In a world first, the City of Helsinki has launched a digital service that enables the capital’s residents, businesses and visitors to make more sustainable choices. The Think Sustainably App resembles a regular city guide, but with sustainability as its focus, and enables consumers to make more conscious decisions while helping business owners mitigating their environmental impact.
The App is part of the local government's Carbon Neutral Helsinki Initiative, which aims to make the city carbon neutral by 2035, and was developed in large part as a result of a survey that was carried out locally in 2018 in which two thirds of residents identified the climate crisis as their major concern when thinking about the future of the city. For residents and visitors, Think Sustainably makes supporting those businesses that are environmentally aware much easier, and for businesses owners a set of sustainability criteria and a checklist of actions help them improve their eco rating.
Launched as a pilot back in June, the App now has over 80 participating businesses, including restaurants, shops, events, experiences and accommodation. The self-reporting service ranks each category against a set of tailor made standards, which have been formulated by the City of Helsinki in collaboration with the independent think tank Demos Helsinki, local interest groups and sustainability experts. And while certain benchmarks such as the extent of renewable energy use apply across the board, other criteria are more enterprise specific. For example, restaurants are asked to consider avoiding disposable cutlery and serving ethical seafood, cultural institutions are encouraged to promote the use of public transport, and it is suggested that shops sell recycled items, offer repairs or incorporate borrowing into their business model. There are also several social sustainability criteria, including the employment of those people who may otherwise be challenging to place and the publicizing of accessibility information.
On opening the App, users are able to view listings of local business across the various categories, with the most sustainable operators marked with a green tag. The service also shows which companies are meeting their full sustainability criteria, as well as those that fall short. However, businesses do not need to satisfy all of the criteria to be certified sustainable, and are simply ranked accordingly. And through public feedback, users are able to hold businesses constantly accountable.
The service also includes a feature that helps commuters and tourists choose emission-free transport across the city, with a built-in route planner calculating CO2 emissions in grams per person per trip. “Individual choices matter,” said Kaisa-Reeta Koskinen, Director of the City of Helsinki’s Carbon Neutral Helsinki Initiative. “If one person in each of the 2.6 million households existing in Finland would reduce their carbon footprint by 20 per cent, we would reach 38 per cent of the goals set for Finland in the Paris climate agreement for reducing emissions.”
Helsinki is the first city in Europe, and second only to New York globally, to report voluntarily to the UN on the implementation of its Sustainable Development Goals, and the Finnish capital is known for its forward-thinking approach in terms of sustainable policies and initiatives. “We hope that others can also learn from our experiments,” said Laura Aalto, CEO at Helsinki Marketing. And in rolling out Think Sustainably, The City has recognized the unique role that cities play in creating solutions to address the global climate crisis.
Feedback from users will help further develop the App, with plans to extend the service in 2020. “Locals in Helsinki are very concerned about the climate crisis,” said Tia Hallanoro, Helsinki Marketing’s Director of Brand Communications & Digital Development. “There’s a great demand for the frustration to be channelled into something productive that allows us to rethink our lifestyle and consumer patterns, and as a service, Think Sustainably gives you concrete tools for that.”