Aiming to be clean
At least three decisive factors affect the everyday life, environment and enjoyableness of a city: traffic, energy management and the quality of the drinking water. Helsinki is an international pioneer in taking good care of all three.
Public transport first
Helsinki has adopted a traffic policy that favours public transport. Over 90 per cent of residents support that goal and nearly 80 per cent are satisfied with the standard of services. Public transport takes people anywhere in the city. Rail-borne services - trams and the metro - account for fifty per cent of trips and buses the remainder.
The metro, which uses Finnish-made rolling stock, opened in 1982 and the latest extensions were inaugurated in 1998. Compared with private cars, public transport - especially rail-borne - is environment-friendly. Helsinki City Transport has drafted a detailed energy-saving plan with the aim of further reducing the impact on the environment.
Nevertheless, given that Helsinki is the capital of a highly motorised society and stands on a narrow peninsula, traffic problems are felt in the downtown area. Residents consider parking facilities inadequate (where do people not?) and thus 29 per cent of all trips in the metropolitan region and 39 per cent of work trips are made using public transport, including mainline trains. These are impressive figures by any international standard.
UN prize for energy management
In Helsinki, electricity and heat are generated together. This requires less fuel than generating the two separately and means fewer chimneys and lower levels of environmental emissions. Ever since the 1950s, the city has been changing over from having heating units in individual buildings to using a district-heating network that now serves over 90 per cent of buildings. Its cogeneration-based district- heating system has earned the city a UN environmental award. The Helsinki model has been adapted for use in Korea, China, Japan, Canada, the UK, Russia and many other countries. The city's energy plants have been able to remain comfortably within international emission norms by using advanced technology, low-sulphur coal and growing quantities of natural gas.
Clean, clear water!
Helsinki Water serves about a million residents of the metropolitan region. It purifies and distributes drinking water and treats wastewater to a level of purity at which it does not to harm the aquatic environment. Helsinki's drinking water comes from Lake Päijänne through a rock tunnel 120 km long and 26 metres below the ground. Thus it is untouched by air pollution on its way to the city. The water is both excellent in quality - meeting EU standards with ease - and abundant. The entire metropolitan region needs only a hundredth of Päijänne's natural flow. Water quality improved even further in the past two years with the introduction of activated-carbon filtration.
Wastewaters are conducted to a highly automated treatment plant through a 1,000- km network of pipes. Most of the plant is inside a rock cavern. Methane produced by decomposition of the slurry produced during the treatment process provides all of the thermal energy that the plant requires and two-thirds of its electricity. The decomposed slurry is composted to yield natural fertilisers. Thus the nutrients in wastewaters are returned to the natural cycle. The purified wastewater is pumped into the open sea through a tunnel to an outlet eight kilometres from the southernmost tip of Helsinki. The quality of the sea water along the city's shorelines has improved considerably in the past couple of decades.