Smart city sustainability targets for Kalasatama

As part of the Climate-KIC’s Pioneers into Practice programme, Réka Tóth worked one month at Forum Virium Helsinki as part of the Smart Kalasatama team. Her assignment was to analyse existing smart city indexes and create smart city sustainability targets for Sompasaari area in Kalasatama.

Smartness and sustainability go hand in hand. No city can be smart without being sustainable.

”Smartness and sustainability go hand in hand. No city can be smart without being sustainable.”

Pioneers into Practice is Climate-KIC’s mobility programme for professionals. Funded by the European Union, it offers talents a chance to get new experiences and fresh ideas by working in new environments home and abroad.

In Hungary, Réka works as a consultant for ABUD (Advanced Building & Urban Design), a consultancy company for innovative and sustainable design.

As part of the Smart Kalasatama project, Kalasatama area is being built into Smart City District of Helsinki. The vision is to offer residents one hour more a day with the wittiest services you can think of. By offering smart services that improve traffic flow, logistics, local services and flexible working facilities, those who live in the area can save time each and every day.

To improve our sustainability targets and indicators, Réka examined the Sompasaari case from holistic point of view: not just taken into account ICT and technology, but also social and economical aspects.

“Réka had heard about Smart Kalasatama and approached us and proposed to work for us. I thought that her background as both an architect and economist with experience in smart city assessments was an ideal match to work on Smart Kalasatama sustainability targets and indicators. So far, we are lacking an agreed method and process to do that. Still, as one of the drivers of Kalasatama district is improved energy behaviour (and sustainability in general) we need a way to assess the impact of the new smart solutions,” says Veera Mustonen, head of Smart Kalasatama project.


As part of her assignment, Réka interviewed more than ten people closely involved in the development of Kalasatama. The group was diverse, including City of Helsinki urban planners, energy experts from Helen, sustainability specialists in the environmental centre and other relevant stakeholders from various companies. In addition to interviews, Réka checked through existing certificates and examined all design documents she could get her hands into.

“After talking to people, my experience is that people and organisations work quite separately in the area at the moment. Kalasatama is missing a team to manage sustainability aspects as a whole, including social, economic and environmental issues as a large,” Réka Tóth says.

Réka also did extensive research on existing frameworks to assess the sustainability of neighbourhoods. Her analysis divides these schemes into three categories:

  • Decision making tools 
(like One Planet Living, EcoDistricts Performance and Assessment Toolkit, Step up)
  • Sustainable City Indexes 
(like Serge Salat, Kennedy)
  • Third party Neighbourhood Assessment Schemes 
(like LEED-ND, BREEAM Communities, CASBEE)

The schemes vary in focus and emphasis, offering many possibilities which can make it hard to know which one to choose. For example, BREEAM has quite a strong ecological aspect while Sustainable City Indexes are more focused on the energy use and how to measure medium-sized cities. One thing they have in common, though. None of them is holistic enough to deal with all the three pillars of sustainability (social, economic, environmental). Instead, they focus in certain aspects, like energy, for example.

Réka also points out that the evaluation tools need to be specified for Finland and local context. They need to take into account the unique criteria of the Nordic countries, Finland and Helsinki. For example, one should take into account things like the Finnish legislation, regulation and standards, regional, municipality and neighborhood-scale tools, and strategy programmes of the City of Helsinki.

People are essential elements in the assessment. They are the ones who use or not use the technologies and services. Their behaviour should also be monitored.

“I think that the whole idea of Kalasatama of being like a test bed is unique. There’s willingness to interact with people and grow participation from the smart city perspective. This is something I haven’t seen that often,” Réka says.

BREAAM in action

Réka did her pre-assessment for Kalasatama’s Sompasaari area in the framework of BREEAM – the world’s leading design and assessment method for sustainable buildings. She has experience in using BREEAM to assess buildings and small districts.

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According to Réka’s own experience, BREEAM can be quite critical of flood risk. Kalasatama is an area located by seashore – so this is clearly something to considered. Another issue can be the contaminated land: as Kalasatama is also an old harbor area, it does contain quite large areas need to be cleaned up. The city of Helsinki has already got to work. Even though cleaning the soil is expensive, it is something that has to be done.

Investing in a large sustainability scheme like BREEAM is not cheap. What’s in it for the city?

“BREEAM supports the whole design process of the area. It provides you sustainability targets and a framework that you have to follow. Most importantly, it gives a team that follows up sustainability issues; joins together different actors in the area and builds up trust and keeping the dialog going”, Réka reminds.

“If you don’t follow BREEAM or some other scheme, you will have difficulties in integrating things later. Also, in the long run, it’s more likely you neglect some aspects of the big picture.”

BREEAM (and any framework) gives you better quality documentation: chance to learn from experiences, share good practices and re-use the best of them.

“My conclusion is that Kalasatama still has potential and possibility to perform very well. The earlier the scheme is implemented, the more impact it will have”, Réka says.

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