Lahti

Europe’s most sustainable city: European Green Capital 2021 – Lahti, Finland

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Lahti, Finland’s 9th largest city with a 120,000 population situated around 60 miles north of Helsinki, a city that aims to be completely carbon neutral by 2025 and has recently been voted the European Green Capital of 2021. With Finnish Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas a native of the city, acting as their ambassador saying “…Lahti is a forerunner in environmental issues in many ways, and Finnish solutions are good enough for the world stage.” A duathlon event planned for 2021 in his name with aims of carbon neutrality and highlighting “the role of year-round environmental actions, both large and small”.

The southern Finnish cities name broadly translates as “bay” as Lahti sits upon one of Finland’s large lakes Vesijärvi, to scenic views. However, the city has been largely missed as a tourist location for the masses with Finland’s tourist hotspots in the north in Lapland and the countries capital Helsinki.

Lahti has broadly been known as a pioneering environmental city long before their awarding of European Green Capital 2021. Originally a city of heavy industry until 1975. Polluting Lake Vesijärvi until 1976 with environmental projects beginning in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Including developments such as, The Vesijärvi I project and The Lake Vesijärvi Foundation for lake conservation.

The establishment of the Department of Ecology of the University of Helsinki resulting in increased research information and the creation of a foundation for teaching and research. The introduction of an annual environment week and an extensive waste management system based upon waste separation, highly innovative at the time which decreased the amount of landfill rate by 25 per cent in 1998.

To 2019 where Lahti stopped using coal after the opening of a new bioenergy plant Kymijärvi III replacing coal-fired power plant Kymijärvi I. The city is now entirely heated with recycled fuel and local, FSC certified wood. “Reducing Lahti’s Energia’s carbon dioxide emissions by 600,000 tonnes per year”, which according to Green Lahti “corresponds to the annual emissions of about 60,000 Finns.” The city also aims to be completely carbon neutral by 2025, ahead of Finland’s goal of 2035 and the EU’s of 2050.

Alongside these major changes, Lahti has also implemented many initiatives which have undoubtedly helped them gain their Green Capital title. A recent one which is perhaps a little unusual, an urban ski-sharing programme, the first in the world. Perhaps unsurprising considering Lathi dubs itself “the unofficial ski capital of Finland” holding the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships seven times to date from 1926 to 2017.

Saara Vauramo programme director of Lahti European Green Capital explained the scheme “City Skis work the same as city bikes: the skis can be borrowed from a ski point, where they should be returned to after use… We hope the City Skis can bring joy to locals during the coldest season, and at the same time, we want to promote emission-free ways of getting around the city all year round.”

The “City Ski’s” programme, however, is in its infancy with just three sharing points around the city, two in the city centre with the final near the Salpausselä ski stadium.  A similar bike-sharing scheme is in the works and will be further promoting emission-free transportation methods.

Lahti additionally has a few perhaps less unusual transport initiatives such as, an electric bus system, cycle paths which are deliberately kept clear of snow in the winter and being improved, alongside an app named “CitiCap”, developed with EU funds which tracks travel-related carbon footprint. The app works by giving each user a weekly carbon allowance which if not fully exhausted can be traded in for rewards such as bus tickets, cake, bags, pedestrian reflectors and free swimming pool access, up to around two euros a week, a price they intend to massively increase in the future. The app is encouraged for all residents. 44 per cent of journeys logged with the app currently classed as sustainable.

Other initiatives run by the European Green Capital include the utilisation of 97 per cent of the municipals waste since 2018 “One third of the waste generated in the area is recycled as raw material for new products, and the other two thirds are used to produce energy. But the goals are even higher than that: Lahti aims to be a fully waste-free city with a fully circular economy by 2050.” According to Green Lahti.

Why does this make Lahti an interesting, often overlooked tourist location? Well, as previously mentioned Lahti considers itself the unofficial ski capital of Finland with over 180km of cross country skiing trails and often hosting ski events such as the FIS Nordic Alpine World Cup held in Lahti seven times, last in 2017, the Lahti Ski Games and the Finlandia Ski Marathon.

As well as other sporting events such as the Ironman 70.3 competition, the Red Bull 400 uphill sprint race, cycling Tour Lakeland Lahti, MotoGP Finland at the new KymiRing motorsports track and, the Green Capital’s ambassador Valtteri Bottas’ event the Valtteri Bottas Duathlon set for Summer 2021. Lahti also hosts the worlds first carbon-neutral symphony orchestra. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra, winners of the international Classical: NEXT innovation award in 2018.

Another big focus for tourists looking at visiting Lahti has to be nature, with Milla Bruneau the director of the Green Lahti programme saying “In the future, our selling points will be our natural environment and health benefits of being close to nature, being able to swim in a clean lake, to eat fresh fish caught in local waters and to eat and drink other local products – these are things that people will want to visit Lahti for. For younger people, it’s going to be an even more important issue. If you’re not on top in terms of sustainability, people will go somewhere else.

Lahti certainly does have a lot to offer in terms of both nature and local businesses. Salpausselka Geopark “a landscape created by water” a prominent feature for the Lahti tourist board, unique ice-marginal formations formed during the last Ice Age alongside forest trails and lakes, as the re-vamped Vesijarvi harbour featuring many independent shops, terrace cafes and restaurants alongside the concert hall.

With the environment at the forefront of its image, Lahti is certain to attract nature lovers and with their ski and sports history, sports lovers alike, in the inevitable post-COVID travel rush. Will the city be an addition to your travel list?

Image: Anton Czernous on Flickr

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