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Strategic sustainability management

Helsinki has been working hard to make the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals part of its City Strategy and daily operations. Here, you can read about how the promotion of sustainable development has been bound to the operations of the City Group.

The Helsinki City Strategy for 2021–2025 includes ambitious sustainability objectives. Even in the preface, it is pointed out that sustainable growth in Helsinki should be in balance with the prevailing ecological limitations, creating benefits that are socially, financially and culturally sustainable. The strategy also states that the development of Helsinki will be guided and evaluated in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The third Voluntary Local Review is part of the mid-term review of the City Strategy, which is carried out during spring 2023. It has been decided that the Voluntary Local Review will be carried out every two years, in the middle and at the end of the strategy period.

The table below shows the links between the strategy’s 13 priorities and the UN’s SDGs. Like the SDGs, the strategy’s goals also have impacts that conflict with each other and in relation to the sustainability goals; for example, strong urban growth and construction will increase greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts in the area.

At the moment, different sustainability themes are managed through programmes or strategies coordinated at the City level, or the four strategic programme groups focusing on sustainable economy, ambitious climate responsibility, a comfortable city and the prevention of segregation.

Priorities of the Helsinki City Strategy and SDGs

Tools for sustainability management

In addition to the City Strategy, the Sustainable Development Goals are also reflected in other key programmes of the City, through which many of the goals are being promoted. Over the past two years, the City of Helsinki has also examined its strategic programmes and economic and operational planning from the perspective of sustainable development.

During the review period, Helsinki has introduced a more systematic way of examining its key objectives and City-level programmes within the sustainable development framework and in relation to individual SDGs. The analysis helps open up the links between the objectives of each programme and the sustainability goals of the City Strategy, and identify the UN SDGs that the programme plays a key role in implementing. An SDG analysis has been carried out for the City of Helsinki Welfare Plan 2022–2025, Economic Policy Priorities, the Tourism and Events Programme 2022–2026 and the Carbon Neutral Helsinki 2030 Action Plan, among others.

The table below shows some of Helsinki’s key guiding programmes and plans and how they relate to the SDGs. Looking at both the strategic priorities and the programmes, SDGs 3 (Good health and well-being), 4 (Quality education), 8 (Decent work and economic growth), 10 (Reduced inequalities), 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and 13 (Climate action) stand out as the main areas of focus for the City of Helsinki.

The City of Helsinki’s indicators for assessing the progress of sustainable development have been revised for this review. Helsinki is involved in the national sustainable development indicator project led by the Finnish Environment Institute to develop more comprehensive indicators for ecological, social and economic sustainability. The indicators selected for the report contribute to enabling a national comparison of the state of sustainable development and provide more up-to-date information on the current state of development.

A better SDG-based knowledge base has also been built to support the work of sustainability experts during 2022. The knowledge base brings together programmes and objectives that guide the City and links e.g. the City’s budgetary objectives to the SDGs. While the budgetary objectives of the City’s divisions and enterprises and their indicators have been examined from the SDG perspective, groundwork has also been done on sustainable development budgeting. In 2023, Helsinki will become even more committed to developing phenomenon-based economic planning and will participate in the national sustainable development budgeting project.

In the strategic sustainability management network of Finland’s six largest cities, Helsinki has participated in the development of systemic models and concrete management tools for sustainability management. For example, the network developed the SDG Sensemaking Tool, the basis of which was used in the workshops of the management of the Urban Environment Division in autumn 2022.

Programmes and SDGs

Sustainable development as part of the City’s everyday activities

Helsinki has wanted to make sustainability a part of the everyday routines of its employees and services. Helsinki also promotes the SDGs through its many statutory tasks, such as education, health and social services, city planning and land use, and environmental protection.

There are also various networks, committees and working groups operating within the City that promote sustainability themes, such as the sustainable development working group, human rights network, environment and climate network and the HYTE coordination group.

