Pro aere aqua terra

The Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation’s annual report 2020

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.

Highlights of the year


Minttu Jaakkola (kuva: Vilja Pursiainen)

“The Nessling Foundation is building an ecologically sustainable future."


How we’re promoting change

21 projects – totalling
2 266 993 €


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

climate change in games, pollinator-friendly farming and textile recycling.

Daniel Fernandez Galeote
Traci Birge
Sini Suomalainen


We made an impact together


We continued to support projects promoting biodiversity

397 500 €



Our researchers were actively involved in societal debate


We created room for sustainable discussion

Puistokatu €

Puistokatu 4 helps to understand each other's perspectives

Soil at Risk

Puistokatu 4 helps to understand each other's perspectives

Minttu Jaakkola (kuva: Vilja Pursiainen)


The Nessling Foundation supports the transition to an ecologically sustainable new normal

The year 2020 highlighted both the inseparability of human and natural systems and the importance of dialogue.

The Nessling Foundation logo features two people reflected from the surface of the water. To me, the logo symbolises how human actions leave traces in nature. These traces are reflected in one way or another back to us because we are part of nature. The year 2020 highlighted this connection by recalling how man-made environmental change can lead to a crisis that will shake all of humanity.

In the field of environmental sciences, the Covid-19 pandemic came as no surprise. In the spring of 2018, we held a debate about environmental change and diseases and Tuomas Aivelo, ecologist and evolutionary biologist, wrote in our blog: “This year, WHO added Disease X to its list. Disease X shows that the spread of a serious infectious disease worldwide can be caused by an agent not yet known. We know that new pathogens will spread to us from other animals. We also know that environmental change will significantly increase this spread. ”

Disease X revealed itself to us as Covid-19. In the midst of the worst pandemic in spring 2020, we renewed the debate about environmental change and diseases. This time our debate received a considerable amount of listeners compared to the event two years ago, and no wonder. Back in 2018, the unpredictability of nature and the resulting global pandemic appeared to the general public as completely hypothetical. This is very human. We are stuck in the present. We are interested in news and information that reinforces what is already familiar to us, and we only wake up to the warnings of the scientific community when the consequences hit our own bubble.

The pandemic showed how human health and the economy, both in science and in public debate, are often detached from the changes in natural systems. We need a more multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral discussion on how the planet’s ecological crisis affects our well-being. In response to this, we launched a special call in the fall of 2020 to fund multidisciplinary projects. The projects seek understanding and aim to increase discussion of the causal relationships between the environment, the economy and human health.

In addition to having an impact on individuals’ health and income, the pandemic has also forced individuals to change their daily lives and consumption habits. We have spent time more in nature, explored the surrounding areas and tourist destinations near home, knitted beanies, baked bread and, above all, redefined the building blocks of a good life. These experiences are confirmed by Sitra's report at the end of 2020. Structural support from both institutions and companies is needed to ensure that these new, more environmentally sustainable practices and reflections do not remain an exception, but grow and strengthen to be the new normal.

“In 2021, we will hopefully transition to a new normal, which should be defined as an ecologically sustainable, planetary normal.”

This need is met by the joint Puistokatu 4 project by the Nessling Foundation and the Tiina and Antti Herlin Foundation. We announced the project just before Covid-19 landed in Finland. At the heart of Puistokatu 4 is the idea that the ecological crisis affects us all, but we cannot find common solutions unless we understand each others’ realities. The aim of the Puistokatu 4 concept is to be a space devoted to inclusive and compassionate conversations about a sustainable future that fits the boundaries of our planet. We invite scientists, companies, citizens, activists, artists and anyone who wants to be involved in the discussion. In addition to nature, we humans are connected to each other.

In 2021, we will hopefully transition to a new normal, which should be defined as an ecologically sustainable, planetary normal. The Foundation is involved in this transition by supporting research of systemic solutions, providing science-based information for society and enabling encounters.


Minttu Jaakkolan allekirjoitus

Research Director of the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation

Support for a holistic change

In 2020, we awarded grants to projects that promote a holistic change in our current way of life. From educationalists to natural scientists, the researchers aim to take entire industries in a more sustainable direction.

The 2020 call for grant applications had two parts. In the general call, applicants could apply for grants for doctoral theses and projects implementing scientific information. In addition to these, the Foundation opened a special call on the theme “The economy and human health in the planet’s ecological crisis”, which seeks multidisciplinary research projects.

