Realisation of environmental policy in 2012-2020

The City Council approved the environmental policy on 26 September 2012. The environmental policy complements the City Strategy with regard to environmental protection. The environmental policy sets out the City’s environmental protection objectives for the medium term (2020) and long term (2050). The target year for the medium term has been reached, and this chapter serves as a separate section of the report, assessing the realisation of the City’s environmental policy between 2012 and 2020. The full environmental policy can be found in Finnish at The environmental policy will be updated during 2021.

Climate protection

With regard to the mitigation of climate change, matters have progressed rapidly in terms of both targets and practical measures. Climate matters have also been incorporated into the City Strategy 2017–2021 and given more emphasis. The most significant elements have been bringing the carbon neutrality target forward from 2050 to 2035 and the Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 Action Plan that supports the achievement of this target.

Helsinki’s greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 33% from 1990. Renewable energy amounted to 24,5% in 2020. The goal of the international Helsinki Energy Challenge competition held by the City was to find new innovations, technologies and solutions with which the coal used in Helsinki’s heating can be replaced in an ecologically and economically sustainable way. Helsinki is committed to sharing the competition results openly with other cities.

Great efforts have been made to promote energy efficiency. For example, the City has set very high energy efficiency targets for its own new construction and repair sites. For new business premises, the E value representing the building’s energy efficiency must be 20% lower than required in Finnish legislation. Similarly, the E value should be no more than 80% of the requirements of Finnish legislation after the renovation of premises. New residential buildings commissioned by the City will belong to energy efficiency class A. In the City’s own building stock, locally generated renewable energy such as geothermal and solar energy will be strongly invested in. Energy efficiency class A is also required in the plot conveyance terms, and the Energy Renaissance operating model has been launched to support energy renovations of the private building stock.

The integration of climate change adaptation into the City’s operations has progressed slowly. The City has prepared climate change adaptation policies, but the implementation of the policies is still in its early stages. The Stormwater Management Programme has been successfully integrated into the City’s operations, and the City has identified the weather and climate risks posed to Helsinki.

Medium-term targets, Climate protection:

• Greenhouse gas emissions (consumption-based) will have decreased by at least 20% by 2020 due to improved energy efficiency and a switch to energy production with low lifecycle emissions (reference year 1990). The requirements for raising the emissions target to 30% will be investigated.
• Renewable energy will account for at least 20% of the total energy production in 2020.
• Energy efficiency will have improved by at least 20% by 2020 (measured by energy consumption per capita, reference year 2005).
• Adaptation to climate change will be integrated into the operations of all organisational departments in order to minimise risks. The impacts of climate change and the measures that can be taken to prepare for it will be communicated to municipal residents and companies.

Air quality

Air quality in Helsinki has improved in the last few years. The number of days on which the limit value for inhalable particles (PM10, i.e. street dust) has been exceeded per year has not risen above the maximum limit (35 days) since 2006. The long-term target of the environmental policy is to reduce the number of days on which the limit value for inhalable particles is exceeded by half, to less than 18 per year. This has been achieved at the majority of the measuring stations. Of air contaminants, the annual limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were last exceeded in 2016 and 2018. However, the limit value for NO2 is still at risk of being exceeded in street sections spanning a total of 4.2 kilometres in the inner city area. The most important factor reducing the amount of nitrogen dioxide is the replacement of the car population and bus fleet, which the City can promote with the electrification of the transport system and incentives for using low-emission cars.

Medium-term targets, Air quality:

• The limit values for air quality have not been exceeded since 2015. The concentrations of air contaminants (including fine particles) will have decreased further since then.
• The target values and national reference values for air quality will not be exceeded.

Noise abatement

The number of residents exposed to traffic noise exceeding the reference value of 55 dB in Helsinki has not decreased since 2012, even though a number of noise abatement measures have been taken. For example, speed limits have been lowered in many places, and nine noise barriers have been built since 2012 to protect residential areas that are home to many people exposed to loud noise. In the planning of new residential areas, noise abatement is taken into account in sound insulation, building masses and the placement of sensitive sites in areas protected from noise, among other things.

