Sustainable construction: lessons from Helsinki

(EurActiv, 9 Mar 2023) Helsinki has been using competitions to encourage sustainable construction and is leading the way in reducing the sector’s carbon impact, write Tomi Rantala and Kaisa-Reeta Koskinen.

Tomi Rantala is energy specialist at the city of Helsinki. Kaisa-Reeta Koskinen is head of the climate unit at Helsinki’s Environment Urban Division.

Carbon emissions associated with the construction of buildings – also known as “embodied carbon” – are on the rise, yet remain overlooked. 

Helsinki’s ambition to speed up carbon neutrality and move to a circular economy puts green buildings at the centre of our climate strategy.

Making sure emissions-related requirements are integrated into the city’s budget, the Helsinki City Board recently approved the “Carbon Neutral Helsinki Action Plan” focused on emissions reduction.

The city wants to set requirements for all buildings’ carbon impact on the environment and wanted to test this idea and see what minimum requirements could look like.

A recent city competition, ‘Verkkosaaren vähähiilinen viherkortteli’, asked developers and their design teams for ideas on how to create a low-carbon, energy-efficient and high-technical standard city block. The block needs to include both housing and commercial spaces and be in line with the target. 

It was emphasized to the participants that high-quality architecture was not enough – to achieve climate goals, you also need to be ambitious. With this in mind, 50% of the competition score went to the architectural design, and the other 50% to the carbon footprint and other ‘green factors’, including energy intensity.

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EurActiv, 9 Mar 2023: Sustainable construction: lessons from Helsinki