Espoo to cut emissions

Published: 1.8.2022 8.38
Markku Markkula (left) and Elina Wanne were involved in making the new Lippulaiva centre a carbon-neutral shopping centre. Mika Koskinen hopes that the city will lead the way in grassroots climate work and biodiversity as the city keeps growing.

Espoo can achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 only through cooperation between the City, residents and companies. City Council member Markku Markkula, Development Manager Elina Wanne and active energy citizen Mika Koskinen came together to think of ways to achieve this goal.

Published in Länsiväylä on 27 April

The hallways of the newest shopping centre in Espoo are decorated with messages about the energy efficiency of the shiny new building. Elina Wanne, Development Manager of the Espoo Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development, knows the building inside and out as she has been involved in making the Lippulaiva shopping centre a pilot site for the EU urban development project as a model for other European cities.

“With the project, the Lippulaiva will be heated and cooled using the largest geothermal system in a commercial building in Europe,” Wanne says. 

City Council member Markku Markkula has also played a role in ensuring that the energy system of the shopping centre and the 600 dwellings planned for the block are smarter than usual. Waste heat is recycled back to the district heating network, and there are 2,400 square metres of solar panels on the roof. Even the exterior wall of the library opened in the shopping centre is harnessed for electricity production.

“I used an hour to explain to the European Investment Bank's experts why it will pay off to fund the project. We had sufficiently ambitious objectives, so our project could be used as a model for Europe as a whole,” Markku Markkula reminisces. 

Documentary film maker Mika Koskinen listens with interest. He is familiar with energy investments, because he is a shareholder in the real estate company that owns a shopping centre in Kuitinmäki. Koskinen was involved in filling the shopping centre roof with solar panels. The trio met in the new Lippulaiva centre to discuss how Espoo can become a carbon-neutral city by the end of the decade. 

The IPCC climate report published just before the meeting is a disheartening read. Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase. They must be steeply reduced in order for global warming to remain tolerable.

In terms of the figures, Finland has succeeded well. Emissions have decreased by about one third from 1990. Espoo is doing even better: emissions per capita were reduced to levels below those of 1990 for the first time in 2020, based on Helsinki Region Environmental Services’ (HSY) emissions calculation. Espoo's emissions were the lowest in the Helsinki metropolitan area; 3.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita.

“It’s the right direction,” Elina Wanne says.

Espoo is a pioneer, especially in terms of the largest emission source, building heating. Coal power will be phased out completely by 2025, and plenty of new emission-free energy production is under construction.

“Fortum is our strategic partner. We hold regular discussions with them,” Wanne says.

The City's energy projects are immense in size, but Mika Koskinen has taken action in his own backyard. His house is heated with geothermal heat and his car runs on biogas. He wants the City of Espoo to adopt the same approach. In addition to excellent model sites, the focus could be on the old building stock and on minimising its energy consumption. 

“The City could map all of its properties and consider suitable solar panels and heat pump solutions,” Koskinen proposes. 

In recent years, the nearly 800 properties of the City of Espoo have saved energy and euros by e.g. abandoning oil heating, optimising district heating and developing energy management. However, Markku Markkula acknowledges that much remains to be done. The City is missing out on some excellent energy investments. 

“The decision-making process does not adequately calculate life cycle costs and impacts,” Markkula says. 

In early 2022, greenhouse gas emissions from Espoo and 14 other Finnish municipalities were calculated in a new way, starting with the consumption of residents. 

“Consumption-based calculation will also address emissions generated elsewhere,” Elina Wanne explains. 

The new calculation method paints a much gloomier picture of the carbon footprint of Espoo and other Finnish cities. Instead of three tonnes of emissions per capita produced within the City's borders, the average carbon footprint of the residents of Espoo is three times that, nine tonnes. Including e.g. the manufacture and logistics of imported goods, food production, the travel of the residents of Espoo outside Espoo and trips abroad.  

Consumers play a major role in the mitigation of climate change. According to the IPCC report, consumers taking action can reduce emissions by 40–70%. 

The good news is that this is entirely possible. Mika Koskinen started his personal emission diet already in 2004 when he lived in China. 

“When I travelled from China to Finland by train back then it was considered kind of extreme. Now there are many more people like me,” Koskinen says. 

If we want to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees, the carbon footprint of each inhabitant of the Earth should fall to 2.5 tonnes in 2030. When Koskinen last carried out an emission test online, he had already reached the target. His own carbon footprint was less than a quarter of what it used to be. 

“It's not impossible. It's not even hard. I drive a car and even eat meat.

However, I usually go for waste food and my car runs on biogas produced from biowaste.”  

Diet and travel play the most significant role in reducing emissions for the average resident of Espoo. Koskinen hopes that the City would put measures in place to reduce food losses in schools, for example. 

