Environmental awareness and responsibility

Helsinki wants to be a forerunner in environmental education and provide a range of services that support a sustainable lifestyle for the residents of Helsinki by making environmental choices easy to make.

Sustainable future is taken into account in teaching and early childhood education

In the City of Helsinki Education Division, pedagogy for a sustainable future has been strengthened with the KETTU and KIERRE models as well as the Carbon-neutral Helsinki course. The ‘KETTU – Sustainable future in early childhood education and basic education’ model combines climate and environmental education, futures literacy and design-based learning. The ‘KIERRE – Sustainable future from the circular economy’ model is a cross-curricular model that examines the circular economy from the perspective of phenomena. The model combines awareness of natural resources, climate awareness and design-based learning. A cross-curricular course called Carbon-neutral Helsinki has been developed together with general upper secondary schools. It will become a mandatory course for all first year students of general upper secondary schools starting from August 2021.

Young people consider environmental matters to be important

The cooperation of Youth Services in the EcoCompass environmental management system has allowed an increasing number of young people to participate in environmental activity. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous nature excursions, camps, events, clubs, nature school days, animal cafés and cooking sessions using food waste and vegetables were successfully held around the city.

In the Ruutibudjetti data collection carried out at all youth work units, young people were asked about their environmental concerns and desire to take action for the environment. 64% of the almost 2,500 young people felt that environmental matters are important or very important in their own life, while 27.5% felt that environmental matters are somewhat important and only 8.5% felt that they are of minor importance or not at all important. With regard to their residential areas, young people were the most concerned about littering, the disappearance of local forests and green areas, and climate change. Elements that came up in the answers included the desire to take action for a litter-free environment and nature, vegetarian dishes, contributing to the mitigation of climate change, and matters related to consumption. Local youth work units will develop their activities together with young people based on the answers.

In 2020, the Environmental Youth Work Unit developed new types of environmental education activities by adopting the Löytöretkeilijät (Explorers) operating concept, among other things, and setting up a young people’s climate change mitigation group called Harkiten henkariin, which is implemented in cooperation with WWF. In the summer, many youth work units joined forces to develop the Youth Island Gallery, a new centre of environmental and cultural activity for young people, at the stables on Vartiosaari island. The location hosted camps, open workshop days and, in late summer, a beautiful exhibition of art by young people. The Youth Eco Café operated as part of the Youth Island Gallery for the whole summer. Young people from the Herttoniemi youth work unit participated in the Agenda – Art 2030 event in Töölönlahti with their work of performing arts/spatial art. For their work, these young people selected two of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals: reduced inequalities and climate action.

A great amount of distance lessons and materials were produced to support environmental education

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the schools in March 2020, the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) started to produce environmental education tools for distance learning in collaboration with its long-term partner, Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre Ltd. In April, six advisory digital games were completed for use by pre-schoolers and comprehensive school pupils. The themes of the games are vital water as well as sustainable consumption and the circular economy. The games are available to teachers free of charge, and they can be found in the Seppo shop. Distance lesson versions are also available of the games. During the year, the digital games had a total of approximately 3,500 players.

HSY and the Reuse Centre edited the outdoor lessons to be more coronavirus safe and converted a few of the lessons into distance lessons. In the autumn, both outdoor lessons and digital game sessions were held for 5–6-year-olds, while outdoor lessons, distance lessons and digital game sessions were held for educational institutions.

In 2020, Korkeasaari Zoo was closed for 3.5 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the period when it was closed, Korkeasaari Zoo produced a great amount of digital material for environmental education, which delighted distance learning pupils in particular. Various tasks, videos and games were compiled on the Korkeasaari Zoo website about topics such as threatened animals, baby animals and what animals get up to at different times of the year. The tasks page had over 8,600 users during the year, and the games were played more than 7,000 times. A fun and educational game called Etäkevätretki Korkeasaareen (Remote spring excursion to Korkeasaari Zoo), which was played by 221 classes, was also released in the spring.

In the summer and autumn after the COVID-19 restrictions were eased, Korkeasaari Zoo was visited by more than 4,500 schoolchildren and approximately 3,500 pre-school-aged children, Nature School Arkki held 39 nature school days, and four environment and animal-themed summer camps were held for children in June.

