Sustainability and the digital city
Photography: Akifoto
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Sustainability and the digital city

Rae Ritchie — June 2019

“Digital makes a sustainable future for cities feasible,” Pekka Timonen told delegates at the opening leg of the Fujitsu World Tour 2019 in Helsinki. And as mayor of Lahti, he is leading a sustainability transformation at the Finnish city of 120,000 residents.


Lahti, located 60 miles east of Helsinki, is best known among Finns for its winter sports scene, especially its impressive ski jumps. But the shadow of economic decline also looms large over its reputation. Recession in the 1990s hit the area particularly hard and unemployment soared, reaching a high of 26.8% in1994. Between 1990 and 2007, employment in the industrial sector fell from just over 40% to 27.4%.

However, the city is now forging a new identity based upon its eco-credentials. Not content with being the greenest city in Finland, Lahti will be EU Green Capital 2021, having triumphed over other finalists, Lille and Strasbourg, at the awards in Oslo in June. 


We caught up with Pekka Timonen after his presentation on sustainable cities at Fujitsu World Tour to find out more about the changes in Lahti and why, in his view, there can be no sustainability without digital technology.

Pekka Timonen on…

Sustainability and the city

“The biggest challenge facing cities in the 21st century is climate change. Whatever we do, we have to do it in a sustainable way. We have to make sure that we don’t grow our CO2 emissions — we have to cut them.

“We have to make sure that we develop wiser ways of using our resources. We have to address all environmental questions, for example, around energy efficiency and public transportation in cities because urban areas will decide whether we will succeed in developing a more sustainable future. In Lahti, for instance, we are almost 100% free from fossil fuels.”

“A more sustainable future has to be created in cities.”

Digitalization and sustainability

“We need services that use resources differently. We need data to make sustainable cities and communities possible. It’s very hard to imagine a sustainable major city that is not highly digitalized — they go hand in hand. Digital makes a sustainable future feasible.”

“Our next step in Lahti is to turn our organization upside down so that we build it around the possibilities and tools of the digital world rather than simply using digital services to improve our organization.”

“An example of this is CitiCAP, a personal carbon trading scheme for citizens that operates via an app. When this rolls out later in 2019, we will be the first city in the world to introduce this kind of program. CitiCAP monitors your behavior and rewards you for making changes, including financial benefits such as free bus tickets.

“Developing the app has involved input from Lahti’s citizens as well as EU support and insight from a range of start-ups. Working together, we’ve created something that’s never been created before: a digital solution to change behavior, a digital solution to create benefits, and a digital solution to fight climate change.

“The thing that drives us is looking out of our window and thinking about what we need to do. If we are successful, then we in cities and the public sector can be one of the drivers of positive change – but there’s a lot of work to be done to make that shift.”


“It helps that today’s and tomorrow’s cities are highly collaborative. We are learning to do things together. There was a world where everything was in a box: it was your business, there was a city organization, there was a university, there was day care. But that was the city of the last century, the city of the 20th century.”

“In Lahti, we realized that we needed a partner who has enough knowledge and resources to help us solve our challenges and to develop our city both within our own organization and then with the services that we provide to our citizens.”

“You need strong partners to do that, and this is what prompted our collaboration with Fujitsu. We are still in the early stages of this collaboration but what we have encouraged Fujitsu to do is share with us whenever they hear about something interesting. They collect for us information about what people are doing elsewhere, not only in local government but in business and other areas.

“Secondly, we can already see that Fujitsu provides us with reliable services that we can trust and depend upon. We can rely on our IT services and when something does go wrong, it is fixed quickly. Having that kind of dependable cornerstone is essential to our digitalization program.

“So there are two sides to our collaboration with Fujitsu. One ensures that our IT functions and the other provides us with the tools and knowledge to be forward-looking and innovative.”

Collaboration as inspiration

“I’m interested in being part of a large group that is pushing change and is committed to creating a better city. That’s what inspires me. And it also inspires me because I know it’s possible – I know what work needs to be done.

“When I became the mayor around a year ago, my inspiration was and is to join a team who are really turning Lahti from an old industrial city with serious economic problems and no direction into a forward-looking, innovative and green city. Lahti isn’t waiting for anyone else to create its future. Being part of that change is inspirational.”


 Upcoming Fujitsu World Tour dates:

London — July 4th, 2019  

• Moscow — September, 2019

First published June 2019
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