“Examples have miraculous powers.”


The Elomaa family

Who: Kaisa and Matti, a retired couple
Where: in downtown Lappeenranta
Home: An apartment block built in 1986, district heating
The Elomaa family

Walking towards more sustainable daily life

“You’re on speaker,” Kaisa says cheerfully on the other end of the line. Matti shouts his own greeting in the background. Due to the current exceptional circumstances, we conducted this interview over the phone.

I first wanted to know why they’d decided to sign up for the sustainable daily life pilot. Kaisa said they’d moved from a detached house to an apartment about six months before the pilot. They needed to get rid of some stuff, and also wanted something to liven up their retirement.

“We had – and still have – too much stuff. As we were downsizing, we were already used to the idea of getting rid of things, at least in theory. About half of our stuff should have gone, but in the end we only managed to get rid of about a third. It’s still an ongoing process,” says Kaisa.

“My wife won’t really agree to give up anything,” says Matti, with a little good-natured teasing.

On foot for shopping and errands

Before the pilot, the couple’s carbon footprint was just under 3.5 tons of CO2 per person per year. This figure fell by about 11 per cent during the pilot, ending up at about 3 tons of CO2 per person per year. This reduction was mainly achieved through small things.

“It’s difficult to identify anything major. Giving up the car would have been the only thing that would have generated a large reduction, but we only use the car about once a week anyway. And when you live in an apartment, it’s not really possible to reduce your home’s emissions. We have the radiators turned down to zero, but there’s enough heat for us when all the surrounding apartments have theirs on,” says Matti.

These days, instead of taking the car, the couple usually walk. It was one of their main objectives for the pilot. Kaisa says that walking has also had a positive impact on her mental wellbeing.

“I wanted to get used to walking when I go shopping or do errands. We only use the car for larger purchases. Now, when we come home after a walk, I think of myself as a good person. The greatest effect has been a mental one.”

Respecting grandma’s wisdom

Many of the Elomaas’ ecological changes have their roots in things learnt from grandma: repair what you have, cook using traditional recipes, use soda and vinegar for cleaning. The value of grandma’s wisdom was highlighted during the pilot.

“We didn’t try any of the services offered by the participating companies, as we didn’t feel that we needed them. Instead, we did things that we would have learnt on, for example, a cooking course. We’ve also started using more Finnish root vegetables and have included more vegetarian food in our diet. This has doubled the amount of vegetables in our diet compared to the same time last year. I’ve reintroduced some tasty old recipes as well.

We’ve also taken advantage of red-labelled products (which are nearing their use-by date), and we’re more likely to favour Finnish organic produce and local food, even though it usually costs about 30 per cent more. For example, we get our eggs directly from the Kuorttinen organic hennery.

We recycle all types of waste – we’d even recycle fabric if it were easier to do. I follow grandma’s example by mending clothes and textiles. When I do laundry, I never use fabric softener. I once tried homemade laundry vinegar, but I didn’t think it was very good for the washing machine, so I stopped using it.

However, after the pilot I continued making use of the microwave and electric kettle when cooking. I also paid attention to how much water I use in the shower,” says Kaisa.

“I was just thinking about the shower thing, and I said it hasn’t really gone down that much. At a push, you could say there’s been a slight reduction. But we don’t shower every day anyway, so that makes a difference,” Matti adds.

During the pilot, the couple switched to espresso for their coffee. Kaisa explains that one reason for this was her desire to reduce waste.

“After the pilot, it started to weigh on our conscience when we made afternoon coffee and there was always some left over. My husband loved the espresso, so we had to get an espresso pot. Now, when we make coffee, it all gets drunk. It goes down quick and tastes great.”

A follow-up period would also be in order

By their example, the Elomaas have also inspired some of their friends to adopt sustainable practices. To quote Matti: “Examples have miraculous powers.”

“The father from one family we know started recycling. A while later he asked, do you know what type of waste we get the most of? And in the same breath he replied: plastic! We’ve managed to get a number of our acquaintances interested in sorting waste at least.”

In their opinion, the pilot was a suitable length and without doubt a positive experience. Matti said a follow-up period would also be in order.

“A follow-up period of a similar duration could be scheduled, say, a year down the line. It would monitor how well we’ve succeeded in keeping up our new habits.”

One thing that Kaisa wasn’t able to find out during the pilot – and which still bothers her – is the environmental loading caused by pharmaceutical packaging.

“When pensioners like us – and indeed others – have to take a certain number of medicines that come in blister packs, they cause a lot of waste. I’d have liked more information about this.”

Maybe they’ll get an answer to this question in their potential follow-up period.