Smart Helsinki

October 25, 2019

IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

Sweden’s King Gustavus Vasa founded Helsinki on the mouth of Vantaanjoki River in 1550 to compete with Tallinn for Baltic Sea trade, but the town grew slowly and only flourished when construction of the Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress began in 1748, bringing in more residents and with them, more trade and wealth.


Today, however, compact and vibrant Helsinki is one of Europe’s fastest-growing cities, offering an intriguing mix of history and high-tech. When it hosted the Summer Olympics in 1952, Helsinki gained a reputation as an efficient and friendly city, and it still has that vibe today; in 2017, it had a record 4.5 million visitors. It also has a growing reputation for sustainable excellence, attracting eco-friendly tourism and organisers of green events and meetings. That excellence has led to Helsinki winning one of the first European Capital of Smart Tourism titles.




IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

European Capital of Smart Tourism Award


The European Commission launched the European Capital of Smart Tourism competition to reward European cities and enable them to share their exemplary smart tourism practices.


The tourism sector is EU’s third largest socio-economic activity, contributing crucial growth and jobs, but still has immense potential for growth. The European Commission want to encourage innovative and inclusive solutions in sustainable, accessible tourism and hope this competition will raise Europe’s tourism profile as and create a platform for sharing best tourism practices among European cities.


They look for a European capital of smart tourism to be:


  • Sustainable: working to preserve and enhance the natural environment and resources while maintaining economic and socio-cultural development in a balanced way.

  • Digital: offering innovative tourism and hospitality information, products, services, spaces and experiences adapted to the needs of the consumers through ICT and digital tools.

  • Cultural and creative: by making resourceful use of its cultural heritage and creative industries for an enriched tourism experience.

  • Accessible: easily reachable and physically accessible to travellers with diverse needs and backgrounds through different means of transport.


Two cities showing the most innovative and inclusive solutions in all four areas are awarded the title of ‘European Capital of Smart Tourism’, and this year, these cities were Helsinki and Lyon.



IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

A Smart, Sustainable City by the Sea


Helsinki claims it is “the most functional and sustainable city in the world, built on social cohesion, famous for its design and high-tech, committed to bringing people together through authentic experiences, interesting spaces and nature explorations.”


It’s a bold claim, but you’d be hard pushed to find evidence to the contrary. Helsinki is in the top 5 in the GDS-Index and in 2018 alone, it claimed 9 top positions in smart city surveys, including Best in Smart Tourism and Best Digital Mobility Services, plus second places in a European smart city survey and a home base for start-ups list. The Financial Times named the Helsinki-Uusimaa region the best place for foreign direct investment among mid-sized European regions.


Helsinki has been focused on accessibility and sustainability for a long time and aims to be carbon neutral by 2035. Significant progress has already been made; in 2017, Helsinki’s emissions were 24% lower than in 1990, even though there were 150,000 more residents. It’s also Helsinki one of three Lighthouse cities in the EU-financed mySMARTLife project, developing smart solutions to cut urban energy use by 10–20% and increase renewable energy use.


Helsinki knows that becoming carbon-neutral requires residents, the City, businesses and organisations to work together; its public-private-people-partnerships approach generates new solutions and new business while helping to solve global challenges.


Hundreds of experts, residents and corporate representatives participated via workshops and the website to formulate the city’s action plan, Carbon Neutral Helsinki 2035—and here is how Helsinki is bringing about the changes needed.




IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

Testing and developing sustainable solutions


Key players in Helsinki smart city development include Forum Virium Helsinki, an urban innovations unit; investment promotion agency Helsinki Business Hub; the Smart & Clean Foundation; the City of Helsinki Economic Development division and its innovation unit; and the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council. Helsinki Marketing promotes City of Helsinki expertise internationally. Helsinki also attracts private businesses wanting to test solutions and Google has chosen it for its drone transport experiments.


The Helsinki region is home to 70 platforms where change can be managed in a controlled environment. Some are digital, like the Helsinki Region Infoshare databank, and others are physical, like Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab, Stormwater Quality Management and demand response systems for district heating in homes developed within the mySMARTLife project and Kalasatama. Kalasatama is a smart city district with 3,000 residents which acts as a showroom for Helsinki’s smart urban solutions, including a smart waste collection system, extensive electric car capabilities, flexible shared spaces with smart locks, and on-site renewable energy production.


Smart city development is people-oriented rather than technology-driven here: nearly one-third of Kalasatama’s residents have participated in co-creating solutions and the benchmark for success here is for new digital services to give residents one extra hour a day freed from everyday chores.



IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing



Helsinki is a world leader in smart mobility and aims to reduce traffic emissions by 69% from 2005 levels by 2035 (Finland’s national goal is 50%). Many emission-reducing measures have been implemented or planned: the city bus fleet will be electric by 2021, the Metro and charging network will be expanded and new micro-mobility options like electric scooters and electric bikes will be provided. The Helsinki-based start-up BOUT is also about to launch an Uber-style platform for on-demand boat rides designed with Forum Virium Helsinki, while various MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service), platforms are enabling citizens to buy mobility services as digital services, removing the need for urban car ownership.




IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

Clean energy and energy-efficient buildings


Heating accounts for over half of Helsinki’s emissions. The greatest potential reduction lies in implementing energy-efficiency measures during renovations, which could reduce emissions from buildings by 80%. Helsinki has produced a semantic 3D city model and used this as a basis for a 3D map application called the Helsinki Energy and Climate Atlas, which holds real and calculated energy-related data on city building stock. This enables specific building assessments, citywide energy analyses and simulations, and identification of potential energy efficiency improvements. Only a small percentage of Helsinki’s buildings are owned by the City, representing just 11% of the emission reduction potential in Helsinki’s building stock, so residents are encouraged to renovate themselves, and advised on energy renovations and renewable energy. The Smart & Clean Foundation’s RenoLeap project focuses on renovating old Helsinki building stock using prefabricated elements, modular components and smart solutions.


The City is increasingly steering district planning towards carbon neutrality, energy efficiency and renewable energy use in the City’s buildings, replacing outdoor lights with more energy-efficient alternatives, using thermal and wind energy, and promoting wooden construction. For instance, LED lighting controlled by area occupancy and environmental conditions has been installed at Helsinki Zoo and the Paloheinä recreational area.


The City’s energy company, Helen Oy, is working to reduce district heating emissions by 74% by 2035 by utilising waste heat, implementing heat pumps, utilising the demand response for heat and electricity, switching from fossil fuel to renewable electricity production and using electricity storage facilities. The goal is to stop using coal entirely by the 2030s.


Kalasatama’s smart grid is producing Innovative demand response solutions including a V2G (vehicle-to-grid) electric vehicle charging station, which not only charges electric vehicles but also allows them to feed electricity to the grid to ease peak demand.




IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

A clean, circular economy


Helsinki’s goal is to reduce emissions from its own procurements by using environmental criteria to govern its purchases and encouraging operators to improve their sustainability. The City creates platforms and opportunities for developing Smart & Clean business activities and promotes a sharing and circular economy; for instance, residents can borrow clothes from several fashion libraries.


Clothing stores in Helsinki are increasingly selling more clothes and accessories made from recycled materials together with second hand items. Helsinki-based Recci collects textiles, selling some in their stores and ensuring the rest becomes raw material for industry, while at Pure Waste, all clothing is made from 100% recycled material and orders are delivered by bike.


Food waste is also reduced by initiatives like ResQ Club, a mobile app that makes it possible for users to pick up leftover food from restaurants.




IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

Powering change: open data and IoT


IT is big in Helsinki. The University of Helsinki and Aalto University produce top-class data experts and the City of Helsinki employs diverse data professionals to fulfil the aims of its digitalisation strategy, completed in spring 2019.


In 2009, Helsinki was among the first capital cities to start publishing its data as open data. It’s now standard practice here, with all City decisions and documents freely available to all. City interfaces are increasingly open too, allowing developers outside City operations to use them to produce apps that benefit residents and generate new business. The Chinese conglomerate Tencent collaborated with the City and Helsinki mobile operator MaaS Global to develop the WeChat mobile app, which allows Chinese tourists to find their way around Helsinki and make payments.


5G data networks are expanding in Finland and Helsinki, offering new opportunities with the Internet of Things and smart mobility, e.g. navigation of self-driving buses and networking sensors throughout the city, including state-of-the-art air quality sensors used by the Helsinki Air Quality Testbed.


Helsinki collaborates closely with 5G development companies, including Nokia, Elisa and Telia, and together they’ve produced the world’s first liquid-cooled base station, which produces considerably fewer emissions than conventional cooling. The waste heat generated is recovered and used to heat the residential building that houses the base station.





IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

Hosting your Green Event in Helsinki


Helsinki is the 14th most popular congress city in the world (UIA Union of International Associations) and it’s easy to get to: Helsinki airport has direct flights from over 140 destinations and is just 19 kilometres from the city centre (that’s 27 minutes away via a direct train every 10 minutes, and slightly longer by airport shuttle bus, every 20 minutes). Of course, you can also arrive by ferry from Estonia, Sweden, Germany, Poland, and Russia, or by train from many cities, including St. Petersburg, Russia.


