Pro Aere Aqua Terra

The Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation’s annual report 2019

The Nessling Foundation supports research promoting environmental protection and the use of researched environmental information in society. On this page you will find key figures and highlights of the year. You can also download the annual report here.

Highlights of the year


Minttu Jaakkola (kuva: Vilja Pursiainen)

“The mission of our foundation, recorded nearly 50 years ago, is more important than ever."


We funded solution-oriented environmental research

38 projects – totalling
2 204 209 €


Our new grant recipients are researching, among other things...

microbes in bedrock, the cultural history of fish, and the relationship between nature and humans.

Sami Keto. Nessling apurahansaajat 11/2019. Kuva: Miikka Pirinen
Maja Nuppunen-Puputti. Nesslingin säätiö. Kuva: Miikka Pirinen / Maj & Tor Nesslingin säätiö
Matti O. Hannikainen. Nessling apurahansaajat 11/2019. Kuva: Miikka Pirinen


We made an impact together

dialogues connecting researchers, decision makers, organisations and businesses

young doctors matched with businesses

morning coffee events


We supported three cooperation projects promoting biodiversity

#carbon farming
#longitudinal monitoring


Our researchers were actively involved in societal debate


We were responsible for grant recipients and our activities

Minttu Jaakkola (kuva: Vilja Pursiainen)


Active researchers, encounters and cooperation are needed to solve the environmental crisis

The mission of our foundation, recorded nearly 50 years ago, is more important than ever.

In 2019, after decades of continued warnings from researchers, climate change made its way into the headlines and onto the agendas of young activists, governments, cities and various organisations. Research communities also raised the issue of biodiversity in different ways, the threat of which, combined with climate change, is seriously threatening the well-being of humanity. We need solutions, now.

The mission of our foundation, recorded 48 years ago, to support research promoting environmental protection and the use of researched environmental information in society, is more important today than ever before. The foundation’s mission challenges us to focus our activities even more intensely on what’s most relevant for the environment, and to consider how the foundation can best fulfil the will of its founders at this time.

In the 2019 general call for grant applications, we focused our support on multi-year PhD and postdoc projects that seek solutions to environmental challenges. The main goal of our foundation is to activate early-career researchers to influence society. Active researchers ensure that researched current information finds its users and is refined into solutions that improve the state of the environment. We were successful in activating the researchers, as the 2019 reports from the researchers we funded delightfully inform us that in addition to producing scientific publications, the researchers are transferring their knowledge to society in many different ways.

We also targeted support outside of the general grant. Our strategic goal is to work with other funders and actors in order to ensure the impact of major projects. We supported the realisation of the goals of the Rewilding Europe project in Finland, the globally unique longitudinal monitoring of the dry meadow network in Åland started by academic Ilkka Hanski in 1992, and the research and advocacy work of the Carbon Action platform, which has become a national phenomenon. Understanding the links between the biodiversity crisis and climate change, as well as scalable solutions unites these three projects.

“Active researchers ensure that researched current information finds its users."

We have also taken on the role of promoting collaboration and encounters. The Nessling Nest, a communal space for researchers owned by the foundation, brings together people solving environmental challenges – both producers and users of research information – to learn from each other. In our collaboration with other foundations we support a significant Finnish interface organisation, the Forum for Environmental Information, which promotes the use of researched environmental information in societal decision making. We are also involved in supporting the Post Docs in Companies platform, which connects young doctors and companies to enable the transfer of fresh research information to be used in the business world.

Indeed, the most important actions of the foundation in 2019 were the societal activation of researchers funded by us, enabling meaningful encounters, and fruitful collaboration. We will be continuing and strengthening these actions next year. The environmental crisis needs researched information for solutions, but without active researchers, encounters and collaboration, researched information will not be transformed into use in the form of solutions.


Minttu Jaakkolan allekirjoitus

Research Director of the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation

Money for solutions to environmental challenges

The scientific community has an important role to play in understanding and addressing the wicked, intertwined environmental challenges. In 2019 we focused our grants on five phenomena that, according to the scientific community, require urgent solutions:

  • Climate change
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Natural resource sustainability
  • Water risks
  • Habitat chemicalisation and degradation

We received a total of 369 applications during the application period between 12.8.–13.9.2019. Grants were awarded on 11.11.2019 to 38 projects in total, most of which were 2–4-year research projects representing different scientific fields – environmental challenges require the knowledge and expertise of all scientific fields!

The 2019 grant recipients are
addressing issues such as:

How does light pollution affect the reproduction of glow-worms? What can we do to prevent overconsumption? How could public authorities be more effective in preventing and combating habitat degradation and environmental pollution? What would a sustainable society adapted to the carrying capacity of the Earth look like? How has digitality influenced the Finnish relationship to nature? How effective are seas as carbon sinks?

