Helsinki´s state of the environment is good, and there are many additional pluses that contribute to a good quality of living in the city: closeness to nature, large green areas inside the city, a rich archipelago and coastline, and well-functioning public transport.
Helsinki excels in many areas of care for the environment, including public transport, district heating and cooling, and water management.
Today 72 percent of Helsinki´s morning rush-hour commuters to the city centre use public transport. The inner city is served by a dense and expanding tram network. About two-thirds of public transport to the Helsinki central business district, and about half in the Helsinki metropolitan area, is by rail.
The city´s energy company Helsingin Energia is a world-leader in co-generation - combined generation of electricity, district heat and district cooling. Today 93 percent of the heated space within the city limits is integrated into the district heating network. District cooling, available since 2003, achieves five times higher ecological efficiency than building-specific cooling systems. The district cooling network in the fastest growing grid in Europe.
The city´s water management is internationally recognized. The HSY Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority treats most of the region´s wastewater in a facility built into bedrock and occupying 15 hectares underground in Viikinmäki. The process removes 95 percent of phosphorous and 90 percent of nitrogen - some of the highest levels achievable in municipal wastewater plants worldwide.
Environmental protection is a key aspect of all activities of the City of Helsinki. The City´s environmental oversight and expert agency is the City of Helsinki Environment Centre.
The Environment Centre´s mission is to ensure that the natural environment is taken into consideration in Helsinki´s decision making. The Centre seeks to counter environmental and health hazards. Activities include monitoring of the state of the environment. The Centre looks after food safety and even the wellbeing of pets and domestic animals.
The Centre´s services include information to consumers on a wide range of topics such as pest control. The services also include education of residents and companies on environmentally friendly practices. The Centre runs a Nature Centre on the Harakka island in Helsinki, dedicated to educating the public on nature.
The Environment Centre operates in a custom-designed building completed in 2011 which achieves the lowest energy consumption of any office building in Finland, featuring less than half of the energy consumption of the best new office buildings in Helsinki.
Three themes feature prominently in Helsinki´s environmental protection efforts: (1) controlling growing traffic volumes, (2) adapting to climate change and reducing the use of fossil fuels, and (3) protecting the Baltic Sea.
Solutions to growing traffic volumes include further improvements in public transport, especially by rail. The City continues to expand its tram network to serve new areas including Jätkäsaari, and the metro rail system will be extended to the west in the next few years.
Helsinki´s energy production today largely relies on coal, but Helsingin Energia is seeking new renewable energy sources.
The state of the Baltic Sea is alarming. The sea suffers from heavy nutrient loading from the states on its rim. The Cities of Helsinki and Turku launched a campaign in 2007 to improve the state of the sea, called the Baltic Sea Challenge.
Environmental goals and means to the goals
Helsinki´s strategic goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Means to the goal include energy-efficiency and renewable fuels. Today Helsinki´s electricity sources are natural gas (54%), coal (21%), nuclear energy (18%) and renewable energy (7%). The share of renewable energy will be increased to one-fifth by 2020.
Helsinki´s Energy company Helsingin Energia is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Means to the goal include the renewable energy sources of sea wind power, forest-based pellets, bio coal and bio gas. Further eco-efficiency will come from carbon-capture technologies.
Helsinki instituted a Sustainability Action Plan in 2002, as the first European capital to do so. The plan included 70 actions to be implemented by 2010. Helsinki was successful in one of the main goals, which was to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Total emissions decreased by 10 percent from the 1990 level, exceeding the goal set by Helsinki City Council, which was at the 1990 level.
Climateinfo is a service for citizens operated by the Helsinki region´s cities and municipal organizations. The service is meant to motivate citizens to fight climate change and to help them shift towards a low-carbon lifestyle. Information and instructions on climate-friendly choices and lifestyles is provided in person at Sanoma House and online at the service´s website.
Pioneering project replaces conventional street lights with LED lights
The street lighting in the western Herttoniemi housing area in Helsinki is now realized energy-efficiently with about 100 LED street lights. The pioneering street lighting upgrade project is the first in Helsinki where LED street lights are extensively used to light roadways.
The upgrade project aims to provide pleasant and safe lighting, as well as achieving energy savings. According to residents, the area´s street lighting has improved.
The lighting reform was supported by a concurrent project to lay electrical cables under the streets, whereby streets had to be dug up facilitating the street lighting upgrade.
"We are now gathering experiences in LED lighting, reviewing the lights used in this project and the use of LED lighting in general in a wide area," says Jouko Manninen of Helsinki´s energy company Helsingin Energia.
"We´re also developing interaction with customers. We have studied the reform with a questionnaire for customers, and the feedback has mainly been very positive."
In addition to Helsinki roadways, parks and squares, many of the city´s main buildings, bridges and statues are also lit. Helsinki is illuminated by a total of 85,000 light sources.