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Unleash unused resources! Different forms of community engagement in the path towards resource wisdom

Antti Lippo examines how a great untapped market can help the drive towards sustainability...


What if your city’s 130,000 residents and 30,000 students could be solving challenges and implementing solutions related to climate change mitigation and resource scarcity?

Cities and organisations are often lacking solutions and procedures for how residents’ or employees’ initiatives could actually be implemented. Constraints can range from a lack of funds, commitment or well-functioning operating models. Currently, there’s also a growing demand for public-private partnerships in city development. The most advanced are already talking about how to add the fourth P to the formula – the people. Simultaneously, new forms of collaboration between different sectors are often mentioned as the key drivers for pursuing sustainable development, revolutionary business models or deep-rooted behavioural change.

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra has been trying and developing new forms of community engagement and stakeholder participation during the Towards Resource Wisdom project. Our objective is to help bridge the gap between brilliant ideas and people, between city administrations and residents, between innovators and those who can apply the innovations. The future planning and design of cities with limited resources and planetary boundaries requires cross-sectoral partnerships, and the most viable solutions can come from those who haven’t been engaged before. Here are few examples.

Culture of experimenting and prototyping in cities

Sitra has advanced the idea of prototyping, or an experimental culture, in a number of different projects that it has funded or executed during the last few years. Prototyping aims for the prompt testing of a proposed new solution in a real environment, together with the end users. This is a new approach, especially in the public sector. Failing is allowed, even encouraged, and often improves the quality and viability of the final concept. During the Towards Resource Wisdom project Sitra and the city of Jyväskylä have carried out several practical experiments and created prototypes of scalable sustainable solutions.

In Towards Resource Wisdom, the culture of experimenting and prototyping is introduced and implemented as a strategic development tool, with a focus on reducing harmful environmental impacts while increasing social and economic well-being.

The process for conducting experiments and prototypes in Jyväskylä started with crowdsourcing ideas from residents (submitted via a public website), and led to the detailed design, execution, assessment and scaling up of the solutions with the greatest potential. Residents suggested 212 ideas, of which 14 were carried out as mini-pilots. Each experiment had an executive co-ordinator and target group, and each was quantitatively analysed in terms of CO2 reductions and natural resource savings. In addition, a qualitative analysis was done to measure the experiments’ implications for increased well-being.

Currently, Sitra and the city of Jyväskylä are drafting guidelines and suggestions for how the culture of experiments and prototypes could continue as a natural part the city’s development work. The measures and toolkits need to take into account the crowdsourcing phase, the commitment to execute the most viable prototypes and the securing of annual funds allocated for the new culture, as well as how to apply and scale up the lessons learned from the experiments and prototypes.

Below is a list of pilot projects that have the potential to reduce harmful environmental effects while at the same time boosting well-being.

  • Leftover Lunch – €1.50 meals that drastically reduce municipal biowaste
  • Free Public Transportation Day – 13,000 new bus passengers
  • MultiVenue 24/7 – a rock venue open publicly for different activities and organisations, improving energy efficiency and space efficiency
  • Fixer’s Market – a two-day get-together for arts and crafts professionals with 3,000 residents extending the life cycle of their various personal items.

The experimental culture can be seen as a tool for strategic development and as an enabler to boost the commitment to start acting more sustainably. Further analysis of the completed prototypes and their scale-up has shown remarkable effects on the local economy, job creation and emission reductions. Without the experiments and 25,000 participating residents the (sustainable) change would be much more difficult at the city level.

Piloting and experimenting provide a great opportunity to introduce new forms of stakeholder participation and promote subsidiarity in society. Collecting ideas for sustainable solutions directly from local residents and engaging them in implementation has also gained acceptance from the local communities for advancing resource wisdom and sustainable development – something that is often difficult to achieve.  This culture of experimentation stems from design-thinking (as seen often in product development and manufacturing), where development is an iterative process: create a prototype, test and develop it, before introducing it to the markets.

InnoCamp – university students as an asset for improving resource efficiency in SMEs

InnoCamp is a two-day innovation camp, where companies commission multidisciplinary student groups to work on solutions for smarter management of resources, energy consumption and waste generation.  After a kick-off event and seven weeks of orientation, the actual work is carried out over the weekend in InnoCamp, where students solve commissions competitively with the help of Finnish resource and material efficiency tools. After the camp, the students present their new solutions to the SMEs that commissioned the tasks and then take part in their implementation.

Students from four Finnish universities of applied sciences took part in the two-day InnoCamp 2014, which was a product of several different stakeholder groups – in addition to students and companies, resource efficiency experts and auditors were involved. The multifaceted co-operation benefited everyone. The companies gained usable solutions, the students got valuable business contacts and the experts got feedback on the resource efficiency tools they had developed (i.e. self-audit systems, checklists). A great example of creating shared value for all stakeholders involved.

Traditionally, resource efficiency and reducing environmental impacts are not the main priority of SMEs. InnoCamp enables an intervention where issues and opportunities related to resources and environment can be introduced, and simultaneously provide a unique learning experience for the students. Resource efficiency is a theme in which students’ innovation potential is worth taking advantage of, because the possibilities are endless. Resource efficiency suits several fields and multidisciplinary groups can create ideas that an individual could never create alone.


Towards Resource Wisdom is a joint project between the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and the city of Jyväskylä, delivering a scalable resource and environmental efficiency programme for large and medium-sized cities. The programme and its supportive framework encompass climate, environment and resource efficiency policies. The programme aims to maximise cities’ capabilities for reducing their ecological footprint, greenhouse gas emissions and material consumption, while boosting local economies and well-being.

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