Legal obligations for businesses
Finland´s environmental legislation defines minimum standards of environmental responsibility, which apply to all businesses operating in Finland. The operators are obliged to be aware of their legal responsibilities, and organise their activities accordingly.
All businesses whose activities
significantly affect water bodies are
required to monitor impacts of their
activities on waters. © Tapio Heikkilä
Being aware of environmental impacts
The Environmental Protection Act (86/2000) obliges all businesses operating in Finland to be sufficiently aware of the environmental impacts and risks of their activities - and of opportunities to reduce these impacts and risks. Environmental impact assessments (EIA) must be conducted wherever activities listed in Section 6 of Finland´s EIA Decree (268/1999) are practised.
The following principles are applied wherever activities are associated with pollution risks:
- Harmful environmental impacts are prevented beforehand. Where this is not possible, such impacts should be minimised (Prevention and minimisation of harmful impacts principle).
- All activities should also otherwise be conducted with due diligence and care so as to prevent pollution and limit harmful impacts, according to the potential risks (Precautionary and due diligence principle).
- Best available techniques (BAT) are applied (BAT principle).
- Purposeful and cost-effective combinations of measures must be adopted to prevent pollution, such as safe working practices and suitable choices of fuels and raw materials (Best environmental practices principle).
Actors whose activities lead to a risk of pollution are legally obliged to prevent, minimise, correct and compensate for any harmful environmental impacts (Polluter pays principle).
Supervision of activities with environmental impacts
The environmental authorities (Finland´s 15 Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment and the municipalities´ environmental officers) look after the needs of the environment in their respective areas.
The most important tools for impact prevention and supervision are environmental permits and registration systems. Finland´s environmental authorities also monitor the state of the environment, respond to reports about possible pollution incidents, and deal with infringements as necessary. Regional environment centres may also press charges wherever industrial or business activities lead to illegal pollution.
All businesses that conduct activities associated with the risk of pollution are obliged to obtain environmental permits under the Environmental Protection Act. These permits define the permissible extent of such operations, the consequent emissions, and measures to limit them. Permits are only granted where activities do not lead to health risks, or the risk of significant pollution.
Section 28 of the Act defines where environmental permits are needed, and Section 1 of the Environmental Protection Decree specifies the activities in each business sector for which permits are required.
Other permits and registration schemes
In addition to the permits required under the Environmental Protection Act, decisions are made and permits are granted also by the authorities for activities controlled under the Land Use and Building Act and the Nature Conservation Act. Various types of water services projects, the transportation of wastes, and the importing and sale of many chemicals are also subject to official permits.
Certain other activities should be cleared with the authorities, who are empowered to prohibit or limit them as necessary. Examples include limits on the use of off-road vehicles and water traffic.
Businesses must also register certain activities with the environmental authorities, even where they will only occur temporarily. Such activities covered by Section 10 of the Environmental Protection Act include activities that will lead to noise and vibrations, or experimental and exceptional operations that could have negative environmental impacts. Activities including the clean-up of contaminated soils must be duly registered according to Section 12 of the Act. In approving registrations the environmental permit authorities may set limits on such activities.
Fees must be paid for decisions on permit applications and the related reports, by the applicant or recipient of the permit. Securities must also be provided for certain activities.
Monitoring of activities subject to permits
The activities subject to environmental permits and other compulsory registration are monitored throughout their life cycles by the regional environment centres and municipalities´ environmental officers.
The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment each publish on their websites their annual plans for the monitoring of activities subject to permits. These plans describe the special features of local areas and define the need for monitoring, objectives, the resources available, and the sites where monitoring will be conducted.
Environmental permits require facilities to submit regular reports on their activities and emission levels to the monitoring authorities. Facilities must also submit reports to the authorities without delay whenever they exceed their short-term emission limits or other significant disturbances occur. All facilities covered by permits are additionally inspected regularly.
Obligations to monitor discharges into water
All businesses whose activities significantly affect water bodies are obliged to monitor the state of the water bodies affected, to assess the impacts of their actions.
Insurance against environmental damage
Businesses whose activities are subject to environmental permits are also generally obliged to take out compulsory environmental damage insurance.
Environmental charges and taxes
The most important environmental taxes in Finland include energy taxes, fuel taxes and motor vehicle taxes. Other taxes that affect businesses include waste tax, and taxes on alcoholic beverages and disposable beverage packages.
Environmental charges are imposed to help cover the costs of environmental protection work. The most important such charges include oil pollution prevention charges, oil waste charges, and the fees paid for environmental permits.
Product approval in construction
The suitability of materials and products for use in construction in Finland can be demonstrated through recognised type approval schemes, verified product use registration, and the European CE labelling scheme.
The land use planning system
Land use and building developments are controlled through Finland´s land use planning system.