Saving the Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is in critical condition, and environmental groups are turning to innovative solutions.

The future of the Baltic Sea is being challenged by multiple environmental threats, ranging from damaging agricultural runoff and toxic pollution to overfishing of important commercial fisheries. Strong projected growth in the region will only place more demands on the sea’s limited resources unless actions are taken to address these problems.

To develop a solution, BCG joined forces with WWF to evaluate an approach to conserve and restore the health of the Baltic Sea. BCG analyzed the likely impact that two different scenarios for the future would have on the region’s three key industries: tourism, agriculture, and commercial fishing. This analysis determined that by 2030, under a “Clear Water” scenario, the region could add 550,000 more jobs and €32 billion more in economic value than it would achieve in the second scenario, “Shipwrecked,” in which actions didn’t decrease the region’s ecological footprint or promote collaboration among the region’s governments and industry sectors.

BCG also identified five recommendations that—taken together—could turn the tide and generate improved, sustainable health for the Baltic Sea:

  • Focus on high-impact initiatives.
  • Empower regional bodies and increase accountability.
  • Take an integrated, coordinated approach.
  • Drive innovation with commercial incentives.
  • Transform the region into a hub for blue and green technologies.

Although sustaining the health of the Baltic Sea remains an ongoing effort, BCG anticipates that results in that region have the potential of mirroring Singapore’s transformation from a water-rationing nation to a commercially viable hydro hub. In the 1960s, water shortages, polluted rivers, and poor sanitary conditions were key public-health concerns in Singapore. Today, not only does the country provide sustainable supplies of clean water to its people, but it also has turned its technology-based environmental solutions into profitable businesses. Since 2006, about 50 new companies have been formed in Singapore; 6,000 jobs have been created; and the number of research centers has increased from 3 to 25.

The Baltic Sea region has similar potential to become a global leader in technology-driven environmental solutions. By reframing its challenges as economic, rather than environmental, the region can clearly show the negative impact of polluted waters on tourism, commercial fishing, and other industries—and the positive benefits of a clean water scenario.

By highlighting the economic implications of a healthy Baltic Sea, BCG has helped WWF frame a new debate about the future of the sea with the private and public sector alike—and thus has helped WWF to raise these issues high on the agenda, exactly where we need them to be.

Pauli Merriman
Director of WWF's Baltic Ecoregion Programme
Social Impact and Sustainability