Medium-term targets, Noise abatement:

• Exposure to noise will have been reduced so that, by 2020, the number of people living in areas where the average level of noise exceeds 55 dB during the day is at least 20% lower than in 2003 (old residential areas; no new residents exposed to noise).
• Exposure to loud noise in particular will have been reduced so that, by 2020, no residents are exposed to average noise levels exceeding 70 dB during the day and 65 dB at night (old residential areas).
• The average daytime noise level of 60 dB is not exceeded in the play and outdoor areas of locations for the most noise-sensitive population groups, such as daycare centres, play parks, schools and nursing homes (old locations).

The Baltic Sea and small water bodies

The status of the marine environment in front of Helsinki is not good. However, the distance to good status is known for various variables and water bodies. Achieving good status for Helsinki’s coastal water bodies by 2027 is challenging due to the naturally slow recovery rate of the marine ecosystem. However, current and new marine and water resources management measures are used to advance towards a better status for the coastal waters. Through the Baltic Sea Action Plan for 2019–2023, the intention is to develop the operations of the City and its extensive partner network, while simultaneously reducing the City’s own load.

Helsinki’s oil spill prevention and response preparedness at sea, on the coast and in small water bodies is at a good level, as is the management of exceptional situations in small water bodies.

The implementation of water resources management is underway for the key recreational islands. The construction of public infrastructure in Vallisaari and the implementation of the plan has started. There are plans to connect Vasikkasaari to municipal infrastructure via Kruunuvuorenranta around 2025.

The conversion of Helsinki’s combined sewers into separate sewers is progressing slowly. The alteration work is the responsibility of the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY). Frequent rainy weather greatly affects combined sewer network overflows.

Barriers to fish passage have been successfully removed, but there is still work to be done. In fact, the intention is not to remove all barriers, as the City also wishes to protect other identified natural values from being preyed on by fish (in Haltiala, for example). In principle, however, the City’s aim is to ensure unobstructed flowing water for the biota. The restoration of the eastern branch of Vanhankaupunginkoski is currently underway.

Medium-term targets, protection of the Baltic Sea:

• Helsinki’s surrounding waters will reach good status by 2020 in accordance with the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
• The good status of Helsinki’s coastal water bodies will be achieved by 2027 with additional measures in accordance with the water resources management plan.
• The effectiveness of Helsinki’s own oil spill prevention and response measures on the amount and extent of oil reaching inhabited shorelines will be significant under most natural conditions. Helsinki also aims to make the oil spill prevention and response assistance provided to the islands in the Baltic Sea highly effective.

Medium-term targets, protection of the surface waters of Helsinki:

• A centralised water management system will have been built on the main recreational islands of Helsinki.
• The number of times the combined sewer network overflows will have been reduced by 20% from the current level.
• Barriers to fish passage will have been removed by 2020.
• Oil spill prevention and response measures will prevent oil from spreading, and oil collection from water surfaces and shore protection will be effective. The city has a sufficient number of trained people for beach clean-up operations.

Protection of nature and soil

Helsinki’s nature is essentially diverse: forests, meadows, wetlands, beaches, islands, creeks and parks. During the monitoring period, the development of the green network has progressed well, but precise information on its ecological functionality is unavailable.

There are 20 nationally threatened vascular plant species, 31 nationally near-threatened species and 40 regionally threatened species found in Helsinki. Since 2013, five new mammal species (the Siberian flying squirrel, the serotine bat, the soprano pipistrelle, the wolf and the wolverine) have been observed in Helsinki.

Compensation of construction in green areas was not implemented during the monitoring period.

Not all old landfills in the city area have been restored, and the implementation of these projects has in part been postponed because of funding. Many of the city’s contaminated areas have been restored, and these efforts continue as construction progresses.

The City has started manufacturing recycled substrate products, which secures the existing soil’s seed banks and microbiota.

Medium-term targets, Nature:

• The ecological functionality of the extensive green network will be ensured as part of the regional whole.
• Established biomes and species will be preserved through care and restoration, as necessary.
• The natural structural characteristics of forests and mires will be preserved.
• The biodiversity of cultural landscapes will be preserved through renovations and long-term care.
• Construction in areas designated as green areas will be compensated in planning and green area planning by means such as improving the functionality and ecological quality of green areas, restoring natural sites or by creating new local green environments.

