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In Helsinki, low-carbon ratings aim to make choosing green easier

by Anna Scholz-Carlson | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 7 November 2019 14:07 GMT

Women pose for a picture in front of Helsinki's cityscape, Finland, May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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Looking for the most climate-friendly places to eat, shop or find entertainment in Finland's capital? It's now easy to check

By Anna Scholz-Carlson

LONDON, Nov 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Residents and visitors looking for the most climate-friendly places to eat, shop or find entertainment in Finland's capital can now get quick advice to compare options.

A pilot Think Sustainably initiative, on the MyHelsinki website, has certified about 80 businesses on everything from use of renewable energy to offering product repair services, said Laura Aalto, the head of city-owned Helsinki Marketing.

Garden, for instance, a Finnish fashion center, meets seven of 13 criteria for shops, including use of renewable energy for electricity, selling recycled clothing, and hosting responsible consumption events, according to the website.

Bun2Bun, a hamburger restaurant, meanwhile, gets marks for serving all vegan food and becoming nearly zero waste. The firm meets 10 of 17 sustainability criteria under the rating system.

Companies and services rated through the website get a green tag if they meet enough criteria, Aalto said.

In a city with ambitious aims to cut climate changing emissions - Helsinki has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035 - the ratings aim to help customers make green choices and push companies to become sustainable faster.

Pasi Hassinen, the co-founder and chef of Bun2Bun, said on the MyHelsinki website that being identified as green has been good for business, with the restaurant's sales increasing three-fold after it switched to serving all vegan food.

Aalto of Helsinki Marketing, which created the initiative, said businesses have found particularly useful the effort's guidance on what green actions have the biggest impact and can earn the most marks.

Eliminating plastic forks is a good step, she said - but switching to a renewable energy contract or selling leftover food at reduced rates to cut food waste are better.

"Often what's lacking is the information on, 'Should I do this or should I do that?'" she said.

Backers hope the initiative, launched in June, will eventually extend to most of the city's businesses, as part of Helsinki's push to meet its climate goals.

"Helsinki has one of the most ambitious targets of any city in the world," noted Johanna Partin, director of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, a collective of cities committed to eliminating most climate-changing emissions by 2050, or earlier.

The city of Helsinki is Finland's biggest employer, with around 38,000 workers, according to the city's website. That has streamlined efforts to cut emissions in many city services, Aalto said.

Already, vegetarian food is served in many schools and care homes for the elderly, with the city aiming to cut its meat and dairy consumption in half over the next five years, she said.

The city's schools also are teaching lessons on sustainable living, she added.

Bigger challenges are cutting the chilly northern European city's emissions from heating - still produced in part with climate-changing fossil fuels - and those from traffic.

The city plans to build 120 km (75 miles) of cycling highways and an additional 100 km of protected cycling lanes over 20 years, said Kaisa-Reeta Koskinen, project director for the city's Carbon Neutral Helsinki effort.

Aalto said there is interest in implementing Helsinki's green rating system for everything from restaurants to shops in other European cities. London, Stockholm and Athens are among those who have expressed interest, she said.

Partin said relatively wealthy Helsinki was a good proving ground for low-carbon innovations, with the ideas that work best then available for use by other cities.

(Reporting by Anna Scholz-Carlson ; editing by Laurie Goering : (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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