A Finnish city that offers rewards to citizens who care for the environment

To encourage a reduction in carbon emissions, the Finnish city of Lahti is offering a public transport card and food items as rewards for citizens who care for the environment.

The initiative is called "CITICAP" and is funded by the European Union. It suggests residents track their carbon emissions during their commute, thanks to an app that monitors their trips by car and shared transportation by foot or on a bike.

The volunteer citizens receive a "carbon share" on a weekly basis, which, if not fully used at the end of the deadline, turns into "virtual euros" that can be exchanged for entrance cards to the municipal swimming pool, bus cards or in exchange for a piece of candy from one of the city stores.

"Lahti continues to depend a lot on the car, and by 2030 our goal is that more than 50% of all travel will be through sustainable transportation," says project supervisor Anna Huttonen.

Currently 44% of city commutes are considered "sustainable".

In the long term, the project aims to develop a new way to encourage green behavior using a "personal exchange of carbon emissions rights" that other cities can also adopt, according to what the project supervisors explain.

This concept is inspired by the European system of sharing carbon emissions quota shares with companies and governments obtaining carbon shares. If it exceeds these quotas, it must pay, but if its emissions are below its quota, it can sell the surplus.

The Citicap app gives each participant a weekly carbon "budget" based on their personal situation.

On average, a resident of Lahti, which has a population of 120,000, emits "21 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per week," according to Phil Ositalo, the project's research officer.

The app asks users to reduce their emissions by a quarter, that is, to replace an average of 20 kilometers by car with the equivalent of a shared transportation or bicycle.

It remains to be seen if the greater rewards will encourage more citizens to abandon the car.

"It is possible to earn the equivalent of a urhane (per week) if the person’s emissions associated with commuting are really low. During the fall we intend to increase the value of the bonus a lot,” Ositalou says.

While the partial lockdown measures in Finland have led to a drastic decline in car travel, the project’s managers cannot yet assess the impact of their application on the city.

But they stress that they will continue collecting data next year at a time when Lahti will become a "green European capital" for a year.

So far, download the Alpha Citizen app with 200 active users simultaneously.

"People find it important to see their personal emissions," said the project supervisor.

Lahti municipality employee Yarka Rohonen has been using the app for seven months. She immediately caught her eye, enabling her to see the impact of the individual's movements on the environment.

"A short while ago, I went on a trek in the nature weekends, and I walked 15 kilometers, but I used a car a hundred kilometers" to reach the picnic trail, she says.

"Then I looked at the app and said, 'Was this a good idea?' For my sake, yes, but not for the environment!"

The Finnish citizen says that the reflection of this application on her personal life, with all her movements being recorded, does not bother her.

"I think all of the apps he use collect data," she explains.

Anna Huttonen says the app respects European law on personal data, and other parties cannot analyze the data.

In the future, CITICAP designers hope to help people manage their consumption-related emissions.

"Mobility is only part of our carbon footprint," Ositalo notes.


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