Unnecessary resource use needs to end
Annu Nieminen had two passions as a young girl. One was classical music, playing the oboe and composing. The other was mathematics, especially exploring how ‘hard’ numbers could be used to solve ‘soft’ issues, i.e. major human problems.
The latter is what Upright, the firm she founded, is focusing on. Upright compiles big data that reveals whether companies are doing more good than bad.
The idea began to germinate during her student years in Otaniemi. Later, while working a day job, she felt a powerful urge to further develop her concept: a model for computing a company’s net impact, i.e. the plusses and minuses all operations as a whole have on the environment, human health and society.
In the beginning, Nieminen felt certain that somebody somewhere would already be working on the same idea. But when she couldn’t find anything similar even in Silicon Valley, she made the decision to launch her business.
The artificial intelligence developed by the Upright team searches an enormous database of scientific articles and mines hundreds of millions of information sources for data on, for example, the impacts a product’s manufacture and lifecycle have.
‘Apple, for example, is assigned a small share of the global aluminium industry’s emissions because it is one of the users of aluminium at the end of the value chain.’
Paying customers like banks, asset managers and other organisations utilise the database, which covers some 40 000 companies, when making investment and funding decisions.
‘We felt a need to start challenging the major flows of capital. Enough guilt has already been directed at ordinary people,’ Nieminen says.
Ways to measure the responsibility of companies already exist, but they are susceptible to describing a firm’s PR efforts instead of its core business activities. A fossil energy company can have outstanding administration, a good workplace culture and give money to admirable charities, but that doesn’t alter the fact that its main product is destroying the climate.
Nieminen would like to remove all unnecessary resource utilisation from our world. She provokes people to change: what can you do better with your time and passion?
Sometimes, the message hits a company’s sensitive spot.
‘But the people in these firms are smart. Everybody would much rather add value than destroy it.’
Nieminen finds that her work has benefited most from her classical music studies and from learning to overcome the tremors and pressure felt when a concert performance or skill demonstration is about to begin.
‘I’ve learned to think that I just channel the music, this piece wants to be played through me. As an entrepreneur, I’ve sometimes felt dread about what we’re doing, too. In such moments, I bring to mind that we have a message that must be heard, let’s see where it takes us.’
- Work: founder and CEO of Upright since 2017.
- Education: M.Sc. (Engineering) specialising in information networks, graduated from Aalto in 2009.
- Career: consultant with McKinsey in 2010–13, CEO of Kasvuryhmä in 2015–16 and since then a member of Kasvuryhmä’s board of directors.
- What are you learning right now? – ‘I’m exploring patience: finding the courage to look a few years ahead, not just a few weeks. I’m also learning to lead with questions and trust, without knowing everything about everything myself.’
- What issue have you tackled at work today? – ‘I’ve thought about future uses for Upright’s data and ways in which employees might take advantage of our information on companies’ net impacts when choosing a workplace.’