Lahti, the ninth-largest city in Finland, aims to be carbon neutral by 2025 (the country’s aim is 2035). As Europe’s green ambassador for the year, the city pocketed €350,000. Situated 100km NE from Helsinki, Lahti is growing as one of the major economic hubs in Finland. Looking at the city’s environmental records, there is something for the world to learn. The city is leading Europe’s green deal goals, motivating the rest of Europe.
The city has seen the downside of industrialisation- pollution and consequently degraded quality of life. However, unlike most developed/developing economies, the city was way ahead in responding. As early as the 1970s, the city launched a water restoration project to end the city’s largest lake’s visible degradation. Finland was quick in supporting the city’s ambitions. Within two decades, in 1996, the Department of Environmental Ecology of the University of Helsinki was established in Lahti. It made awareness on a range of topics such as stormwater, green roofs, cleaning the soil and circular economy commonplace.
Citizen inclusion events for saving the environment are a part of local life since 1997. In 1998 the city introduced the waste management system, including the separation of bio-waste and energy waste. Consequently, by 2017, they published circular economy goals focusing on bioeconomy, material circulation and new services. Lake Vesijärvi Foundation initiative now secures funding through a combination of private and public resources to maintain and manage the lake and its catchment area. Over the past three decades, local green solutions have resulted in greenhouse gas emissions reduction in Lahti by 37%.
What is so unique?
- Schools teach children how to take care of the planet.
- Elderly volunteers (at schools) take the children into nature for social activities.
- Lahti’s Ice hockey team wants to be carbon-neutral. The club scrapped air travel and presently cools the stadium with renewable energy. They even encourage the fans to avoid paper tickets and use green methods.
- Lahti Symphony Orchestra, a cultural institution, has worked towards becoming carbon neutral for six years.
- Lahti Pelicans, the Ice hockey team, and the symphony orchestra ensure that the latest scientific guidelines count their emission cuts. They do so through their partnership with researchers from the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology.
- Päijät-Häme Grain Cluster, an extensive network of companies working with grain in the production chain, from farm to retail, continuously seeks green innovations and circular economy solutions to cooperate with local researchers.
- Since 2010, Etanolix, a bioethanol plant, uses Hartwall’s food waste and other local grain industries to produce bio-based fuel for vehicles.
- Kymijärvi III, a new bio plant started in 2019, produces 100% renewable energy, aligning with the stoppage of coal-fired energy.
- CitiCAP app (Citizens’ cap and trade co-created) calculates individual CO2 emission budget based on living and working conditions and rewards (in virtual euros that are acceptable citywide) to reduce their carbon footprint.
- There are grassroots projects in the city that allow sharing of public spaces. They are available to rent and reuse for other events. 99% of citizens live within 300 metres of green urban areas.
Small things make a difference!
Lahti is currently a growth centre for almost 10,000 businesses. Several international partnerships and environmental projects are supporting Lahti’s green growth. The Finish energy company St1 that supported Hartwall with the Etanolix bioethanol plant in Lahti also built similar plants in Sweden and Thailand – the initiative allowed Lahti to lead in motivating cities worldwide. Simultaneously, the city also partnered with the national Smart & Clean Foundation, aiming to create a cleantech reference platform by 2020 in Finland.
As of 2018, the city was already utilising 97% of its municipal waste. One-third of that is recycled and reused as raw materials, and the remaining two-third produces energy. Following the shift to a bioethanol plant for vehicle fuel and another bio plant for renewable energy production, the city officially stopped using coal in 2019. It shifted to recycled fuel and local, certified wood. The transformation reduced the city’s Energia’s CO2 emissions by 600,000 tonnes per year, corresponding to the annual emissions of about 60,000 Finns. Besides, Lahti’s long-term climate work adheres to 42 ongoing climate procedures as part of the Lahti Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP).
Acknowledging citizens’ contributions
In 2020, from June to December, the EU funded a pilot project through the ‘Urban Innovative Actions Initiative’ for the 2014-2020 programming period to test the CitiCAP. The purpose of developing the app was to educate and inform citizens about their role in protecting the climate and providing them with a tool to take climate action individually. Researchers at the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology found that the app motivated people to take the bike, bus or walk instead of using a car. The city is currently considering the future continuation and expansion of the app to include lifestyle aspects other than transportation. The latest feature is to focus on integrating carbon footprint related to food.
The city is also leading on the principles of Circular Economy and Green City. The City Council renews its Master Plans every four years, adapting to the long-term planning goals. The Continuous Master Plan Process continuously monitor and assess the various sustainability factors. These include residential needs, child-friendly urban environment, light mobility, ecology, and the overall economy. Lahti is known for creating multiple land-use models while focusing on a shared, innovative vision for urban and brownfield areas in the city. Citizens’ perspectives are systematically included in the development and land-use planning of the city.
The close collaboration between companies, the public sector and local researchers is a unique strength Lahti possesses. Through numerous initiatives, citizens are now excited about their role in the city’s future. They want to be a part of it. Acknowledging citizens’ actions and considering their immediate needs in city development is something most cities should integrate into their planning processes. Lahti is undoubtedly leading the way for a carbon-neutral lifestyle in the new world.