Think Sustainably - FAQ

A man dressed in a white sweatshirt and cap, cycles away from the camera past docked boats, alongside west harbour as the sun sets. Apartment blocks are sat on the horizon on the edge of the harbour.

What is the Think Sustainably service?

Think Sustainably is a digital service launched in 2019 that helps to choose more sustainable ways of living in Helsinki and enjoying the city. It filters content from the MyHelsinki.fi website to suggest sustainable services, such as restaurants, shops, sights, events, and accommodation. 

The base of the service is in tailor-made criteria for the city of Helsinki that have been developed together with the independent think tank Demos Helsinki, along with local interest groups and sustainability experts. The criteria emphasise ecological sustainability and especially combatting climate change, yet also taking into account other dimensions of environmental and social sustainability.

The criteria were updated during the course of 2020 to take social and cultural sustainability more into account. The criteria for environmental sustainability have also been updated to better meet current requirements and to drive local businesses to operate even more responsibly.

The service providers who have met the required criteria are marked with a green tag and website visitors can examine in more detail which criteria were fulfilled and which not. The purpose is not to pinpoint who are the straight-A students, but rather to encourage different operators to find an impressive array of solutions that encourage customers and visitors to engage in more sustainable lifestyles. 

Why was the service developed?

Climate change affects us all. Combatting it is not the task of a small minority – nor is it their privilege. The world will change and each one of us participates in this change. We all have the right to find our own way to make an impact. No task is too small. Action is needed right now on every single front.

Helsinki is committed to promoting a more sustainable way of life, for everyone, because we understand that true impact can only happen when a group big and diverse enough becomes part of greater change through their own actions.

We want to make room for new types of thinking and lifestyles. We want to be a city where we all learn about a better way of life, and learn and innovate together – a city where we do not fear making mistakes along the way. We hope that others can also learn from our experiments.

Helsinki has not yet reached the end of its journey, but we are ready and willing to make great efforts to pursue sustainability. This is why we are inviting everyone to share their own best practices and to encourage one another to make more sustainable choices: to define together what good living means today and in the future. 

MyHelsinki.fi's Think Sustainably service helps consumers to choose sustainable service providers and encourages very different players to focus their efforts on sustainable actions.

Who is the Think Sustainably service aimed at?

The service is meant for MyHelsinki.fi website users, local citizens and visitors. 

The service is open to all local service providers who fulfill the minimum requirements for the criteria within the six service categories: Attractions, Restaurants, cafés and bars, Shops, Accommodation, Events, Venues.  

How has Helsinki committed to pursuing sustainable development?

In its city strategy, Helsinki has defined a vision to be the world's most functional city and to support good living. The aim is to constantly be a little bit better in everything, always in a responsible and sustainable way. A functional and an ever better day-to-day in Helsinki is visible through concrete acts, choices and proposals in everyday life.

Cities have a significant role in looking for solutions, as a big part of the solutions to the climate crisis directly affect everyday lifestyles. The ability of cities to guide, develop and solve practical aspects related to climate change is central in reaching the global set of climate goals. 

Helsinki was the first city to follow New York in committing to the voluntary city-level reporting initiative following the UN's sustainable development goals. The aim of the reporting is to make visible Helsinki's efforts to address the 2030 Agenda aims. Helsinki's first report was handed over to the UN in 2019. Helsinki initiated city-level reporting on sustainable development for the second time and published the report in May 2021. 

On a global level, climate change is one of the most critical powers of change. Helsinki underlines sustainable choices and takes its responsibility in combatting climate change seriously. Helsinki actively builds collaborations with central international networks such as the C40, functions as a prototyping platform for scalable experiments, produces independent solutions, and takes an active role at the international forums where new solutions are created. 

Helsinki aims to be carbon-neutral by 2035. Carbon-neutrality means that the city's functions as a whole do not have any further negative impact on climate change. This aim includes, for example, that emissions derived from district heating are reduced by an immense 70 per cent from the current level. The Finnish state has also set a timeline for ending the burning of coal by 2029.

Helsinki has already reduced its emissions from the 1990 level by 25 per cent, and in the same period emissions per capita have come down by even 42 per cent. We are still not the best student in the class, but we wish to constantly aim to do better and also set an example for others to follow.

What kinds of operators are included in the service? 

At the moment, the service encompasses the following categories:

  1. Restaurants, cafés and bars 
  2. Shops
  3. Attractions
  4. Accommodation
  5. Events
  6. Venues

The service filters content from the MyHelsinki.fi website to suggest sustainable service providers. The participating businesses and organisations have evaluated their own work according to the supplied criteria and have fulfilled the minimum requirements in the respective service categories. 

How can one participate in the service?

The Think Sustainably service is open to all local service providers that fulfill the minimum requirements for the criteria within the six service categories. 

The service providers are personally responsible of evaluating their services using the provided criteria in their respective category. If a service provider fulfills the minimum requirements demanded, it can be classified as a sustainable actor on the MyHelsinki.fi website. Customers and visitors can also supply feedback on the success of the sustainability efforts through the MyHelsinki.fi site.

