The waters of the Lahti region hold business potential

For companies that make business out of water, the area is a one-of-a-kind top location by global standards.

References are available for new businessesIn the Lahti region, people are able to enjoy water in an extraordinary number of ways. Thanks to the eskers of Salpausselkä, the residents drink the best tap water in the world on a daily basis. Lake Vesijärvi, which connects to Lake Päijänne, is a diverse paradise for water enthusiasts in terms of recreational use. Over the years, the Lahti region has also attracted many businesses in the food and beverage industries, for which clean water is of the utmost importance. Businesses such as Hartwall have concentrated their production in Lahti and invested heavily in the area.

The restoration of Lake Vesijärvi is an inter­national success story that has led to many positive things. The valuable groundwater areas and Lake Vesijärvi have also been both protected and studied for years for the benefit of the business scene. Luckily, many operators based within Lake Vesijärvi’s area of influence think that they should also give back. Local businesses participate in protecting Lake Vesijärvi through the Lake Vesijärvi Foundation.

“The water protection efforts launched by the City of Lahti at the end of the 1960s and the long-term research conducted by the University of Helsinki in Lahti have laid a strong foundation for the current activities of the Lake Vesijärvi Foundation. The management of waters in the Lahti region is an example of a rare operating model that unites active local residents, businesses, munici­palities, authorities and research institutes,” says Programme Director of the Lake Vesijärvi Foundation Heikki Mäkinen.

Heikki Setälä, Jaana Suur-Askola ja Heikki Mäkinen kokous­huoneessa pöydän ääressä keskus­te­lemassa.Professor of urban ecosystem studies Heikki Setälä from the University of Helsinki, Application Manager Jaana Suur-Askola from Uponor and Programme Director of the Lake Vesijärvi Foundation Heikki Mäkinen sitting at the same table. Lake Vesijärvi is a success story in lake restoration, and the groundwater filtered by the eskers of Salpausselkä is also unique by global standards.

A city with a genuine interest in the environment

In the 1970s and 1980s, Lake Vesijärvi was one of the major Finnish lakes in the poorest condition. There were thick patches of algae floating in the lake. Some of the fish population died, and swimming was out of the question. The discharge of wastewater into Lake Vesijärvi from the city was successfully stopped in 1976, and the discharge of industrial wastewater was stopped by 1979.

Today, Lake Vesijärvi, despite remaining in a fragile state, is in good condition thanks to the Lake Vesijärvi project, which started in 1987. It also resulted in active research activities settling permanently in Lahti. Heikki Setälä, a world-renowned professor of environmental science from Lahti, has been a familiar sight around Lake Vesijärvi, along with his research team. Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology also brings its water research expertise to the region thanks to its expansion to Lahti.

“The City of Lahti and the two other munici­palities on the shores of Lake Vesijärvi, namely Hollola and Asikkala, have invested in the lake’s restoration in an exemplary manner. It is unlikely that any other city has done as much and taken as wide a range of actions for water management in the last few decades as Lahti. The quality of the water is also closely monitored by the City of Lahti’s water utility Lahti Aqua, which regularly collects surface water and groundwater samples from water supplies, the water mains network and the taps on properties. Lake Vesijärvi is important to everyone,” Heikki Mäkinen remarks.

It is unlikely that any other city has done as much and taken as wide a range of actions for water management in the last few decades as Lahti.

The University of Helsinki continues to offer high-level urban environment research and education in Lahti. Open research data is available in abundance in the Lahti region, and Mäkinen wishes that it would be utilised consi­derably more broadly than it currently is.

References are available for new businesses

Over the years, many new businesses have emerged around clean water and wastewater treatment, but new businesses are still actively being sought for new developing areas. Innovative businesses could showcase their own expertise in the area, and the advantages offered by the Lahti region could provide them with a valuable reference.

There are many businesses that set an example of success for startups in the area, including Uponor, which has operated in Nastola for a long time. The company is currently seeing steady growth in its municipal infra­structure business.
The new Ranta-Kartano area in Lahti was chosen as a key project in the Finnish government’s national stormwater management programme. Uponor piloted its advanced stormwater solution in Ranta-Kartano and is now ready to sell it globally. Stormwater runoff consists of rainwater and meltwater that flows on top of soil, the roofs of buildings and other ‘hard’ surfaces.

“Global warming poses new challenges for urban areas due to the sewer networks not conducting water with sufficient efficiency as heavy rainfalls increase. There are more than 40 rainwater drains in Lahti that lead directly to the Enonselkä area of Lake Vesijärvi, which is why it has made sense to develop alternative solutions in this particular area,” says Application Manager Jaana Suur-Askola from Uponor.

Jaana Suur-Askola pöydän ääressä kokous­huoneessa.Uponorilla, joka pilotoi Lahden Ranta-Kartanon alueella edistyk­sellistä huleve­si­rat­kaisuaan, on vahvat juuret Lahden seudulla ja tuotan­to­laitokset edelleen Nastolassa Lahdessa. Kuvassa tuote­hal­lin­ta­päällikkö Jaana Suur-Askola Uponorilta.