We received a total of 228 applications in the general call and 57 applications in the special call.  Grants were awarded to 18 PhD and implementation projects and three special projects.

The number of grants applied for and awarded in 2020 was notably smaller than in recent years. There is a conscious decision behind the reduced number of applications: at the Foundation, we want to direct funding in a more focused way to larger and longer-lasting projects, so that the selected grant recipients have the opportunity to work more effectively and in the longer term.

The 2020 grant recipients are
addressing issues such as:

How does nature affect the well-being of city dwellers? Can we teach ecological reconstruction in schools? Does art help with eco-anxiety? How can we support the biodiversity of urban meadows? What does it take to make the whole energy system low-carbon? Can we measure rewilding?

Awarded grants by field

Total amount of grants: 21

Now solving

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

Games help in the fight against climate change

Daniel Fernandez Galeote’s research combines games and climate change.

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

Without pollinators, there will be no crops

Traci Birge wants to make all Finnish farms pollinator-friendly.

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

The textile industry needs goods examples of circular economy thinking

Sini Suomalainen helps businesses understand the countless possibilities of recycled textiles.

Read more
Sini Suomalainen

Biodiversity ❤️ climate

Outside the call for grant applications, our foundation supports projects that require a rapid response. In 2020, the foundation continues to co-fund 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 and TWINWIN

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 2020 the FEI organised, among other things, 10 public events on topical environmental issues.

We encouraged encounters and information sharing at the Nessling

The communal Nessling Nest workspace is located right next to our office. In 2020, the space was used as a workplace regularly or occasionally by around 30 researchers or other actors working in environmental protection. During the Covid-19 epidemic and the lockdown, nest-users organised online morning coffees to exchange and discuss ideas.

We connected doctors and companies

We participated in the Post Docs in Companies cooperation programme with ten other foundations. The programme aims 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 2020, we funded two doctors in the programme.

We trained influencers

We encourage and train the researchers we fund to be active in impactful research, which includes public debate and communication. In 2020, 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 (98 in total), our grant recipients are also actively involved in public debate.

In 2020, our projects reported:


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


active social media accounts


projects are working with stakeholders


policy briefs, expert articles, opinion pieces and blog posts

The Foundation creates room for sustainable conversation

We want to support public discussion which promotes the solutions to global environmental challenges. In 2020, we started to build a new space dedicated to a sustainable future, asked our grant receivers how Covid-19 affected their work and participated in the #SoilSelfie campaign.

Puistokatu 4

“The ecological crisis of our planet involves us all, but it manifests itself differently to different people and the communities they represent. We cannot find shared solutions if we do not understand the realities in which others live.”

We are, together with Tiina and Antti Herlin Foundation, turning a 19th-century villa at Puistokatu 4 into a space promoting the understanding of and solutions for the global environmental crisis. The shared mission of all future activities in Puistokatu 4 is to promote the understanding of the global environmental crisis and enable a space for building a more sustainable future for all.

Environmental research in the time of COVID-19

“The writings in the blog series show that concerns about the state of the environment will not disappear even in the midst of a pandemic. On the contrary, the corona crisis has highlighted new possibilities and perspectives for environmental research.”

Nessling_Ympäristöviestintä-poikkeustilassa_Somekortti_FB_EN (1)

The pandemic emptied the streets and turned our economy upside-down, but it did not cancel the environmental crisis. We asked researchers how the pandemic is affecting both the environment and the researcher’s daily lives. In just a couple of days, we received messages from dozens of environmental scientists eager to write about their thoughts. This is how our new blog series Environmental research in the time of COVID-19 was born.

Soil at Risk symposium and campaign

“In the middle of darkness and covid limitations, the positive soil posts and the discussion surrounding them were really uplifting, many felt that they were getting energy and joy from the pics and stories shared.”

Soil at Risk

The Foundation's 9th environmental symposium, Soil at Risk, was due to take place in November 2020. Because of the pandemic, the event was postponed to June 2021. In 2020, we actively communicated on soil issues and instead of the symposium, we launched the #SoilSelfie campaign for the “soilweek” 2020 with the Baltic Sea Action Group, Helsinki Design Museum and Forum for Environmental Information. The campaign celebrated and raised the importance of soils.

“In addition to nature, we humans are connected to each other.”

nessling logo