The service providers who have met the required criteria are marked with a green tab and website visitors can examine in more detail which criteria were fulfilled and which not. The purpose is not to pinpoint who are the straight-A students, but rather to encourage different operators to find an impressive array of solutions that encourage customers and visitors to engage in more sustainable lifestyles.

The service is not meant to represent a new official sustainability label or certificate, and therefore the fulfillment of the criteria is not evaluated by a third party. In short, the service trusts the service providers as the best informants of their actions and wishes to pursue sustainability. In addition, MyHelsinki.fi visitors who have had experience with the services are encouraged to give feedback by matching the criteria with their actual experiences through the website. The feedback is not published on MyHelsinki.fi. If there are any ambiguities as to whether the provider meets the criteria, they will be contacted in order to further develop the area in question.

The operator is also expected to regularly brief its own employees on the company's values and visions of sustainability.

What criteria is the service based on? 

We believe that every service provider is ready for improvement – and this is why we wish to offer tools and a platform for each and every company to function even more sustainably. The criteria can be used as a set of tools to develop operations. 

The base of the service is in tailor-made criteria for the City of Helsinki that have been developed together with the independent think tank Demos Helsinki, along with local interest groups and sustainability experts. The criteria emphasise ecological sustainability and especially combatting climate change, yet also taking into account other dimensions of environmental and social sustainability. By meeting the minimum requirements of one's respective service category, the service provider gets to take part in the Think Sustainably service. 

The different service categories include 9-25 criteria along with a set minimum amount of criteria to fulfill. Some criteria are more easily met than others, while others need more persistent, long-term efforts (for example carbon footprint calculations and compensations). 

The criteria come with explanations that reveal more about their backgrounds and serve to further guide the service providers on how to meet these criteria. 
Many criteria involve, for instance, making an internal action plan, leaving the scope and ambition of the efforts as the responsibility of the service provider. Through the criteria, we can offer service providers a set of tools to use in developing activities in a more sustainable direction, and to share one's own best practices with others. 

We have wanted to make the criteria accessible for many kinds of operators since everyone should have the chance to be a part of a bigger change. True impact is brought about when a large and diverse group participates within it, each through their own actions.

How have the criteria been constructed? 

The criteria process was managed by think tank Demos Helsinki's experts using their lengthy experience on sustainability and responsibility. The process included benchmarking criteria used for various existing environmental labels and certificates. The team also collaborated with Visit Finland's Sustainable Travel Finland label. In addition, the process was deepened by researching the newest literature on the topic. The next step was to define the areas that have the most environmental impact: for instance in the Restaurants category this was food, in the Activities it was mobility, and so on. Experts from different fields then commented on the first draft, and the second round of comments involved 20 operators.

The criteria were updated during the course of 2020 to take social and cultural sustainability more into account. The criteria for environmental sustainability have also been updated to better meet current requirements and to drive local businesses to operate even more responsibly. The updated criteria was launched in 2021. 

The aim is to re-evaluate the criteria regularly.

What is the impact of the criteria?

The starting point for the criteria was to make them accessible to very different operators ranging from small cafés to large hotels, as everyone needs to have the same opportunity to be part of a larger story of change. The service providers can to a certain extent themselves decide how they wish to promote sustainability. This makes the fulfillment of the criteria possible and motivating also for smaller operators. We believe this promotes the impact of the criteria. 

How is the fulfillment of the criteria monitored?

There is no auditing process for the criteria as their fulfillment is left on a trust-based agreement with the service providers. In this way, the relevance of customer feedback is highlighted. The MyHelsinki.fi website offers a visible and easy way to leave feedback on the sustainability work of different operators. The feedback is however not published, and is instead delivered directly to Helsinki Marketing. The team goes through the feedback on a regular basis, internally, as well as with the operators in question. The service providers are given the chance to improve their actions accordingly. If an operator repeatedly receives negative feedback on their sustainability efforts, their participation in the service can be withdrawn.

If there is no auditing, how can you be sure that the service providers who claim to be sustainable actually fulfil the criteria, and also one year from now? 

Consumers today are highly aware and service providers should see sustainability as part of their own business. Evaluating one's own activities starts from one's own motivation, and we trust that companies are able to make their own assessments. In Finland, certain sustainability actions are already required by law, and Finnish society demands that companies act in a socially and economically responsible manner. This already lays the foundations for steady self-evaluation. In addition, consumers have the opportunity to give their own feedback to service providers. The criteria are re-evaluated regularly.

How can consumers give feedback on the sustainability of companies?  

If a customer notices that one or more criteria are not met in the case of a certain operator that has been classified as sustainable, they have the chance to give feedback through the Think Sustainably service. The feedback is processed by Helsinki Marketing who is then in touch with the operator in question. The service providers are given the chance to improve their actions accordingly. After this, their further participation in the service is evaluated.

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Think Sustainably is a digital service launched in 2019 that helps to choose more sustainable ways of living in Helsinki and enjoying the city.