Hybrid solution for stormwater treatment

In the Lahti region, it is essential for healthy water circulation that stormwater be prevented from flowing directly into the waters. For this reason, the aim is to treat stormwater at the source.

“For example, as much as 90 per cent of the Lahti city centre consists of impermeable surfaces that will not allow water to penetrate through. Freely breathing, permeable soil is able to filter out the impurities in stormwater, which is why green spaces also play other important roles in cities besides having aesthetic value,” says Professor of urban ecosystem studies Heikki Setälä from the University of Helsinki.

The piloting model used in Ranta-Kartano has been referred to as a hybrid solution that combines the green spaces mentioned by Setälä and green roofs with the box-shaped stormwater filters designed and manufactured by Uponor. Any nutrients and heavy metals are filtered out of stormwater runoff before it is discharged into Lake Vesijärvi.

Three box-shaped filters have been installed in the Ranta-Kartano area to slow down the flow of water into the lake, delay sludge and collect sand, oil, heavy metals and harmful agricultural nutrients. These filters can be installed near places such as parking areas, streets, roads, and pedestrian and bicycle lanes and used to treat stormwater runoff from roofs. Another larger-scale example of this is the process of conducting stormwater from the city centre via an underground tunnel to Hennala, located a couple of kilometres away, where a large, multi-section wetland area has been built to delay and purify stormwater. 

Groundwater and the bottom of waters offer business potential

Phosphorus is notorious for causing eutrop­hication in lakes, and the aim is to filter out phosphorus in particular from stormwater before it is discharged into waters. However, phosphorus is also a significant nutrient required for plant growth. Heikki Mäkinen from the Lake Vesijärvi Foundation shares an interesting fact: an innovative startup could make business out of phosphorus.

“As phosphorus is a raw material produced by the mining industry, some visions predict that the global phosphorus reserves will be depleted even before the oil reserves are. However, even now there are enormous nutrient deposits lying at the bottom of lakes, and we have yet to invent a way to take advantage of them in a profitable way. Whoever comes up with a solution to this has the global market awaiting them,” Mäkinen remarks.

Jaana Suur-Askola from Uponor believes that digita­lisation offers significant new applications, particularly for the monitoring and measurement of water quality. Everyone agrees that stronger networking in the industry would benefit everyone.

The best clean groundwater in the world is a valuable speciality of the Päijät-Häme region. In addition to the largest beverage industry operators in the Lahti region, namely Hartwall and Teerenpeli, there are also many smaller operators that make use of groundwater in their production, such as Kanavan Panimo in Vääksy.

Lahti Aqua provides water supply services for 145,000 people and businesses within its operating area in Lahti and Hollola. A groundwater bottling plant is being constructed in Hennala, Lahti. The business has inter­national investors and is strongly focused on exporting the water abroad. In other words, the Lahti region is a business area that also interests global operators in the industry. Of course, food industry operators such as Fazer and the bakery business Sinuhe make even more extensive use of the local groundwater.

Polar Spring is spreading awareness of the local groundwater in Asikkala, while Vellamo is doing the same in Heinola. Vellamo is particularly targeting the deluxe water segment of the North American market with the help of top Finnish design. In summer 2019, Vellamo’s water bottle design was selected from among almost 9,000 competition entries to win the renowned Red Dot Design Award.

Turning water into the Lahti region’s competence brand

Professor Heikki Setälä says that Finns have yet to make full use of the thousands of lakes in the country. We have always taken the abundant supply of clean water for granted and have therefore felt no innate need to carry out development.

“Denmark and the Netherlands have created a competence brand for themselves in this industry. Scarcity has assigned a price to this commodity.In the Lahti region, we could now show that new things can also be created from abundance.”

The efforts made in the Lahti region have already been noted at the national level. The government has been satisfied with the progress made in the Ranta-Kartano project mentioned at the beginning of this article. Many businesses, as well as other cities, can benefit from this pioneering work that combines urban planning and water protection, as Lahti publishes open reports about the key project.

“The stormwater management system designed in Lahti has been praised as an excellent example of a local colla­boration in which businesses develop innovative and practical solutions with a multi­disciplinary team. As a repre­sentative of Uponor, I completely agree with this praise. Lahti has offered an exceptional platform for creating new things,” remarks Jaana Suur-Askola. 

Jaana Suur-Askola, Heikki Setälä ja Heikki Mäkinen pitelevät käsissään kukin yhtä hehkuvaa merkkiä, muodostaen yhdistelmän H2O. Taustalla järvi­maisema ja sininen taivas.The Lahti region boasts high-level water expertise, and the chemical formula of water is also getting a boost up! Pictured in the photo are Application Manager Jaana Suur-Askola from Uponor, Professor of urban ecosystem studies Heikki Setälä from the University of Helsinki, and Programme Director of the Lake Vesijärvi Foundation Heikki Mäkinen.

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