Fine-tuning a car-free family’s housing and food
A family of four that doesn’t own a car – how do you manage in your daily life? “Without any problems,” say the Kelloniemi family. A home in the city centre, with supermarkets close by, makes a lot of things easier: journeys to work, school, the shops and hobbies are all short, and the children are old enough to go to school and hobbies by themselves. The family tends to cycle to most places.
“The fact that we don’t own a car – and that I don’t even have a driver’s license – surprises most people. I don’t suffer by cycling everywhere. It would seem strange to suddenly find myself sitting in a car. Cycling is good for all-round wellbeing. More and more people are cycling to work, which also generates clear financial savings,” says the father, Justus.
Food-related changes play a central role
Our talk of cycling segued nicely into the topic of the interview: the sustainable daily life pilot. The family decided to take part in the pilot because they’ve always been interested in environmental issues. The mother, Minttu, has also studied environmental sociology and some environmental science, and was therefore interested in the pilot.
Before the pilot, the family’s carbon footprint was 3.5 tons of CO2 per person per year. Leisure-time activities and holidays accounted for the greatest chunk, about 38 per cent. At the end of the pilot, the family’s carbon footprint was 3 tons of CO2 per person per year, representing a fall of about 14 per cent.
“In the end, we weren’t far from our current target. We found a surprising number of small everyday changes that we could make: reducing the amount of rice we ate, not throwing coffee down the drain, turning on the air-source heat pump. They all added up,” said Minttu.
The family were particularly interested in the services offered by companies participating in the pilot. Minttu says they were intending to look into these more closely, but didn’t due to illness. Instead, they picked some things that they could slot almost seamlessly into their daily lives.
“We strive to take environmental issues into account in our consumption choices. We largely follow a plant-based diet. I’ve personally been a vegetarian for over twenty years. Whenever possible, we buy damaged vegetables and lots of red-labelled products (which are nearing their use-by dates). We favour potatoes over barley and rice, and use plenty of Finnish root vegetables.
We’ve also considered joining a local food group, but their product selection is fairly limited and the group is pretty far away from us, in Myllymäki. The Steiner School has a WhatsApp group that helps you buy food that would otherwise go to waste, and the upper secondary school also sells leftover food. We’ve made good use of both of them.
We also sort our own waste, and Justus takes the cardboard and plastic packaging to the recycling point at Prisma. One thing that I’ve been left wondering about is this: the food waste generated by the family hasn’t been taken into account anywhere in the calculations, even though it’s a big thing in our family. For example, we end up putting some bread in the biowaste.”
A little fine-tuning for the home
The family moved into their current home last July and the pilot started in November. At the time of writing, they’d been living there for just over half a year. They redecorated a bit when they moved in, but nothing else was required. Justus says that the air-source heat pump will have to be renewed some time in the next few years, but there’s no hurry yet. During the pilot, they did a little fine-tuning of their home.
“We were already using eco-electricity, and electricity accounts for quite a small proportion of our housing costs. We changed to led lamps in some parts of the house, and stuck a “no advertisements” sign on the postbox. The former resident left us a hot tub on the terrace, which has somewhat reduced the amount of water we’ve used for showering. We change the water in the hot tub only once per summer at most. Our family uses about 200 cubic metres of water per year.
When we moved, we recycled our things via a Facebook group called roskalava (dumpster), and we donated some toys to the Steiner daycare centre after it suffered a major fire. Most of our unusable old clothes go into the recycling, and any clothes the children grow out of are given to coworkers,” say the parents.
“We pay attention to where things are made and favour Finnish products. For our new home, we picked up some secondhand Lundia shelves and Iittala crockery from online fleamarkets. You don’t always have to buy new,” says Minttu.
During the pilot, the family also looked into solar power systems, but such an investment wouldn’t have been financially worth it for the amount of electricity they use. There was also plenty of good information available about geothermal heat and air-source heat pumps, but practically nothing about water-source heat pumps.
“Something that I was particularly interested in, but couldn’t find much information about, was stormwater systems,” says Justus.
A more hopeful future
The Kelloniemis found the pilot to be a good and worthwhile experience, even though it could have been longer. Justus says that the pilot was implemented constructively and clearly illustrated what the family’s carbon footprint consisted of. As a concept, Greenreality is promising.
“It’s important for participation to be voluntary. Our starting point meant that we don’t really have any major changes to make – at least not at our current stage of life. However, we were left with a positive feeling of being on the right track, and I was pleased to note that the city has green values in its strategy. It’s nice to live in a city like that,” says Justus. Minttu also reflected on issues relating to climate change:
“As an upper secondary school psychology teacher, I’ve also been considering the impact of climate change on young people. YLE (the Finnish broadcasting company) has been covering young people’s anxiety over climate change, and there are already plenty of scientific publications on the topic. It’s important for us to curb climate change through political decision-making, and for both municipalities and companies to shoulder their responsibility.
The feeling that we’re all in the same boat and working together to the best of our abilities helps to ease this anxiety over climate change. If you take this approach, people’s individual lifestyles and consumption choices no longer feel insignificantly small – instead, they’re simply essential steps along our shared journey towards a more environmentally friendly future.”