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Not only is Helsinki Marketing one of our valued partners for our upcoming event, but they are also championing sustainability within the destination in a brilliant way. In June 2019, Helsinki launched Think Sustainably, a service designed to make sustainable service providers more accessible and visible to both residents and visitors in the city. Service providers such as restaurants, shops and accommodation, evaluate themselves against tailor-made sustainability criteria established by local think tanks, interest groups and sustainability experts. Those who meet the criteria are then marked with a green tag, visible to customers and visitors, allowing them to actively make more sustainable lifestyle choices.

 

We caught up with Laura Saksala, Marketing Manager at MyHelsinki, to discover more about this fantastic initiative.

1. Please can you give us a quick overview of MyHelsinki's Think Sustainably service?

Think Sustainably provides residents, visitors and business owners with practical tools to rethink their daily behaviour and make more sustainable lifestyle and business decisions. What if sustainable choices could be embedded into your everyday lifestyle, and be as easy as using your favourite app?

Service providers filtered through the digital service include restaurants, shops, events, experiences and accommodation, each benchmarked against tailor-made criteria developed by the City of Helsinki in collaboration with the independent think tank Demos Helsinki, local interest groups and sustainability experts. The service also includes a route planner feature that enables choosing emission-free transportation options to the wide variety of experiences on offer in the city. The route planner provides CO2 emissions in grams per person per trip. Currently gathering feedback from users, the Think Sustainably service is publicly available with plans to roll the programme out further and review its impact in 2020.

2. How did you begin developing the programme?

The City of Helsinki has a very determined goal to reduce emissions by 60% by the year 2030 and to be completely carbon neutral by 2035. This requires both major structural changes and everyday actions. We need to re-evaluate the old and create more new solutions: sustainable traffic solutions, energy-efficient buildings, clean energy production, smart and clean economy. We are in a hurry, so the standard needs to be set high.

Individual choices matter as well. Locals in Helsinki are very concerned about the climate crisis, over 2/3 of us think it’s the most worrying thing affecting our future. Many feel frustrated that there’s nothing they can do to stop it. There’s a great demand for the frustration to be channelled into something productive: a more sustainable lifestyle is not only possible, it can also be inspirational. We all need to radically rethink our lifestyle and consumption patterns. As a service, Think Sustainably gives you concrete tools for that. These are questions all urban areas are facing today, and I wish this service could be inspirational for other cities as well.

We Finns are pragmatic and really good at getting things done. When we started to design the service, we wanted to strengthen the commitment from the whole community. We believe that every service provider is ready for improvement – and this is why we wish to offer tools and a platform for each individual and every company to function even more sustainably. The criteria can be used as a set of tools to develop operations. They highlight ecological sustainability and specifically address climate change, yet also consider social sustainability.

The City of Helsinki has a very determined goal to reduce emissions by 60% by the year 2030 and to be completely carbon neutral by 2035.

3. Many sustainability initiatives have been as a direct result of something in the media, for example, Blue Planet. Was there a final deciding factor to develop the programme or has it been in motion for some time?

There are many factors, which inspired us to think about how we can contribute to creating a more sustainable city.

First of all, it’s a fact that climate change affects us all. We think that combatting it is not the task of a small minority. The world will change and each one of us participates in this change. We all should have the right to find our own way to make an impact. Also, the City of Helsinki recognises that cities are at the forefront of combating climate change and implementing innovative policies.

Helsinki is committed to promoting a more sustainable way of life, for everyone, because we understand that true impact can only happen when a group big and diverse enough becomes part of the greater change through their own actions. The Think Sustainably service is one way to be part of and initiate that greater change.

4. I imagine people were very willing to come on board in today's current climate but were there any initial barriers?

The response and feedback from the service providers have been great, most of them have warmly welcomed this kind of toolbox and guideline, which helps them concretely develop their operations and to be part of the change. However, it can be challenging for smaller businesses or service providers to fulfil the criteria and to make bigger changes, for instance, change the electricity agreements of the property they operate in etc. It can also be challenging to allocate resources for this kind of development in the first place. Nevertheless, there are many great examples of how the criteria have worked as a trigger to do this kind of bigger improvements.

What comes to the users, consumers, we recognize that it is not easy to change the behaviour and lifestyles of people, at least not rapidly. Still, the service has raised a lot of interest among consumers and been thanked for the positive approach to the difficult topic as well as the concrete help that it gives when making choices in the everyday life.

5. What impact are you hoping this will have on Helsinki's tourism?

First of all, Helsinki is not aiming for growth when it comes to tourism, instead, we focus on quality. We see that sustainability is all more important factor for visitors and it can be a pivotal trigger when choosing a destination. The service is a display of the sustainability efforts the City of Helsinki is doing on a larger scale, but also a concrete tool to plan a 360 sustainable city experience.

For local businesses and service providers, it is a tool to develop their operations to be more sustainable.  As its best, the service and criteria can change the behaviour of the citizens and visitors towards a more sustainable way of enjoying the city. Also, it can develop a sustainable service offering of the city and encourage new business initiatives.

6. Will the criteria continue to evolve?

We have now launched the first version of the criteria and it will be regularly evaluated by Demos Helsinki. We collect feedback from the service users and service providers who are included in the service, but also from other service providers. In addition, we have summoned a team of sustainability professionals who evaluate the criteria and contribute in developing the service further. As we see it, the criteria is never finished, but a toolbox that is in constant development because of the changing environment, laws, requirements and standards. This is the only way to guarantee the relevancy and the impact of the criteria.

7. Do you review existing service providers after a certain period of time to ensure they still meet the criteria?

The finesse of the initiative is the openness and transparency of it. The service built on the trust of the operator's own knowledge and motivations of their activities related to sustainability but also to showing their performance transparently in the online service. In Finland, certain sustainability actions are already required by law, and Finnish society demands that companies act in a socially and economically responsible manner. Also, today's world expects more and more transparent information on the sustainability efforts of companies and other organisations.

Sustainability is a big factor of credibility, and the dismissal of this field can greatly damage a reputation. However, if shortcomings are spotted in fulfilling the criteria, we will be in touch with the service provider in question so they can improve their activities in the given field. If an operator repeatedly receives negative feedback on their sustainability efforts, their participation in the service can be withdrawn.

Kicking things off this year, we will have Tia Hallanoro from MyHelsinki, who will be joining us to host for the 2nd year running at #DTTTGlobal, and we are excited to hear all about its continuous efforts in promoting sustainable development within the city of Helsinki, and more on the new service, "Think Sustainably". We can't wait to hear more!

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