Awarded grants by field

Now solving

Sami Keto. Nessling apurahansaajat 11/2019. Kuva: Miikka Pirinen


In his research, doctoral researcher and non-fiction author Sami Keto is dismantling the invisible wall erected between humans and the rest of life.

Read more
Sami Keto. Nessling apurahansaajat 11/2019. Kuva: Miikka Pirinen
Sami Keto. Nessling apurahansaajat 11/2019. Kuva: Miikka Pirinen


Despite the extreme conditions, numerous microbes live in bedrock several kilometres deep. VTT researcher Maija Nuppunen-Puputti studies the life of fungi and other microbes living in the deep biosphere.

Read more
Sami Keto. Nessling apurahansaajat 11/2019. Kuva: Miikka Pirinen


Postdoctoral researcher Matti O. Hannikainen studies the use of fish as food and the factors that have influenced it in Finland from the 1930s to the 2010s.

Read more

Biodiversity❤️ climate

Outside the call for grant applications, our foundation supports projects that require a rapid response. In 2019, the foundation co-funded three topical projects whose purpose is to support the strengthening of biodiversity and carbon sinks, and to understand the link between climate change and the functioning of ecosystems.


Carbon Action

Read more here


Landscape Rewilding

Read more here


Longitudinal monitoring of the dry meadow network in the Åland islands

Read more here

Ympäristödialogeja, kuva: Vilja Pursiainen

Breeding grounds for collaboration

We encourage researchers to engage in forms of cooperation that break boundaries. We also want to be involved in constructing a dialogue and cooperation between different actors.

We enable the transfer of research information to decision making

Together with the Kone Foundation, we are co-funding the Forum for Environmental Information established in 2010 to strengthen the flow of information and dialogue between researchers and decision makers. In 2019 the FEI organised, among other things, 14 public events on topical environmental issues, which attracted a total of 1 530 participants. In addition to the events, the FEI published policy briefs.

We encouraged encounters and information sharing at the Nessling Nest

The communal Nessling Nest workspace is located right next to our office. During 2019, the space was used as a workplace regularly or occasionally by around 30 researchers or other actors working in environmental protection.

We connected doctors and companies

We participated in the Post Docs in Companies cooperation programme with ten other foundations. The aim of the programme is to promote the employment of doctors in companies and to improve the ability of Finnish business to reform itself in a long-term and ambitious manner. In 2019, we funded two doctors in the programme, one of whom is Maria Filioglou, who works is working on microscale winds and how they can be forecasted better in the urban environment at Vaisala Oy.

We trained influencers

We encourage and train the researchers we fund to be active in impactful research, which includes public debate and communication. In 2019, we provided researchers with guidance on writing blog posts and organised researcher interaction training together with the Kone Foundation and the Tiina and Antti Herlin Foundation.

Our researchers are making an impact

Research information is not transferred to society by itself. In addition to producing scientific publications, our grant recipients are also actively involved in public debate.

In 2019, 40 projects reported:


public appearances to the general public, in the media or outside their own scientific field


social media discussions, accounts and posts


projects are working with stakeholders


policy briefs, expert articles, opinion pieces and blog posts

The foundation knows its responsibilities

Promoting sustainable and responsible choices also extends to our own procedures. In 2019, we focused on the responsibility of our investments, the position and career paths of our grant recipients, and the sustainability of academic travel.


Investing responsibly

“Investment decisions matter if, as a united front, the foundation field demonstrates its commitment to building a more sustainable world through how it invests.”

Improving investment responsibility, as well as measurement and reporting of responsibility, are our ongoing goals to achieve the objectives of the Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development drafted in 2016. Based on the situation at the end of 2019, we are meeting the goals we have set and we will be continuing our active work to develop the portfolio’s responsibility.

In addition to making sure our own portfolio is responsible, we also want to encourage other foundations to develop their investment activities to be more responsible. We were involved in organising an event and peer learning circle for foundations about responsible investing on 4.6. during the Sustainable Development Week. The event was attended by 30 representatives of foundations, among them the largest foundations in Finland.

Feedback from our alumni

“The researchers are happy with their careers, and the grant period was seen to have had a positive impact on the career development of the grant recipients.”

How did the grant period affect your career development?

All respondents (n=96)

In March 2019, we conducted a survey for researchers who received grants in 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. The researchers were asked to report on their experiences during the grant period, as well as the impact of the grant period on further employment and career development. We received delightfully positive feedback from grant recipients regarding both their grant period and careers.

Travel guidance

“If the issues related to the sustainability of air travel are brought to light, researchers are given the opportunity to think about alternative ways of traveling or to choose flights based on something other than their price.


We want to play our part in creating a more sustainable academic travel culture. We prepared travel guidelines for grant recipients, which applicants take into account when planning their travel budget. We also require researchers to report on how they have followed the guidelines.

“The environmental crisis needs researched information for solutions, but without active researchers, encounters and collaboration, researched information will not be transformed into use in the form of solutions."

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