Once you’re here, getting around green-style is easy too. The rail system criss-crosses the whole city and there are more than 300 daily bus routes. There’s also the metro or environmentally-friendly trams, plus 3,450 City bikes at 238 bike stations, just waiting to be hired and cycled along bike routes through amazing forests and parks. However, nearly everything in Helsinki is in walking distance! It’s no wonder that private cars only account for around 1 in 5 trips here.


The city is welcoming. It’s ranked highly for accessibility and multilingual ‘Helsinki Helpers’ are stationed at main attractions to offer assistance. The Helsinki Convention Bureau is on hand to help event organisers through every part of the event-organising process, from the bidding process through to selecting the best facilities, partners and service providers and promoting the event.


Incentive breaks, breakout activities and evenings out can all be enjoyed sustainably. Want to dine out? The criteria for more sustainable choices state that restaurants should have at least one well-balanced vegan meal (preferably several) on the menu, plus an emphasis on organic, fair-trade and locally produced food.


If you want to sample Helsinki’s famous urban sauna culture, there’s a huge choice, ranging from the traditional to the ultra-modern, and many are environmentally-friendly, made from sustainable wood and powered by water, solar heating and wind. But if you want something more energetic, there’s canoeing, stand-up paddling, or, for the more adrenaline-driven, snow-mobile and RIB boat safaris. In winter, you can try a traditional kicksled or a snowshoe hike.


IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

What about a guided tour of Helsinki’s design landmarks or a private tour of Helsinki Distilling Company’s production facilities (with a taste of their hand-crafted whiskey or gin?). Or a cruise around some of the city’s 300 islands by traditional wooden sailing ship? You can take a ferry to the sea fortress too, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there’s more history to be found at Helsinki’s cathedral, museums and Observatory. There are also plenty of green spaces including the Pukkisaari Iron-Age Trading Post and the Old Church Park, Töölönlahti with its charming Linnunlaulu “Birdsong” district and Kaisaniemi with its Botanic Garden.




IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

Helsinki’s Sustainable Meeting Model


The Sustainable Meeting operating model is a new and sustainable way to plan and implement B2B events, based on sustainability work carried out by Helsinki Marketing together with Woltti Group. The aim of the pilot was to develop a sustainable event organisation tool for international meetings and congresses, in turn helping Helsinki to achieve the sustainable development targets set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its own Carbon Neutral 2035 plan.


Working with Finlandia Hall as a test venue, Helsinki Marketing looked at factors such as event venue size, energy consumption, water consumption during the event, waste sorting, and sustainability indicators for food and drinks, such as the amount of organic ingredients, responsibly sourced fish, vegetarian food, water and disposable tableware. The pilot event held there provided useful information in these areas, together with factors such as the sustainability of the transport method participants had used to reach the venue. Participants were urged to travel to the venue as sustainably as possible and to notify the organisers if they were unable to attend, specifically to reduce food waste. Finlandia Hall even collected and weighed all leftover food from this specific event and where possible, it was then used in meals for guests and staff the next day.


The carbon footprint for the entire event was 294.75 kg or 2.89 kg/person, compared to the 6-8 kg/person average carbon footprint for comparable events. This was s achieved in part by serving only vegetarian food, which has around a 50% smaller carbon footprint compared to red meat. Food and drinks accounted for around 60% of the event’s total carbon footprint, demonstrating the importance of sustainable catering. The data from this pilot event has been used to further develop the Sustainable Meeting model, which will be used in all future events organised by Helsinki Marketing, as well as other B2B events not operating under their banner.



IMAGE: Helsinki Marketing

This model reinforces the strong sustainability commitment that already exists in Helsinki’s meetings and events industry. All major conference venues in Helsinki have an environmental certificate and a strong commitment to a sustainable society. In the city centre, green venues include Finlandia Hall, Helsinki Congress Paasitorni, Scandic Marina Congress Center, and Messukeskus Helsinki Expo and Convention Center, which can all be reached by foot or by public transport from all hotels in the city centre.


There’s plenty of green accommodation here too: 75% of Helsinki’s hotel rooms are certified environmentally friendly via a variety of labels such as the Nordic Swan Eco label, the Green Key label and the Eco Compass certification.


With so much to offer, aren’t you tempted to visit—and see for yourself if Helsinki is not just “the most functional and sustainable city in the world” but a green and beautiful city, too?






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