The sustainable city – What can we learn from the award-winning Eco-Viikki project?

The University of Helsinki and the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences are studying how Helsinki’s ecological district, Eco-Viikki, implements the principles of sustainable urban living and sustainability transformations.

What does sustainability transformation mean for a city, and how can it be implemented? Sustainability transformation includes urban planning, the reduction of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions as well as sustainable consumption issues, such as energy expenditure.

Relatively little empirical data exists on sustainability transformations in Finland or elsewhere.  The KEMUT project, coordinated by the University of Helsinki, examines whether ecological construction has created a transformation towards a more sustainable city in Eco-Viikki. The project studies sustainability transformations on three levels:

  • Practical technological applications: transformation in energy and water consumption
  • Methods of political guidance: transformation in construction and design norms
  • Living and environmental potential: transformation in the values of the inhabitants and green infrastructure

Energy consumption and lifestyle transformations

At the halfway point of the KEMUT project, the most significant finding can be considered the results on energy consumption. Metropolia calculated changes to energy consumption in Eco-Viikki and in a control area. When compared to the control area in Herttoniemenranta, researchers found that electricity consumption was a little higher on average in Eco-Viikki. No change was found between 2002 and 2003, even though some of the buildings had adopted LED lamps for lighting during that time. Meanwhile, heat consumption was lower than in the control area and the Finnish national average, but still more than the target level. Overall energy consumption in Eco-Viikki showed little change between the monitoring periods in 2002–2003 and 2015–2016, with some exceptions in a few buildings. 

“These findings do not directly explain the relatively high consumption of electricity and low consumption of heat. A report would require significantly more data on the lifestyles of the inhabitants and their related daily activities,” says Sirkku Juhola, assistant professor in the Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme at the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

The collected data is still being worked on, and it will be used to shed light on a potential comprehensive sustainability transformation. In general, the consumer has a major role in controlling the expenditure of electricity and heat. It should also be noted how lifestyle changes impact consumption over a ten-year span. For example, the number of devices that require regular charging has increased significantly in recent past years. Meanwhile, the energy efficiency of all electrical appliances has improved, and it is increasingly common to use low-energy lamps for lighting.  

The inhabitants of Eco-Viikki believe that the current status in the area could be monitored more extensively to improve practices. The inhabitants prize their sense of community, which has also enabled sustainable practices such as generating a sharing economy.

“Plans for sustainable urban planning could stand to be much more ambitious. The planning should also consider quality, implementation and evaluation,” Juhola states.

The unfinished sections of the project deal with transformations of political guidance, the local identity of Eco-Viikki inhabitants and environmentally friendly behaviours. These factors allow researchers to study sustainability transformations more extensively, and present different perspectives on how political decisions enable, or block, transformations from happening. 

“The concept of the ‘smart city’ has risen alongside ecological urban thinking, and sustainability continues to be an increasingly significant theme in urban planning,” says Juhola.

The KEMUT project hosted an event for Eco-Viikki locals in January. The event showcased preliminary energy consumption figures from Metropolia and the new energy solutions offered by the energy company HELEN. Inhabitants could also discuss their opinions on the environmental aspect of living in Eco-Viikki. Further information on the event is available on the Urban Environmental Policy blog.

Links:

The KEMUT project website (in Finnish)