“This was a ‘keep your feet firmly planted on the ground’ approach – and that’s what it needs to be, if you want sustainable habits to take root in your daily life.”

The Pekkanen and Kallonen family

Who: doctoral researcher Tiia-Lotta, software designer Tommi, and their son Untamo, 2
Where: Hakali, about 6 km from the centre of Lappeenranta
Home: A detached house built in the 1920s and later extended, air-source heat pump/electric heating
The Pekkanen and Kallonen family

Small changes in many areas

Both the old log house and its yard have been given a beautiful dusting of snow. Inside, the house smells of freshly baked Christmas pastries. The mother, Tiia-Lotta, switches the kettle on while the father, Tommi, plays with two-year-old Untamo in the living room. Untamo is allowed to watch the Moomins while we sit down with hot drinks and pastries to chat about the sustainable daily life pilot.

Tiia-Lotta studies sustainable consumption for a living, and both sustainability and sustainable values have already been guiding the family’s choices. So they didn’t need to start their pilot completely from scratch.

“As a researcher, I was interested in what it would be like to be a guinea pig myself. We’ve also been thinking about these things as a family, and the pilot gave us some structured information on what every household can do to help. We’d already switched to wind energy before the pilot, and we carried out a roof renovation last summer. A little more insulation was added to the roof, which will also help to save energy. And our house isn’t particularly big either.”

So what kind of experience was the month-long pilot through the eyes of someone who has studied the topic?

“I liked the fact that it focused on making changes at household level, and also the initial calculations that helped to identify the easiest place to make the biggest change. The examples were practical and realistic – the kind that will have a genuine impact on the environment. This was a ‘keep your feet firmly planted on the ground’ approach – and that’s what it needs to be, if you want sustainable habits to take root in your daily life. In a way, the pilot was a form of gamification.”

Reducing transport emissions

Before the pilot, the family’s carbon footprint was about 5 tons of CO2 per person per year. This figure fell by 24 per cent during the pilot. According to the calculations, the majority of the family’s emissions came from transport, and in practice from daily and leisure-time driving. This is something they tried to find a solution to.

“We converted our second car to run on ethanol. We’d only just recently bought it, and with the express idea of making this conversion. Converting it to run on ethanol was neither a big job nor a large investment – it cost about EUR 800. This had the greatest impact on our carbon footprint,” says Tommi.

“Personally, I wondered whether we could use public transport a bit more. I’m on part-time parental leave, so when I’m not at work and have no pressing schedule, Untamo and I can take the bus into the centre. From here, there’s not really any sensible route to the university by public transport. The bus takes 30 minutes to get into the centre, and then you have to change onto another bus that takes another half hour to get to the university. However, I did try car sharing with a colleague.

We also tried lots of small things: we loaned a thermal camera from the city’s energy advice bureau, added extra draught excluders to the windows, and made small changes to our diet. The kind of things that won’t lower your standard of living.

We stuck the thermal camera into every nook and cranny of the house. We already knew that one corner wasn’t properly insulated, and that it leaked. We have to open that up at some point and get it properly insulated. We haven’t really done any major renovations to the house. We knew about the state of the roof when we bought the house, and that’s been fixed now.

Dietary changes seemed to be popular among the participants. I myself have long been a pesco-vegetarian, and now I’ve also removed dairy products and eggs from my diet. Untamo is also a pesco-vegetarian, while Tommi is an omnivore. Tommi switched to using milk from a producer that compensates for their climate emissions. Untamo and I drink plant-based milk. I’ve also reduced the amount of coffee I drink, not solely for environmental reasons, but because my body just couldn’t take it anymore.

We also tried out the grocery bag service, and I’m sure that will come in handy again in the future. It felt like an everyday luxury. I’m not quite sure how much of an environmental impact it will have though. We usually stop off at the shops on the way home from work, or just walk to the store. But if you order food once a week, you have to plan better and won’t make impulse purchases.

We also KonMari-ed the entire house. As a result, we got rid of a lot of stuff and made more room in the cupboards. I sold some things at a fleamarket, donated others, and also took some stuff for material recycling. We’re never going to become a minimalist family, because a bookcase like that brings me joy,” says Tiia-Lotta, pointing over her shoulder to a bookcase covering the entire wall.

Steadily on track for 2030 targets

All in all, the pilot was a good experience for the family, who felt they were on the right track with their choices. Tiia-Lotta says that they will have the most work to do in terms of transport.

“We’re steadily on track for the 2.5-ton limit, and this pilot has shown us that its achievable without any magic tricks. We’re already making plenty of small changes in many areas, but we don’t want to go to extremes.

Travel has been important to us, and we have to consider how we can do things differently in the future. For example, in recent years we’ve travelled a lot within Finland, and also to Russia, which we can reach by train. One major thing we could do in the future is to give up air travel, or at least compensate for it somehow.”