by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders

Lahti, Finland, reigns as the 2021 European Green Capital and also hosts Ecocity Builders’ Ecocity Forum on November 1-2, 2021. In addition, Lappeenranta, Finland, celebrates its 2021 European Green Leaf Award, earned by European cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. Anyone venturing to the Ecocity Forum may want to take a one-hour train ride east from Lahti to check out the exciting progress being made in Lappeenranta, located only 19 miles from the border with Russia.

Lappeenranta is called Finland’s International University City with roughly 13,000 students enrolled at Saimaa University and the Lappeenranta University of Technology, which has a reputation for world-class research in renewable energy, circular economy, water technology, and all things sustainable. As a result, 12 percent of the city’s employees work in the environmental and cleantech sectors and the city itself serves as a living laboratory for innovations in energy efficiency, emission reduction, and restoration of aquatic ecosystems.

Lappeenranta was nominated twice as Earth Hour Capital of Finland by the World Wildlife Fund and was recognized in 2016 by the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities for its dedication to climate action. In 2018, the city adopted its Lappeenranta 2033 Strategy aimed at creating a model city for planet-friendly living and an economy based on a clean, waste-free environment. After being a finalist for the 2020 award, Lappeenranta was ranked first in all categories this year and now shares the 2021 title with Gabrovo, Bulgaria.

Lappeenranta’s Green Reality Network is a cooperative project of the government, business, and academia that maximizes public awareness of climate action and energy conservation strategies. Between 1990 and 2017, Lappeenranta reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 46 percent. The city’s biofuel-run heating district serves 80 percent of the buildings here. It is also the first city in the world to exclusively use zero-emission power certified by EKOenergy. In addition, Lappeenranta’s mobility plan aims to reduce auto-addiction primarily by improving the cycling network and giving bicyclists and pedestrians priority on public rights of way. Given its performance to date, Lappeenranta seems on track to reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.

Lappeenranta safeguards biodiversity by preserving forests and wildlife habitat while creating wetlands and meadows that bring people closer to nature. The city is also rehabilitating its lakes, purifying its stormwater, and employing state-of-the-art wastewater treatment systems to minimize nutrients, microplastics, and micropollutants.

Lappeenranta aims to be a zero-waste city by 2050. The city promotes a circular economy with projects like CIRCWASTE, Urban Infra Revolution, and a program that reduces food waste called Kitchens of the City.

Lappeenranta’s Green Leaf celebrations are likely to be virtual at the beginning of 2021. But the city should eventually be able to mount events that warrant a visit, particularly before or after the Ecocity Forum in Lahti on November 1 and 2.


European Commission. 2020. Expert Panel Technical Panel Assessment Report – European Green Leaf Award 2021. Accessed 1-10-21 at Report (

(Photo Credit: i-Stock)

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz, FAICP, is Vice President of the Ecocity Builders Board and an urban planner who writes about sustainability, most recently Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places and Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights.