Exploring the Northern Dimension

Environmental Technologies Serving Sustainable Regional Development in Remote Border Areas

The European Spatial Development Perspective aims at achieving a balanced and sustainable territorial development, in particular by strengthening economic and social cohesion. Urbanization, the use of non-renewable resources and the accumulation of wastes create economic, social and environmental problems. Societies need to adapt cross-cutting sustainable solutions to overcome the limitations provided by the scarcity of resources and the challenges of climate change.


The aim of the Green cities and settlements (GREENSETTLE) Karelia ENPI CBC project was to encourage the development of eco-municipalities in remote border areas. The concept of eco-municipalities indicates strategic sustainability objectives for rural and urban settlements. The objective in this context is to revise land-use priorities to create safe and pleasant communities; restore damaged environments, foster social justice, support ecologically sound economic activity, and promote innovative technologies.

One of the key elements of sustainable regional development studied in this project was environmental technologies, especially sustainable energy systems and resource efficiency. The goal was to utilize local resources for the common benefit of the society and to introduce technologies compatible with local settings. The target areas of the project were the Oulu region, North-Karelia and the Kainuu region in Finland and the Republic of Karelia in Russia. Due to their remote location and long winters, these areas are very resource intensive. Since resources are the main drivers of economic activities, a resource efficient built environment will positively contribute to energy security, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, pollution prevention and the conservation of natural resources.

KRIMEL team web
The Oulu University - KRIMEL researcher team, with the representative of the Karelia ENPI programme, in front of the Korablik kindergarden in Kostomuksha, in -30 degrees cold.

The team of researchers concluded that there is a need for technological solutions that can cope with the constraints of resource availability and, at the same time, able to decouple growth from environmental degradation. The project has produced recommendations and best practices toward forest resource utilization, municipal waste management for sparsely populated areas, building energy efficiency, and offered roadmaps toward sustainable spatial development. The project also demonstrated low-cost technological solutions to improve energy efficiency in two pilot cases implemented in the Russian Karelia. The first pilot investment demonstrated the use of heat recovery system with additional ventilation units to improve the energy efficiency and air quality in a kindergarten in Kostomuksha. This not only saved an average of 30% of thermal energy need, but also provides optimal health conditions. The municipality of Kostomuksha co-financed this investment. The second pilot case was implemented in a kindergarten in Kalevala, in collaboration with the Karelia Research Institute of Management, Economics and Law (KRIMEL). Researchers from KRIMEL took thermal camera images of the building, which revealed that a lot of heat was escaping the building through the poorly insulated doors, windows and especially the roof. The project implemented insulation of the attic floor, which has saved 20% of heating costs on average, whilst also improved heat comfort in the building.

KRIMEL web
KRIMEL researcher taking thermal images of the Rycheek kindergarden in Kalevala.

Both investments demonstrate that knowledge-based technology development can increase resource efficiency, reduce costs and improve the quality of lives at the same time. This project was also a good example of successful collaboration of research institutes and municipalities across the border toward a shared goal of sustainable regional development.

Eva Pongrácz, Niko Hänninen, Elena Fedorova and Victor Pavlov
University of Oulu, Thule Institute, NorTech Oulu
Thule Institute is a NDI Network member

Tags: Environment, Project, ND Newsflash

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