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Implementing an art event responsibly – EcoCompass provides the tools and framework

Responsibility and maintaining nature’s ecological sustainability are key values of Helsinki Biennial, so environmental matters have been given special consideration from the outset. Helsinki Biennial complies with the EcoCompass environmental management system, which guides the art event from planning to implementation and ensures that everything is as environmentally friendly as possible.

EcoCompass, which was developed by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, is a system based on international standards on environmental management. It includes 10 environmental criteria that an organisation committed to the system must comply with. Kiira Kivisaari, Helsinki Biennial’s Environmental Coordinator, started the EcoCompass work in autumn 2019.

“In my work I am motivated by the fact that the biennial brings together different types of people and visitors; as it is a big event, we have an excellent opportunity to make an impact – and we also have an obligation to act responsibly,” says Kivisaari.

The EcoCompass work began with an initial survey on what Helsinki Biennial is already doing for the environment and what it is not. The survey was carried out on HAM, Vallisaari and the biennial, as well as with Metsähallitus and Vallisaari’s entrepreneurs.

EcoCompass provides its users with tools and a framework. Helsinki Biennial and HAM also received guidance from the City’s environmental services.

“The results of the initial surveys were as expected. Metsähallitus has a demanding environmental management system, which means that compliance with EcoCompass comes quite naturally. The entrepreneurs on Vallisaari wanted to be closely involved in the work from the start. It is important that Metsähallitus and the entrepreneurs are involved, as they are big players in the event.”

When producing the biennial what environmental matters will be taken into account in practice?

“Vallisaari’s unique environment imposes strict limits for the biennial: all the sites for the artworks were selected with a conservation biologist, and the event’s construction, dismantling and subsequent work will be done in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. Most of the marketing materials have been produced in electronic format. For example, we will not be distributing paper maps – a map is available in a browser-based mobile guide. Sorting of waste on the island and on the waterbuses will be arranged in the best and most user-friendly way possible. We have agreed with the entrepreneurs on the island that all dishes and cups, etc, will be biodegradable,” says Kivisaari.

Helsinki Biennial is a major event and has been worked on for a long time. Environmental matters have also been an important aspect in all preparatory work.

“Everything that we do generates some form of emissions and we have done a lot of work on the monitoring of logistics. We have made a record of all ferry journeys, flights, train and bus journeys and collected the most accurate information possible on them. We have carefully considered how many times artists will have to visit the site where they are creating their artwork – and what will happen to the exhibition structures after the exhibition.”

The EcoCompass certificate is issued to an operator for three years at a time and an auditor monitors the achievement of the objectives. HAM has also launched its own environmental programme.

“We have engaged in a lot of discussion with museums regarding the ideal conditions required by works of art. We need to find out whether these conditions are really as strict as they are said to be, or whether it would be possible to relax them, as they consume a lot of energy, without harming the works. There has also been discussion on ways of travelling and flying works to museums.”

Helsinki Biennial wants to be a responsible art event, so it is committed to transparent environmental action now and in the future.

“If we want to continue to produce events, environmental thinking and practices must become an integral part of our work. It is important to create a culture in which environmental issues are not just a ‘nice bonus’ but part of normal work practices,” says Kivisaari.
Read more about the sustainability of Helsinki Biennial here.

Text: Katja Viitalähde-Annala