Attractions in the forefront of sustainable development

5 people are sitting and kneeling on a pink floor in a large exhibition space where in front and behind, hundreds of 10cm sticks on strings hang from the ceiling. The visitors are writing notes on folded pieces of paper to hang from the sticks.
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In addition to minimizing their environmental impact, one of the sustainability factors of attractions also includes social responsibility. At natural attractions, it is obviously essential to respect nature. The recreational island of Vallisaari, the Espoo Museum of Modern Art EMMA, and the Helsinki Central Library Oodi are examples of popular attractions in Helsinki that have taken major strides in sustainable development.
On the right is one of Vallisaari's stone buildings that has been built into the side of a hill, more hills and lush greenery are in the distant, the last hill being very tall, surrounded by stone walls and with a small observaation platform on top.
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Visits to Vallisaari are on nature’s terms

Numerous rare butterfly species flutter in the meadows, reed warblers and nightingales sing among the trees, and northern and long-eared bats fly at night on the quiet island. Vallisaari is an exceptional natural attraction off the coast of Helsinki. The island’s nature has long been almost untouched, as Vallisaari was formerly a military island that was closed for years. It only opened to the public in 2016, and parts of the island are still off limits to normal visitors for safety reasons. One part of the island has also been designated a nature reserve.

Situated right next to Suomenlinna, Vallisaari is such a special place that responsibility and especially the environment must be taken into account in all activities. The island is owned by the Finnish forest management agency Metsähallitus, which obliges visitors to the island and those who work there to respect nature. “We are committed to the principles of sustainable nature tourism – it is part of our agreement. A large part of this involves avoiding litter and sorting waste,” says Johanna Karusuo, CEO of Sea Sales Finland, which operates maritime services at Vallisaari.

In addition to making sure that Vallisaari is kept clean, it is important that visitors stick to the marked trails. Events and services on the island are also offered on nature’s terms. Guided walks, forest yoga and Tentsile camping are available, but noisy quad bike safaris, for example, have no place there.

At the harbour café, responsibility is highlighted by the amount of local food that is served. For example, the hot dog buns come from the nearby Lapinlahti bakery, while the beer is supplied by microbrewers Maku Brewery within Uusimaa. 

Because Vallisaari is an isolated island, some compromises do have to be made. While waiting for proper sewage and electrical systems to be installed, the café has used biodegradable disposable tableware instead of non-disposable ones that would require washing. According to Karusuo, sustainable practices would be facilitated if logistics were improved. In order to transport supplies, they still need to use their own small boat. “A service ferry operates to Suomenlinna every morning, so it would be good if a similar solution could be found for Vallisaari and other nearby islands,” says Karusuo.

Considering the sensitive nature in the archipelago, it is also important that the number of visitors to the island is kept reasonable and therefore closely monitored. According to Karusuo, the number of visitors is still quite moderate and much lower than at the neighbouring islands of Suomenlinna.

“Many other activities could be organised around art; it offers lots of opportunities to create memorable experiences within the framework provided by nature,” says Karusuo.

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In a large, dimly lit exhibition space, the far wall nothing but windows letting natural light in, a woman stands in the center of the photo looking towards an art piece, mounted to a white wall on the left.
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An art museum that excludes nobody

Art belongs to everyone, they say, but are art experiences really accessible to everyone? This is an issue that has recently been weighed in more detail by EMMA, the Espoo Museum of Modern Art. For example, how does its website appear to people from different cultural backgrounds? Are the texts written in a way that is easy for everyone to understand?

According to, Reetta Kalajo, Chief Curator, Education and Customer Services, the intention is to consider tone and communication in a more customer-oriented way in the future. “These are hugely important in terms of the museum’s accessibility. We strive to provide a very understandable and human-sized experience. It is important, for example, that the style of the texts does not seem elitist or exclude anyone,” Kalajo says.

Improving accessibility is part of EMMA's responsibility work. For example, a diversity expert has been asked to assess how linguistic and cultural accessibility is currently being realised at EMMA. Visitor surveys and Museum Card statistics are also being used to analyse the current situation. These will make it easier to plan how things can be improved in the future.

