Feel-good and fair-play hotels in Helsinki

Inside an Atelier room at Hotel St. George, a double bed sits in the center of the room on top of a grey rug, large windows on the wall to the right and a black armchair beneath them.
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Helsinki’s accommodation providers have for years already paid attention to environmental aspects, such as energy and water consumption, as well as reducing food waste in their restaurants. At the same time, social responsibility and fair employment have become increasingly important. St. George, Original Sokos Hotel Tripla and Hotel Helka are examples of local hotels in Helsinki that are focusing on all aspects of sustainable operations.

Allowing guests to politely decline daily housekeeping by a simple door sign, requests to reuse towels, and large shampoo containers instead of small bottles are all indicators that a hotel is committed to environmental friendliness. Hotels are often encouraged by environmental programmes and certificates to undertake various actions. These cut across numerous topics related to running an establishment providing accommodation and require attention on all fronts. Some well-known environmental programmes and standards in Finland are the Nordic Swan Ecolabel and ISO 14001

Hotel St.George Wintergarden, a large seated area filled with luxurious sofas and chairs underneath a skylight that stretches almost the whole length of the room. Pekka Jylhä's "Learning to Fly" sculpture hangs from the ceiling of the skylight..
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St. George offers local luxury holidays

Most of the St. George hotel’s guests arrive on foot, by tram or by other means of public transport. That may sound surprising, but General Manager Roni Huttunen has clear explanations for this. Much has to do with the disruption to international tourism caused by the corona pandemic, but on the other hand, the staycation trend was clearly on the rise even before the crisis. The St. George hotel in the heart of Helsinki has simply tapped into the local vacation boom.

“Our guests are predominantly domestic, and most of them come from very nearby – even within walking distance. We also have very many repeat guests,” says Huttunen.

Staying at the St. George is much more than just overnight accommodation. Guests come to unwind and relax in the quiet surroundings. Many visit the spa and have a massage. They also like to visit the Wintergarden or St. George Bakery, where they can enjoy art exhibitions, as well as the hotel’s own baked treats and cocktails. According to Huttunen, the hotel’s popularity is based on the fact that customers today are looking for experiences rather than just merchandise.

However, these experiences must also be responsible in the sense that they are produced and implemented sustainably. The hotel’s Green Key certification provides the structure for taking the environment into account, obliging it to operate in the most environmentally friendly way as possible. The complete renovation of the hotel in turn was guided by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), an internationally recognised green building certification system.

These certificates guarantee that the property's energy sources are renewable and accurate in terms of energy efficiency and water consumption. The spa department has gone even further: its carbon footprint has been calculated, and emissions are offset through the non-profit climate operator Compensate. In future, there are also plans to map the carbon footprint of the entire hotel.

According to Roni Huttunen, responsibility at the St. George is also an attitude of doing things on a daily basis. “We have very young staff members who are very aware already in their own lives. They help pass on the right attitude and sustainable practices also to us.”

In practice, this means taking responsible actions in the restaurant, for example: the fruit left over from making cocktails is used for decorations or making snacks. All the jams are cooked, breads baked and curds prepared from local ingredients. Organic ingredients are also favoured. In the hotel rooms, disposable water bottles have been replaced with SodaStream soda machines to allow guests to turn tap water into sparkling water. The spa has no heat-consuming hot tubs at all, and disposable slippers have been replaced with durable and washable ones.

According to Huttunen, the hotel also wants to share good locally. Sales exhibitions have been organised together with young artists, and the bakery has donated the proceeds from sales of Christmas gingerbread cookies to charity. The hotel even has its own reading club. “We want to create added value for the local community and serve as a living room. It is also important for our guests. The aim these days is to leave the destination in better condition after their own visit than it was when they arrived,” says Huttunen.

A strong sense of locality also serves as a selling point. "If something is interesting locally, it will also be interesting for visitors,” Huttunen points out.

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Ahead is a several metres tall, wooden wall that holds several art pieces, in which is an open door leading to a large function space where set tables can be seen. In the foreground, is another large space, one set table just poking into the photo on the right.
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Hotel Tripla innovates to lead the way

When Original Sokos Hotel Tripla first opened its doors, the corona pandemic was already knocking on the door. The new hotel managed to be open for a while, but in March 2020 it was forced to close its doors. Throughout the crisis, however, the hotel has communicated the Tripla spirit to the surrounding neighbourhood by illuminating a heart pattern in its hotel windows. “Fortunately, we had time to open, and even during that short period we saw what kind of appeal our hotel and conference facilities had in a normal situation,” says General Manager Hanna Riihimäki.