Independent exploration of nature was supported

As an exception, Harakka Nature Centre was not opened to the public until the start of June due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Instructor-led activities were not held at all during the spring season, with the exception of two environment study days in February. During the autumn season, 21 nature school days were held. Only 13 island adventure days were held for daycare children, as daycare centres were banned from using modes of public transport. In total, 961 children and young people with their teachers participated in the nature school and island adventure. 16 private excursions were held, and they were attended by 167 visitors.

On Helsinki Day, people had an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful views of Harakka and the fierce life of seagulls via a livestream. In July, visitors were introduced to Harakka’s operations and the underwater life of the Baltic Sea in the lobby of Central Library Oodi.

The nature excursions intended for city residents did not start until the beginning of June because of the pandemic. The total number of excursions held was 16, and they had 439 participants. Participants had to sign up in advance for all of these excursions.

Independent exploration of nature was facilitated by producing a video series called Ode to the Nature of Helsinki. The series takes viewers to seven nature sites in Helsinki and is available on the Helsinki channel. Additionally, city residents were encouraged to observe nature and engage in citizen science in the Helsinki bumblebee contest implemented via the iNaturalist application. The contest received 269 photos of bumblebee sightings.

The ‘Ode to the Nature of Helsinki’ exhibition on display from June to November was implemented in participation space Brygga in Central Library Oodi. The exhibition, which inspired interest in the rich nature of Helsinki and nature information, was visited by 21,900 people.

Residents took part in taking care of their own environment

In 2020, a record number of new Park Pals signed up for Park Pals activity, in which volunteers mainly pick up litter in their own immediate environment. Due to COVID-19, green areas had more visitors and littering in the areas increased, which inspired many people to want to participate in keeping the environment clean. In 2020, approximately 400 new Park Pals signed up, and at the end of the year there were approximately 1,500 registered Park Pals involved in Park Pals activity.

Park Pals ready for action on an outcrop in Meilahti.
Picture 20. Park Pals gathering litter in their own neighbourhood. Photograph by Shoot Hayley.

In contrast, volunteer-based environmental events such as clean-up events and invasive alien species prevention events suffered from the effects of COVID-19. The number of clean-up events held by residents was only a fourth of the number for a normal year. There were 39 clean-up events, and the estimated number of participants was 3,580. The greatest impact was visible when schools skipped their traditional spring clean-up events. Other environmental clean-up events in which the City is the main organiser were also skipped because of COVID-19.

The City held alien plant species prevention events eight times from June onwards in Pornaistenniemi, Lammassaari, Uutela and Kallahdenniemi. The species combatted were the Himalayan balsam and the rugosa rose. In open volunteer events, the participant numbers were smaller than in previous years, but the volunteers still managed to do a lot. One volunteer event was held in cooperation with Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute as part of the institute’s education in invasive alien species. The number of invasive alien plant species events organised by residents was slightly higher than in previous years, which shows that awareness of invasive alien species and their harmfulness has increased among the residents.

Climateinfo communicated information and trained actively 

In early 2020, Climateinfo managed to hold four energy events for housing companies in Helsinki, focusing on the themes of geothermal heat and switching from oil heating to renewable energy sources. Housing company club meetings were also held live as part of an energy expert course, for example. COVID-19 led to a switch to webinars, which proved to be successful.

In early 2020, Climateinfo also actively communicated information about the effects of eating too much protein on health, wastewater treatment and the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea; the topic was also widely featured in the news. This protein campaign will also continue in 2021. Climateinfo themes were also featured in the new Ilmastoterapia (Climate Therapy) podcast series and in The Feel Good Challenge on Instagram. Tap water campaigns related to major events were cancelled because of COVID-19.

Ekoekspertti activity involves residents in environmental work

In 2020, Helsinki City Housing Company (Heka) carried out the ‘Ekoekspertit’ (Eco-experts) project funded by Sitra and the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA), which developed a new type of digital application for involving residents in environmental work. Any resident who owns a smartphone or tablet and is interested in the environmental affairs of their home building can become an eco-expert. In the Ekoekspertti application, residents and building communities of Heka compete against each other by completing challenges related to environmentally friendly living and collecting points. In addition to challenges, the application shares current information about environmental matters such as waste management costs and reducing them.