The City’s divisions and enterprises are active in promoting the sustainability aspects; in particular, ecological sustainability has been systematically promoted in the divisions and enterprises. Of the City’s enterprises, Palvelukeskus Helsinki has its own sustainability programme based on the SDGs. Of the divisions, the Urban Environment Division has started work to develop sustainability work in the division. Other divisions and enterprises have e.g. environmental programmes and objectives related to responsible procurement. The City Executive Office’s communications department has overall responsibility for communications relating to sustainable development and the SDGs.

Sustainable development is visible to residents in many ways through the City’s services.In education services, for example, sustainability thinking has been integrated into teaching, and libraries and youth services are actively working to raise awareness and promote circular economy, among other things.

Staff skills and attitudes are very important for promoting sustainability issues. Understanding and knowledge-based management must be developed throughout the system from management to the implementation of services. The ethical principles of the City guide the activities of the City’s personnel and trustees. The ethical principles are the core of responsible operations, healthy workplace culture and workplace wellbeing. Following these principles ensures that the City is a good place to work and our operations comply with laws, regulations, guidelines and standards. Furthermore, an extensive training package on the different themes of sustainable development was produced for the staff of the City of Helsinki in 2022, available to all City employees. The City also has eco-support activities and related training. Across the organisation, 1,389 eco-supporters work to support the promotion of environmental issues. Sustainable development themes have also been discussed in training and orientation sessions for personnel and supervisors.

Various development projects are also a key way for the City to promote sustainable development and new innovations, with 25 of the 32 projects running in 2022 promoting social or ecological sustainability and the rest promoting employment and digitalisation.

The subsidiaries of the Helsinki City Group are also active in promoting sustainable development. The largest companies have responsibility programmes and reporting based on the SDGs. As part of the City’s work on sustainable development, the responsibility aspects of group governance have been discussed and joint workshops on responsibility themes have been organised with the subsidiaries.

Efforts have also been made to promote the participation and awareness of residents and stakeholders. Active communication and various events have been organised, including a Human Rights Day seminar on sustainable development and a city based on human rights 2022, and three Timeout dialogues on sustainable development themes. The mayor, together with the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, UNU-WIDER, organised a three-part SDG Discussion Forum on topical sustainability themes on economic, learning and ecological sustainability issues in 2022–2023.

Cities as pioneers in sustainable development

Finland is a forerunner in the work on sustainable development and has also been recognised for it. Helsinki has actively participated in cooperation promoting sustainable development at the national and international level. Helsinki works closely with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Sustainable City programme of the Ministry of the Environment and Finland’s six largest cities and the Association of Local and Regional Authorities to promote the strategic management of sustainable development. In autumn 2021, a joint strategic SDG management network project was launched for the six largest cities in Finland, which has developed practical tools for cities, promoted national and international cooperation and shared best practices.

Helsinki also participates in many different international networks or projects promoting sustainable development, including Eurocities, UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative and the projects of Bloomberg Philanthropies. Helsinki also actively participates in the WHO Healthy Cities Network. In particular, the work internationally promotes the targets of SDG 3 (Good health and well-being).

Helsinki has also highlighted the SDG work in the networks it coordinates and its business and partnership cooperation. More than a thousand Society’s Commitments to Sustainable Development have been made in Helsinki. Most of the commitments are made by individuals, companies and various organisations and associations.

By setting an example in the promotion and reporting of the SDGs at the local level, Helsinki can promote sustainable development globally and influence the promotion of the SDGs beyond its own borders in cities around the world. Helsinki has directly and through UN operators supported and shared its own work with other cities around the world. Helsinki also hosted an international two-day workshop on the promotion and assessment of the SDGs at the local level in autumn 2022, together with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).

Helsinki’s SDG work has contributed to the emergence and deepening of many strategic international partnerships. Helsinki has, in a completely new way, managed to enter into cooperation with UN institutions (e.g. UN-Habitat and UN DESA) and to represent cities and promote urban goals in these forums.