoret and Swedish steel producers, which is looking at how the industry can best contribute to the Swedish and global sustainability transition.
“To our knowledge, this workshop was the first attempt ever to bring representatives for a major industry together with other societal stakeholders to make sense of the rather general SDGs at a level where concrete implementation need to happen,” says project leader Karl Hallding.
The workshop gathered 50 invitees, all acting in their personal capacity, including steel industry executives and experts, officials from government and public agencies, and researchers, as well as steel industry partners upstream and downstream in the value chain, from mining companies to users of high-end Swedish steel products. The day included a set of group exercises where participants assessed how advanced steel applications could contribute to the SDGs.
“Most of us had expected certain SDGs, such as SDG 9 on ‘Industry, innovation and infrastructure’ and SDG 11 on ‘Sustainable cities and communities’ to dominate on the opportunity side,” says Hallding. “But the workshop showed that the Swedish steel industry is uniquely well placed to provide societally valuable goods and innovations across all the SDGs. At the same time, there are naturally many trade-offs and conflicts that it will have to negotiate, both as individual producers and as an industrial sector. But these are challenges it has proved it is ready to take on.”
Steering toward societal value
The current project builds on an earlier collaboration between SEI and Jernkontoret, which in 2016 delivered a strategy for the industry to reach its 2050 vision: Steel Shapes a Better Future (see figure). To do this, the industry will produce nothing but “societal value” (samhällsnytta) – eliminating pollution, using residues, providing solutions to global and local sustainability challenges, and benefiting economy and society.
The current project is helping the industry to develop a “societal value compass” – a methodology and toolbox to assess how a given actor, product, investment decision or other choice could influence the opportunity to deliver societal value.
The compass will combine the SDGs and the social capital wealth accounting concepts proposed by the World Bank as a reference framework for evaluating the societal value potential of a given option, and cross-impact balance analysis will explore and characterize the interactions the option sets in motion.
“Using cross-impact balance analysis is an essential element of the compass,” says Kristian Skånberg. “As the workshop demonstrated, all the SDGs matter, and steering only towards a few SDG targets is not sufficient to give direction to the industry; our compass will indicate the best course overall.”
“This workshop shows that the Swedish steel industry’s 2050 vision is well designed to deliver on the whole 2030 agenda,” says Eva Blixt of Jernkontoret. ”Our research co-operation with SEI, and the broad group of societal stakeholders it involves, provides unique opportunities for our companies to develop their processes and products to deliver societal value. But what we accomplish here is actually not specific for the steel industry – the methodology and toolbox that we develop could be used by any societal sector.”