“In the private sector, there are services that supply surplus food to those who need it. The City's kitchens could utilise the same methods,” Koskinen proposes. 

Cooperation with waste food operators has been tested in the activities of Espoo Catering, which provides the City's food services, and extra meals related to preparations for the COVID-19 pandemic have been donated to food aid. The challenge lies in precise regulation on e.g. how long food that remains on the line can be served.

“It is precisely this kind of civic activity that is needed. If it turns out that regulation is not working, we have to tell the ministries or the EU,” Markkula says excitedly. 

Markku Markkula has the opportunity to do just this. He acts as Vice-Chair of the Bureau of the European Committee of the Regions, which represents cities in the official decision-making process of the EU.

“70–80% of climate change mitigation solutions are made at the urban and municipal level. That is why Espoo and other pioneer cities play a key role,” Markkula says.

The food debate will continue for a long time. Koskinen hopes for more allotments for urban residents and Markku Markkula wonders what the Otaniemi research community would have to contribute to cutting food-related emissions. For example, the recent insight of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland researchers enables the production of egg protein in bioreactors without hens.

“Companies now have a huge urge to find such solutions, because there is a demand for them across Europe,” Markkula says.

Espoo is considered a car town. 

“Transport is a big challenge for us. The density of electric cars is the highest in Finland in Espoo, but change happens slowly,” Elina Wanne says. 

The 134 recharging points in the shopping centre parking garage indicate that electric cars are coming.  An even greater change in mobility will take place in 2023 when passengers can enter the Lippulaiva shopping centre directly from the new metro station in Espoonlahti. 

Markku Markkula remembers how people used to oppose the metro. Fortunately, the position of Espoo changed in the early 2000s when the ageing centres needed a reform. Tapiola, for example, has started to flourish again thanks to the metro.

“The metro has been a good solution for city renewal, even if it did cost a lot of money. We must have the courage to make decisions for the distant future.”

The residents of Espoo used to go shopping in Helsinki, and now they frequent the regional centres along rail connections just a few kilometres away. In the future, more and more people will travel by city bike, scooters, car sharing or scheduled taxi services.

Elina Wanne estimates that the war in Ukraine will boost the efforts to stop using fossil fuels. Mika Koskinen is also convinced that the rise in the price of fossil fuels will reduce transport emissions and encourage urban residents to make other investments in energy efficiency. Technological developments have also made reducing emissions economically sensible.

“The Kuitinmäki solar panel investment, for example, was made on purely economic grounds,” Koskinen says. 

In the current world situation, investments in local energy production are also a question of security of supply. 

But will we live in a carbon-neutral city by 2030?

“My aim is that it will happen a little earlier if we outdo ourselves and get people excited about it,” Markku Markkula says.

“But there is still a lot of work to do, and we need everyone's input. Climate work with the Espoo community will be compiled into the carbon-neutral Espoo 2030 roadmap this year,”  Elina Wanne says.

The hour-long chat has made the division of roles in cutting city emissions clear. Markku Markkula will focus on EU decision-making and business life, and Elina Wanne will focus on the city's largest source of emissions, heat production. Mika Koskinen, on the other hand, hopes that the city will lead the way in grassroots climate work and biodiversity.

However, we share the same objective and everyone’s efforts are needed.”

 

Espoo's consumption-based emissions are slightly over 9.0 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. Of this, energy consumption and construction account for 3.1 tonnes, goods and services 2.4 tonnes, food 1.9 tonnes and mobility 1.7 tonnes. Source: Sitowise Oy and Natural Resources Institute Finland: The Kulma project

Carbon neutral Espoo 2030 targets for energy, transport and construction will be promoted in the following projects, among others:

  • The Implementation Pathway for Environments that Accelerate Sustainable Growth KETO project boosts cooperation between businesses, schools and research organisations, and creates concrete development environments that promote the green transition and digitalisation. The project will be implemented in cooperation with the City of Espoo, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University, Omnia and several partner companies. The project is funded by the European Union’s REACT-EU ERDF and is part of the European Union’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information www.espoo.fi/en/kestava-kehitys/implementation-pathway-environments-accelerate-sustainable-growth-keto
  • The SPARCS project is looking for new innovative solutions to develop energy-positive areas as part of a comprehensive European joint project. The project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding programme under contract No 864242. More information www.espoo.fi/en/kestava-kehitys/sparcs
  • The RAKKE – a solution path to sustainable growth ecosystems project will strengthen cooperation between the public and private sectors and promote innovation and business activities related to the development of low-carbon transport, energy, circular economy as well as clean and smart urban solutions. The project has been funded from support for sustainable growth and vitality in Uusimaa (UKKE) funding. More information www.espoo.fi/en/kestava-kehitys/rakke-solution-path-sustainable-growth-ecosystems

For more information on ongoing projects, visit www.espoo.fi/en/sustainable-development

  • Sustainability
  • Climate