DfG 2020 stakeholder workshop on ‘Just transition to post-oil heating in homes’

This blog post reports on work-in-progress within the DfG course! The post is written by one of the three groups dealing with the Ministry of Environment’s project brief on ‘Just transition to post-oil heating in homes’. The group includes Elizabeth Atkins from the Collaborative and Industrial Design (CoID) program, Elisa Dametto from the Creative Sustainability (CS) program, Jane Lehtinen from CS, Uttishta Varanasi from CoID,  Hsin-Yun Lai from CS, Daniel Leiviskä from CS, Anh Nguyen from CS, Emile Rebours from CS, Ásta Ágústsdóttir from CS, Sumi Moon from the International Design Business Management (IDBM) program, Ville Pellinen from CS and Shreya Sood from CS.

This past Tuesday, March 3rd, our student group for “Just transition to post-oil heating in homes” had its first workshop with a few representatives from the key stakeholders of the project. Representatives from the Climate Unit of the Ministry of Environment and the ORSI research project were present. Our goal for this workshop was to develop a better understanding of what a just transition signifies to the different stakeholders and to gain insight into the residents of single-family homes using oil-heating.

Currently, there are approximately 130,000 homes in Finland using oil to centrally heat their houses. Due to the cold climate, residential heating consumes a high amount of energy. Finland has a target to become a carbon-neutral society by 2035. These oil-heated homes, therefore, represent a significant CO2 emission reduction potential, and the government’s target is actually to get rid of oil heating in houses already by 2030 (municipal buildings already by 2024). The reasons why residents are not transitioning to a greener source of energy are not straightforward; they can include financial issues, geographical limitations, as well as value-laden personal perceptions. One solution will not be able to fit all; some of the houses are small and others are large farms with varying demographic and economic status of the inhabitants. Our task is to aid this transition by gaining a better understanding of the inhabitants’ needs and wishes and finding possible solutions that would be just and socially acceptable. This deeper understanding of the demographics of residents is exactly what the civil servants currently working with the post-oil transition are missing.


Icebreaker game to get to know each other. (Photo: Shreya Sood)

During the workshop, we spoke about the Finnish government’s policies and initiatives so far in the push towards the 2035 carbon neutrality goal. Technology neutrality was something that came up. The government has not been advocating for one energy alternative above another which could be seen as both a positive and a negative. On one hand, it is a liberal policy that allows consumers to decide for themselves which energy alternative suits them best without the state interfering while on the other hand, it can leave people feeling confused and left with plenty of options without a lot of guidance or support.

Workshop discussion and documenting. (Photo: Shreya Sood)

Diving further into the brief, we discussed the definition of a just transition and the barriers the residents might be facing towards it. According to the stakeholders, a just transition involves a balance between national-level and regional-level politics. There must be sensitivity towards people living in rural areas, with growing urbanization these areas are more prone to population and economic decline. Furthermore, a just solution should take into account distributive justice, procedural justice, and recognition justice.

Mindmap produced during the workshop.

Overall the workshop was very useful in gaining a better understanding of the brief, solidifying certain hypotheses we had before the meeting with the stakeholders and most importantly, gauging what kind of information was available about the residents in question. Our next step will be to divide into our three smaller groups and begin working on our project plan!

The DfG course runs for 14 weeks each spring – the 2020 course has now started and runs from 25 Feb to 19 May. It’s an advanced studio course in which students work in multidisciplinary teams to address project briefs commissioned by governmental ministries in Finland. The course proceeds through the spring as a series of teaching modules in which various research and design methods are applied to addressing the project briefs. Blog posts are written by student groups, in which they share news, experiences and insights from within the course activities and their project development. More information here about the DfG 2020 project briefs. Hold the date for the public finale 09:00-12:00 on Tuesday 19 May!