According to Kalajo, there are three main areas of responsibility at the art museum. In addition to accessibility, the important themes are steps towards carbon neutrality and the realisation of equality and non-discrimination. “As a cultural organisation, we have long been in touch with these ideals, but now we want to carry responsibility more systematically,” says Kalajo.

In terms of reducing the carbon footprint, important measures include auditing the museum’s electricity and heating consumption. EMMA operates at the WeeGee Exhibition Centre, which also houses three other museums and a café. All the operators at WeeGee are tenants, so the analysis must be made in cooperation with the property owner. “The aim is to study the introduction of renewable energy sources and then share the information with all the other actors at the exhibition centre. One of the advantages of the exhibition centre is that we can share best practices together with the smaller museums. Cooperation in the museum industry is really needed,” says Kalajo.

Emissions are being reduced at EMMA in many other ways too. The idea is that every employee can contribute towards this; for example, packaging materials can be reused and printing can be reduced. Ecology is also increasingly being discussed among curators and artists. “For example, art workshops can be designed to consume very few materials, such as by painting with salt. The carbon footprint of digital services remains quite a big question mark. Nowadays, we think carefully about how we archive works and what kind of databases we maintain,” Kalajo explains.

Reetta Kalajo adds that the museum's own staff members in particular are also demanding responsibility. After all, the art sector often attracts people who are very aware of social and environmental issues.

“Our staff members are highly motivated to do things more responsibly. They are also very appreciative of how these things are being taken so seriously as an organisation. In this way, they can apply their ecological lifestyle also in their own work,” Kalajo points out.

A woman is sitting and reading a book to a boy at Helsinki Central Library Oodi. Through the large windows behind them, can be seen the rooves of Töölö against a blue sky.
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Oodi’s doors are open to all

Fundamental to the ideology of libraries is that they are open to all. Users are not asked to show their library card at the door, so anyone can step inside and stay, even if only to pass the time.

“By their very essence, libraries are places that create and promote fairness and equality. We adhere to the principles of safe premises, which protect the wellbeing of everyone here. Everyone is treated with respect, and any inappropriate behaviour is addressed,” says Severi Hirvi, Librarian at the Helsinki Central Library Oodi.

Oodi is a completely new building that opened just a couple of years ago, and particular attention has been paid to accessibility and equality. The building is fully accessible to persons with restricted mobility, and all its toilets are gender neutral.

In addition to free reading materials, Oodi offers much more, including an Urban Workshop with sewing machines, studios and even 3D printers. Few people have the opportunity to own their own equipment like this, but in Oodi anyone can try and use them. “You can also borrow guitars and synthesizers from us, for example, and you can use the laser cutter to make trendy earrings out of colourful acrylic, for example,” Hirvi says.

It is even possible to organise events and special occasions at Oodi. According to Severi Hirvi, the principle is that these spaces should be enjoyed by and benefit as many residents as possible. Events at Oodi can be organised by residents, communities and organisations, as well as by commercial entities. The team responsible for renting these premises ensure that fairness is achieved. For example, Oodi has hosted wild herb lectures by a single woman, premieres of music documentaries and publication events for self-published works.

“We take care that all voices are heard here as diversely as possible. With regard to our studios and digital services, we believe that we can make people enthusiastic about them who would otherwise find them difficult to use. We encourage residents to try and master new things. Although we have limited guidance, we certainly provide assistance whenever needed,” says Hirvi.

In addition to social responsibility, Oodi also takes environmental issues seriously. Library operations are based on an ecological circular economy, as are other shared services. Inside the library building, environmental values have been taken into account in terms of energy efficiency and even in the use of wood as a building material. Very few printed brochures or flyers are distributed, and events are mainly marketed digitally. For waste, the library has comprehensive sorting options ranging from biowaste to plastics.

Both architecturally and in the range of services it offers, Oodi is much more than an ordinary library. According to Hirvi, Oodi serves as a model library where many new things are tried and tested together with library users.

“Already during the planning stages, local residents were asked about their ideas and dreams for their new central library, and we still actively organise workshops for library users, interview them and conduct surveys. We strive to improve all the time.”

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In addition to minimizing their environmental impact, one of the sustainability factors of attractions also includes social responsibility. At natural attractions, it is obviously essential to respect nature.