Medium-term targets, Soil:

• Old landfill sites in the city will be restored.
• The natural characteristics and functions (biological, chemical and physical) of soil will be preserved in green areas.
• The preservation of significant geological sites will be secured.
• The ecological functionality of the extensive green network will be ensured as part of the regional whole.

Procurement, waste and material efficiency

Many of the City’s divisions and enterprises achieved the 50% target in the use of the environmental criteria for procurement. However, the target for 2020 was not achieved, as, on average, environmental criteria were used in 56% of the procurements by the City’s divisions and enterprises when examined as individual procurements. There are significant differences between the City’s divisions and enterprises in their use of the environmental criteria. Of the procurements made by the City of Helsinki Service Centre, Stara and the Education Division, more than 80% included environmental criteria in 2020.

Monitoring of sustainable procurements has been challenging, and the monitoring data is not reliable in all respects at the moment, even though monitoring linked to an agreement monitoring system has been developed. Since the setting of the percentage target, it has also been noted that the use of the environmental criteria is not appropriate in every procurement. Procurements with a considerable impact have been a focus in the use and development of the environmental criteria.

The development of sustainable procurements has been active, and the procurement criteria have been developed intensively. However, there are still challenges in the integration of the development work into the basic functions in procurements. Training in sustainable procurement has been held on an annual basis, but a systematic training programme has not yet been created.

The City organisation’s size and the management of waste management agreements poses challenges to waste volume monitoring. Some of the City’s operations are located in premises rented from parties outside the organisation and waste costs are included in the rent, meaning that the waste volumes cannot be determined.

The volume of mixed waste generated by the City organisation has not decreased significantly during the monitoring period. In 2020–2021, plastic collection has been increased in properties owned by the City. Extensive waste surveys were also conducted in properties by eco-supporters in 2019–2020.

The volume of municipal waste generated in the area of the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) decreased by 9.22% per capita during the monitoring period.

Centralised coordination of earth masses has saved EUR 55 million, 8.2 million litres of fuel and 20,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents since the position of mass coordinator was established in 2014.

Medium-term targets, Procurements:

  • 50% of the City’s procurement processes will include environmental criteria by 2015. 
  • 100% of the City’s procurement processes will include environmental criteria by 2020. Environmental criteria can be either absolute requirements or benchmarks. 
  • All organisational departments and subsidiary communities will be trained in making sustainable procurements. 

Medium-term targets, Waste:

• The amount of municipal waste produced by the City organisation will stabilise to the 2013 level, and the amount of waste per employee will have decreased by 10% by 2020.
• The material utilisation rate of the municipal waste produced by the City organisation will have increased by 10 percentage points by 2020.
• The amount of municipal waste produced within the city will stabilise to the 2013 level, and the amount of waste per resident will have decreased by 10% by 2020.
• The logistics of earth masses required for construction, surplus soil and contaminated soil will be organised in an economical and eco-efficient manner.

Environmental awareness and responsibility

The environmental attitudes of the people of Helsinki and Vantaa were studied in 2017. The respondents’ attitudes were very positive. Approximately 80% of the respondents put more emphasis on the environment than economic growth if these two were contradictory, and almost as many believed that environmental protection and economic growth are possible at the same time. This percentage has grown since the last survey, and especially young people believed in simultaneous environmental protection and economic growth. The survey also asked the respondents about their personal willingness to pay for environmental protection. According to the responses, a clear majority would be willing to pay higher taxes or fees if the money was directed to nature protection, water protection, combatting climate change or improving air quality.

In 2018, the City commissioned a safety survey in which 66% of the respondents expressed concern over climate change. The percentage of concerned people has clearly increased compared to the survey conducted in 2015. The respondents highlighted global and city-wide concerns more than just concerns related to their own life. Climate change was a shared concern for all respondents, regardless of age. The greatest growth in the number of concerned persons was among the young respondents.

In transport, sustainable modes of transport have been prioritised more and large investments have been made in cycling and rail transport, for example. City bikes were introduced in Helsinki in 2016, and the service has been one of the most popular city bike services in the world when compared internationally.

Eco-supporters promote environmentally sustainable operating methods in their workplaces and increase environmental awareness. Eco-supporters have been trained for the City organisation relatively comprehensively, but it has been found based on annual surveys that eco-supporters do not have enough time for their work. It is also important for the eco-supporter’s supervisor to be committed to environmental work, and this is not always the case. Based on annual surveys, 65% of eco-supporters feel that the activities have affected their workplace practices. Between 2012 and 2020, a total of 745 eco-supporters have been trained for the Helsinki Group, and 1,788 people have participated in further training.

Harakka Nature Centre, Nature School Arkki of Korkeasaari Zoo, Meriharju Nature House, and the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre’s Environment School Polku offer nature school services and support educators with environmental education courses. The Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority provides the schools in its area with the opportunity to apply for a school-year-long mentee school programme.

For several yeas, Climateinfo has been supporting and training residents and companies in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area in more sustainable everyday solutions. In 2019, Helsinki Marketing Oy Ltd launched the Think Sustainably service, which helps people choose more sustainable ways to live and spend time in Helsinki. The Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre serves residents of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area at nine second-hand stores and a nationally operating online store.

Medium-term targets, Environmental awareness and responsibility:

• Helsinki will be a pioneer in environmental education.
• Every work community will have a trained eco-supporter.
• The city’s range of services will support the sustainable lifestyle of the city’s residents and make environmental choices easy.
• City employees are aware of environmentally responsible practices and take them into account in their work.
• The good environmental awareness of decision-makers will lead to environmentally responsible decision-making.

Environmental management and partnerships

The City enterprises with the largest environmental impact will have implemented an audited environmental management system. Of the City divisions, the Social Services and Health Care Division and the Urban Environment Division are building a division-level EcoCompass environmental management system. In the Culture and Leisure Division, almost all service entities are either building or already implementing an audited environmental management system. The administration of the Education Division and some of the educational institutions and daycare centres have an environmental management system. 24 of the City’s subsidiary communities utilise an environmental management system to reduce their environmental impact.

The process of integrating environmental management into the bonus scheme has not progressed. In the old City organisation, the objective had already been realised in more than 45% of the City’s departments and enterprises. During the current organisation, the realisation of the objective has shown a downward trend.

Since the approval of the environmental policy, the City has set up the Climate Partners network. The network is intended for companies that wish to participate in the creation of a carbon-neutral Helsinki. The companies that become Climate Partners sign a climate commitment with Helsinki, in which the companies specify their own climate targets. Currently, the City has almost 90 Climate Partners.

The Baltic Sea Challenge network of the Cities of Helsinki and Turku has so far been joined by 315 operators that are committed to protecting the Baltic Sea alongside the Cities.

The EcoCompass environmental management system was originally developed by the City of Helsinki as a tool for SMEs. The management of EcoCompass and the trademark were transferred to the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation in 2018. At present, EcoCompass is the fastest growing environmental management system in Finland in terms of the number of users.

The Urban Environment Division has granted a 30% discount on the rent collected for the use of its areas to events that are using an EcoCompass environmental management system. The EcoCompass system of the Helsinki Events Foundation was audited in late 2020. Thus, environmental aspects are taken into account in all significant public events of the City of Helsinki, such as Helsinki Festival, Lux Helsinki, Helsinki Day, Helsinki’s New Year’s Eve celebration, Helsinki Baltic Herring Market and Helsinki Christmas Market.

Medium-term targets, Environmental management:

• The City’s enterprises will have implemented an audited environmental management system.
• City departments and subsidiary communities will include environmental management in their operations in accordance with the principles of lighter environmental systems.
• Environmental management will become a part of the bonus schemes and other reward systems used by the City’s departments and enterprises.

Medium-term targets, Partnerships:

•  The City will actively seek partnerships and network with companies and other interest groups in order to achieve the targets and objectives set out in its environmental policy, while simultaneously supporting the implementation of the City’s business strategy.
• The EcoCompass system will become a well-known tool for improving environmental management among SMEs, and it will become available to all SMEs operating in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.
• The Baltic Sea Challenge will have been accepted by 300 operators, whom the City will support in order to realise high-quality action plans that enhance the protection of the Baltic Sea.
• An environmental programme or plan will be drawn up for all major events organised in the city.