Cities are increasingly answering the call to combat climate change.
As global warming news continues to overwhelm the world, several cities are leading the charge towards enabling residents to be more mindful of the environment and make planet-friendly lifestyle choices.
The Think Sustainably platform, launched in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2019, provides residents, visitors, and business owners with practical tools to rethink their daily behavior and make more sustainable lifestyle and business decisions.
The website rates Helsinki businesses, such as restaurants, galleries and attractions, according to criteria developed with thinktank Demos Helsinki. The criteria include businesses’ greenhouse emissions caused by energy production, and the impact of mobility and food on those emissions. Also taken into account are issues such as waste management, factors related to a circular economy, protecting biodiversity, accessibility, employment, and preventing discrimination.
Businesses considered sustainable are marked with a green heart on the Think Sustainably website. Tia Hallanoro, director for brand communications and digital development at Helsinki Marketing, says the platform has already generated a “very positive response from both locals and local service providers. It not only makes sustainable choices easy, it also transparently educates both consumers and service providers on what to consider when it comes to sustainability.”
“Many businesses feel it’s a concrete toolbox and incentive to develop their services further, which is great as we certainly need everyone on board,” adds Hallanoro. “But as a starting point, we also have many progressive entrepreneurs in Helsinki, who have a genuine will to rise above and beyond. It’s a positive flywheel—our aim is to accelerate the service providers who do things even better than before and spread this change movement among them. As they say, revolutions happen slowly, and then all at once, in a rush, and then they become inevitable.”
The program is part of the city’s aim to become carbon neutral by 2035. Laura Aalto, CEO at Helsinki Marketing, explains that the Finnish capital’s compact size, well-functioning infrastructure, and well-developed knowledge-economy cluster make it the “perfect test-bed for solutions that can later be scaled up for the world’s megacities.”
Think Sustainably is currently in its pilot stage, and Hallanoro says that the program will “include a larger range of sustainable choices from restaurants to mobility. During 2020, we aim to transparently open the initiative for all businesses to update on our open database, MyHelsinki Open API.”
Other cities have similar ambitions of achieving carbon-neutral status. Copenhagen, Denmark, is seeking to become carbon neutral by 2025. One move toward this is the concept of the five-minute city. “The city is planned in a way that it only takes you five minutes to walk from your apartment to a kindergarten, to shops, to public amenities,” Søren Hansen, a project director at engineering and design company Ramboll, which worked on the transport strategy, told Fast Company, adding that the initiative “means that people don’t bother to take their car.” Similarly, Oslo, Norway, aims to cut 95% of its CO2 emissions by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050, while Stockholm, Sweden, aims to be fossil-fuel free by 2040.
The Fab City Network supports cities, regions, and countries that are working toward producing everything they consume by 2054.
Prompted by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals set out in 2015, these initiatives help residents to make more sustainable choices in a frictionless way. As part of the UN’s Sustainable Cities and Communities Goal, the organization sets out its aim for countries to “reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management” by 2030.
As JWT Intelligence’s report “The New Sustainability: Regeneration” finds, consumers are passionate about sustainability: 89% care about protecting the planet, 92% claim to be trying to live more sustainably, and 79% are increasingly conscious of their personal impact on the planet. And 46% of those surveyed for the report (rising to 70% in China) say governments should be leading the sustainability effort, while 91% think companies, countries, and individuals should all work together on sustainability goals.
These cities’ initiatives are nudging the behavior of already willing consumers in an even more sustainable direction, to effect change on a larger, more impactful scale.