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In the face of climate change, it is essential to make our cities more resilient and environmentally friendly. Hence achieving carbon neutrality has become an important means through which governments can reach their carbon emissions reduction targets. The Low2No Sustainable Design Competition in Helsinki was looking for the answer to the question “How can the built environment make our lives more sustainable?” And the most satisfactory answer was presented by the c_life project for “a real time and real space demonstration of how to live, work, play and learn, producing innovation that benefits people, the environment and the economy”. The development’s aim is to become carbon negative by producing enough energy off site to offset the energy used on site.


Low2No Manual: c_life

The abandoned waterfront areas in Helsinki provide an amazing opportunity to reshape the form of the city and reduce its carbon emissions through zero carbon design solutions. This would mean that the lives of more than 100,000 people will be made more sustainable.

The project developers have estimated that 5.4 million metric tons of CO2 will be saved if the population growth of Finland lived in buildings with c_life standards in the next 25 years.

The area with the eye-catching name of Jätkäsaari will become home of 16,000 inhabitants and 6,000 workers. The competition for the development of this site was won by an international team led by Arup. The project, named c_life (City as a Living Factory of Ecology), does not only provide zero carbon homes and offices but also encourages behavioural change of their inhabitants. The aim of the development is to become carbon negative by 2022 through an offsite wind farm which will offset the carbon that has been produced within c_life. Local cooperatives will ensure that food is locally produced, while electric car clubs and proximity to the city centre will reduce emissions from transport.

Sustainability in numbers

c_life aims to reduce energy demand from buildings by 40% and to offset 50% of its cumulative carbon emissions by 2037, while a 45% reduction of embodied carbon from a typical building is expected. The project developers have estimated that 5.4 million metric tons of CO2 will be saved if the population growth of Finland lived in buildings with c_life standards in the next 25 years.

Behavioural change can reduce one’s carbon emissions by 20%

Besides the low-carbon design of buildings, an essential part of c_life has been to induce change in people’s behaviour. Only by altering habits and personal choices about transport, food, consumer goods and energy use can carbon emissions be significantly reduced. C_life has prepared 50 strategies to encourage behavioural change. Above all, it is the sense of community and shared values and beliefs that can trigger change in social behaviour. Raising awareness and increasing community actions are especially vital for stimulating people to reduce their energy consumption.

Special devices in c_life keep residents aware of their ecological footprint. Energy ants monitor energy consumption, while a water curtain from filtered rain drops shows a home’s energy usage pattern and encourages improvement. Various smartphone applications calculate the carbon footprint of the food consumed. In addition, community actions are important for stimulating people to act collectively towards reducing their carbon emissions. Art installations on climate topics, a restaurant with homemade dishes and car sharing facilities help people at c_life engage with their neighbours. Within a barter bank, different items can be exchanged, while at the repair clinic various skills can be learnt in order to find smart solutions for re-using old items. These and many more actions help c_life residents lead more sustainable lives, while enjoying a sense of community with people that share the same values and beliefs on tackling climate change.

If c_life proves to be a successful and replicable “Living, Leisure and Innovation + Entrepreneurship” place where people want to live and work, then we should turn our gaze towards the Nordic countries more often for ideas on how to change our built environment and everyday lifestyle in order to make our lives more sustainable and eco-friendly.