Skip to content

Saara Vauramo: Lahti’s journey towards sustainability continues with new people at the helm

Leading Environmental Specialist Saara Vauramo, PhD, has been chosen as the recipient of this year’s Lahti Medal in recognition of her dedication to environmental issues and determination in promoting the green agenda, which culminated in Lahti’s winning the European Green Capital Award (EGCA) in 2021.

Saara Vauramo was the City of Lahti’s Environmental Director through the EGCA application processes and coordinated the City’s EGCA programme in 2019–2021.

Winning the award took three tries and would not have been possible without several parties working closely together. Vauramo wants people to also remember the significant environmental steps taken in earlier years that paved the way to the EGCA.

‘For me the most significant marker of success is the fact that the whole City has got behind the green agenda over the years. There may be new people at the helm, but Lahti’s journey towards sustainability continues.’

Won over by Lahti’s natural beauty and efficient services

Vauramo’s relationship with Lahti has always been based on environmental issues. She first came to Lahti from Vantaa in the late 1990s to study at the University of Helsinki’s Department of Environmental Ecology – and left as soon as her mandatory 18 months were up. When she returned to write her doctoral dissertation in 2004, her feelings towards Lahti had changed.

‘Maybe we had both matured; the city had left behind the 1990s recession, and I had learned to appreciate its natural beauty with its lakes and ice-age ridge system. When our twins were born in 2007, I also realised just how efficiently everything runs in Lahti. I love having nature on my doorstep and being only a few minutes away from water.’

Vauramo’s doctoral dissertation, which she finished in 2011, examines the impact of vegetation on urban ecology, or more specifically ‘urban ecosystem services at the plant-soil interface’. Her research gave her an inside track to the City of Lahti’s environmental projects, and she even served a term as a city councillor.

Understanding the value of local governments’ work

From 2011 to 2016 Vauramo worked as the City of Lahti’s Development Manager and coordinated, for example, a number of GreenCity projects. In 2016 came her appointment as the City of Lahti’s Environmental Director. It was important for her to be accepted into her predecessors’ networks.

‘My duties made me understand how important a role the local government plays in making residents’ lives run smoothly. Lahti has had sustainable development goals for a long time, and the local government is the glue that brings together people from different walks of life, including businesses owned by the City, to promote these goals. The rehabilitation of Lake Vesijärvi is a good example of a systematic hands-on process to which people have been able to contribute by doing a little here and there.’

Lahti is on track to reach many of its environmental goals, such as carbon neutrality, ahead of schedule. Vauramo sees emissions from transport as the biggest obstacle, as the ‘green shift’ is yet to properly break through in that sector. Things are moving fast, however, and new issues that are affected by the health of the planet are being identified all the time.

‘We still have more to learn about the significance of biodiversity for urban communities and people’s health. It is important to keep the human element in mind and not make decisions at the expense of the comfort of living.’

New career in the promotion of biodiversity and environmental impact assessment

As of March 2022, Vauramo is now pursuing a career as a Leading Specialist in Nature Positive Services at Ramboll, a global engineering, architecture and consultancy company. The pace is just as relentless as before.

‘What I am learning through my work is that we need to be making big decisions about, for example, wind power and mining right now. My team spend a lot of time out in the field studying environmental impacts and advising businesses on biodiversity and EIA. I love the fact that my job is now 100% focused on nature.’


Text: Ina Ruokolainen
Photo: Lassi Häkkinen