“The pilot convinced us that we’re involved in something really important.”

The Tolonen family

Who: teacher and vice principal Hilla, painter Olli, and their son Lenni, two and a half
Where: Pallo, about 0.5 km from the centre of Lappeenranta
Home: An apartment block built in 2018, district heating
The Tolonen family

A life in line with your values

For the Tolonen family, the past autumn has been a time of change: the mother, Hilla, returned to work after her maternity and parental leave, and the father, Olli, took over from where she left off. Now it’s the father’s turn to enjoy staying at home with his son Lenni until he turns three.

Hilla’s work is one reason why the family decided to join the pilot. Hilla is a teacher and vice principal at Joutsenon Opisto and works with sustainable development themes on a daily basis. As a family, they were also interested in what their carbon footprint consists of.

Before the pilot, the family’s carbon footprint was 4.2 tons of CO2 per person per year. Their starting figure was among the lowest of the participating families and fell by about one per cent during the month-long pilot.

“We’ve already been paying attention to quite a lot of things. But you can always do more. We’d already made some major decisions before the pilot: it’s important for us to live in a very new house and that one parent is at home with our son. We don’t travel much either,” says Hilla.

“We also sold our second car just before starting the pilot. If we’d sold it during the pilot, that would have caused a large drop in our carbon footprint, but then our starting point would have been very different as well,” says Olli.

Moving downtown is reflected in the figures

The family has been living close to the centre of Lappeenranta for just over a year, and they now think carefully about whether they need to use the car to run errands. As Hilla works in Joutseno, a large part of the family’s motoring consists of her commute. The family were particularly looking forward to trying out an electric car.

“We got an electric car to test for about a day. I used it to drive to work, and then to Taipalsaari. Learning to use the automatic transmission was the biggest challenge,” says Hilla, laughing.

“It was nice to try the electric car. I also looked into whether our own car could be converted to run on ethanol, but we would have to replace so many parts in our old car that the benefits would have ended up being quite small after taking the material footprint into account. We also wondered whether we could replace our current car with an electric car. We’ve already asked about prices, but haven’t made a final decision yet,” says Olli.

The family’s other experiments related, in one way or another, to food or basic daily tasks.

“I read a lot about vegetarian food and diets beforehand. I decided to try it out and go vegetarian for two weeks. Changing from a meat- to a plant-based diet in one go was too drastic a change. It needs to be done gradually. We now eat vegetarian food once or twice a week. We could increase this gradually, and look for more suitable protein sources to include in our diet.

We also paid attention to our water consumption. I now take shorter showers, and we don’t use a great deal of water. You can save quite a lot of money and energy by paying attention to how much water you use and whether it’s hot or cold. The direct savings can add up to a couple of hundred euros a year,” says Olli.

“I took one of the Martha Organisation’s cooking courses. It was a fun event, and it was interesting to try out a variety of new recipes. You also got some good recipes to take home. However, the content of the course could have been planned a bit better. The course was targeted at families taking part in the pilot, so it was nice to share experiences and thoughts with the others.

Nowadays, I feel a bit ashamed if I buy a lot of packets of minced beef at the supermarket. It’s a feeling that only started this autumn. Is it so that, when something keeps playing on your conscience, you’re seeking change?” wonders Hilla.

Everyone can make a difference

During the interview, Hilla and Olli entered into a deep discussion about how individual people can promote sustainable development via their own actions. Environmental issues are important to them both, and recycling goes without saying, but money speaks both for and against. Could money be the key to sustainability? Olli mentions investing as an option.

“You can always invest in companies that produce products and services in line with sustainable development. Of course, it’s a much longer road that steering companies towards sustainable products directly through demand.

But something that you can genuinely influence is a change of mindset. You can have a lot of impact on the economy: for example, Finland has a workable bottle deposit system, because people will suffer financial losses if bottles and cans are not recycled.”

“During the pilot, I came to understand that you have to pay more for some things if you want to choose the ecological option,” says Hilla.

In the run up to Christmas, the pilot has also encouraged the family to favour non-material gifts. Hilla has passed this message on to her friends and family, too.

“I’ve long been thinking that we shouldn’t teach traditional gift-giving culture to our child. I now had the courage to tell godparents and relatives that, instead of things, they could maybe give my son some of their time. I wondered how they would take it, but to my delight everyone welcomed the idea.”

In Hilla’s opinion, the pilot’s greatest benefit was creating awareness about things and putting them into words. Thinking about sustainable development in their own actions has become part of their daily life.

“The pilot convinced us that we’re involved in something really important. Making it easier to test these things could help recruit people for whom sustainability is not so close to the heart.”