Tripla is one of the newest flagships of Sokos Hotels. Responsibility at the hotel is guided by the S Group's guidelines for sustainable development, as well as by the criteria of its Green Key certification. One of its targets is to be carbon negative by 2025. “For us, responsibility is not a trend but a basic assumption in our operations. We mirror everything through responsibility, both in terms of environmental issues and the role we play in the local community,” Riihimäki says.

The fact that Tripla is a brand-new hotel has made it possible to do many things in a very modern way, and special attention has been paid to sustainable development in the new building. “Energy efficiency is on a completely different level compared to old buildings. We also use automation to actively monitor water and energy consumption. This allows us to respond rapidly to possible deviations. In addition, all rooms also have bathroom fixtures that consume one-fifth less water than usual,” says Riihimäki. According to its general manager, Tripla embodies a culture of innovation: “We want serve as a platform for a wide variety of pilot projects. For example, we are introducing mobile room keys.”

In addition to technical solutions and innovations, Tripla is also focusing on good cooperation with the local community. Together with the residents of Pasila, the hotel has held workshops to brainstorm ideas about everything that could be done together. One of the concrete results of these workshops are the temporary art exhibitions by local artists held in the hotel lobby. “We have also agreed with nearby apartment buildings that residents can enjoy breakfast in the hotel at a discounted price. During this exceptional corona crisis, we have even offered our hotel rooms for teleworking,” Riihimäki adds.

The hotel also has numerous social responsibility targets in terms of employees and recruitment, although Riihimäki admits that many of these are on hold until the crisis is over. “Most of our workers have been laid off during the pandemic, so in this situation we are focusing most of our attention on how they are coping in general.”

Hotel Helka's Comfort-room, on the left is a double bed with a desk stretching the bed's width standing at it's end. A lavender armchair sits in the bottom right of the photo, with two large windows covering the far wall behind translucent curtains.
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Hotel Helka looks after everyone’s wellbeing

Upon entering Hotel Helka, the first thing that catches the eye is a rack with umbrellas in all the colours of the rainbow. It communicates that the hotel warmly welcomes everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or cultural background. The same message is communicated throughout the hotel in many other contexts, such as on the wall signs and in the hotel’s own magazine in the rooms. Helka is a discrimination free zone.

“For us, humanism is a big headline and the foundation for our values. In terms of responsibility, we have gone further than many others in the industry. We base our operations on the UN’s principles of sustainable development. In addition to issues related to materials and the environment, we place special emphasis on social responsibility,” says Hotel Manager Jukka Räisänen.

This is reflected in the way that Helka’s staff members have been trained to better understand different minorities. “We have asked the Finnish Roma Association and representatives of various sexual and gender minorities, for example, to share their personal experiences of what it is like to live as a representative of a minority. The lessons we learn will help us serve and treat our guests even better,” Räisänen explains.

Räisänen points out that discrimination is not necessarily a problem in Finnish hotels per se, as professionals in the service sector know how to be polite: “However, it makes a difference if customers are served and treated in a way that makes them especially proud to be who they are.” 

The values that Hotel Helka holds so deeply are rooted in its ownership base. Hotel Helka was founded by one of Finland’s oldest women’s organisations, the Young Women's Christian Association. “The YWCA has traditionally stood up for women’s rights and young girls, but we have set out to extend social responsibility to other groups as well. In the big picture, the aim is to increase harmony between different cultures and interactions,” Räisänen says. With this background, understanding and defending diversity are things that Helka wants to do also in public, for example through social media channels.

Naturally, the hotel also pays close attention to environmental issues. In the past, it followed the guidelines of the EcoCompass system, and today the hotel complies with the criteria of Green Key certification, for example by using renewable energy. The hotel’s restaurant operations are also closely scrutinised. Guests are reminded to take only as much from the breakfast buffet as they will actually eat in order to minimise waste. The food is also largely organic and local, and there are plenty of vegan options.

The hotel’s focus on non-discrimination has received much praise, including from hotel staff. Jukka Räisänen believes that Helka’s value-based work has also been rewarded in terms of profitability. “When we began to highlight our values more strongly about four years ago, we were a little discouraged by the response. Since then, however, the situation has changed completely, and today our focus on diversity receives nothing but praise. Many of our guests say they choose us precisely because of our values.”

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Helsinki’s accommodation providers have for years already paid attention to environmental aspects, such as energy and water consumption, as well as reducing food waste in their restaurants.