Saari Residence


The Saari Residence seeks an ecologically sustainable way of life and believes in the transformative power of art


Saari Residence


The Saari Residence seeks an ecologically sustainable way of life and believes in the transformative power of art

Two years ago, Jaana Eskola was tasked with launching ecologically sustainable residence activities at the Saari Residence. The aim was to create fertile ground for artists, employees and partners to deepen their relationship with nature. This has meant employing tangible means: measuring the residence’s carbon footprint, fostering the traditional agricultural landscape and developing everyday work using the EcoCompass environmental system. It has also meant a strong belief in the transformative power of arts as a catalyst for ecological transition. In this article, Jaana stops to take a look at what has been accomplished at the residence so far.

“At the Saari Residence, our actions and thinking are guided by sustainability, which includes not only ecological, but also social and psychological sustainability. Our goal is to build the Saari Residence into a pioneer of sustainable operating models in the international residency sector.

Ecological sustainability sets us the limits under which we must all operate. The key point is to understand that the relationship humans have with nature must change. We need to find new, peaceful ways of coexisting with non-human animals. Empathy towards other species is the key. We need to re-learn to live the good life within planetary limits. To get there, we must understand that the Earth’s ecological carrying capacity sets limits on all human activity.

Enabling insights has been one of our core objectives from the beginning. We have wanted to make the Saari Residence a fertile ground for deepening and changing people’s relationship with nature. Our goal is to make the Saari Residence a place that leaves a positive imprint.”

The entire residence is committed to a common goal

“We started our ecological residency activities in Mynämäki by organising the Sustainable Lifestyles Accelerator Workshop in cooperation with D-mat in autumn 2020. We invited local households to join the project with our staff. The idea was that the Accelerator would help the participants to perceive the importance of lifestyle changes in meeting climate goals. 

We set out initially to unravel the thoughts, fears and desires that change often causes in us. At first, some of us were worried, for example, about what local residents think of us and whether our sometimes radical ecological experiments might conflict with local people’s values.

Last summer, I discovered that these doubts had disappeared. We had new things to learn and common goals to commit to. We also found that we are not that different in terms of our values, even though we all come from different backgrounds. Everyone in the team ultimately has quite similar value systems and strives to do good in life. Empathy in everyday life is important.

It has been wonderful to see that we are all now truly committed to ecological activities and we all take ownership of developing them. Only a genuine desire for change can generate profound change. Now that I’m about to finish my fixed-term project at the residence, we have agreed that my colleagues Iiris Lahti and Heidi Lapila, for example, will continue to develop EcoCompass as part of their everyday work.

EcoCompass is an environmental management system and a tool for constantly developing the organisation’s activities and helping the staff to commit to more ecologically sustainable operating models. Corrective action must be taken all the time, and we must set ambitious goals for our climate targets.”

“It hasn’t been necessary to turn everything upside down in terms of ecological activities. Instead, what was important was to identify existing knowledge and ways of working.”

The Saari Manor milieu. Photo: Otto-Ville Väätäinen

Carbon footprint measurement led to strengthening support for slow travel

“The ecological sustainability of the Saari Residence’s own operations has been our fundamental starting point. We measured Kone Foundation’s carbon footprint in 2021, and the measurement also included the Saari Residence, which is one of the Foundation’s operating units. The CO2 measurement carried out with Green Carbon Finland provided us with a great deal of valuable information.

The measurement found that the big renovations of the Saari Residence’s historic buildings produced the majority of its CO2 emissions. Procurements accounted for 13 per cent of the emissions, and 25 per cent comes from the residents’ travel to and from the residence. It turns out that on average only 19 per cent of the residents travel here by plane, but they account for 91 per cent of the travel emissions. Intercontinental flights produce a lot of emissions, as we all well know. In order to reduce flights, we have been working in a determined way to develop our grant for slow travel as an integral part of the Saari Residence’s activities.

Procurements are also an important subject of review. We are still developing the residence’s purchasing guidelines before I finish my work here. The aim is to ensure that ecological criteria take precedence over price as a purchasing criterion.”

Biodiversity can be increased by fostering the traditional agricultural landscape

“It hasn’t been necessary to turn everything upside down in terms of ecological activities or to rebuild them. Instead, what was important was to identify existing knowledge and ways of working. For example, biodiversity work has been carried out at Saari for a long time, but it hasn’t always been very visible.

Last year when two researchers and I were looking for the most effective ways to increase biodiversity around here, we found that fostering the traditional agricultural landscape of the Saari Residence is one of the most effective means for us to do this.

Traditional agriculture landscapes are an endangered habitat, and maintaining them is at the heart of our biodiversity work. Extensive work has long been undertaken at Saari to increase forest pastures and meadows. Cows and sheep alternate in the fields and forest pastures at the residence. This helps to maintain habitats that are important for many species of birds and insects.

We are collaborating with the Department of Biology of the University of Turku, where two master’s theses are currently being written on the species that exist in the Saari Residence’s area. The interim report of the species mapping completed this spring showed that while there are many least-concern species in the Saari Residence area, there are also seven threatened species: for example, the critically endangered hylochares cruentatus, squamapion vicinum and ocypus aeneocephalus beetles.

As part of the project, control areas that have been excluded from grazing will be set out in the new forest pasture area. This research will allow us to track how species’ biodiversity changes in grazed and ungrazed areas.”

Discussing and learning together with residents

“Enabling insights during residencies is an important dimension of our ecological activities. In autumn 2021, we implemented a service design project, in which we fine-tuned and brainstormed our concept of ecological activities for individual residencies. The project supported our planning and the setting of a suitable rhythm for our activities. Our work relies strongly on the cycle of the seasons: we do different things with residents in the autumn and spring and plan our activities accordingly.

We also carry out study groups with residents focusing on ecological topics, as well as field trips I call body-based and information-based learning experiences, which mostly take place in the local area. We have taken birdwatching tours and gone mushroom picking, explored the plant species of the nearby nature reserve and built birdhouses for nesting birds together. We have also visited Kulla nature reserve in Kemiönsaari, protected by Kone Foundation, to learn about the ongoing environmental restoration project in Kulla forest.

Last spring we built nesting boxes for tawny owls. There are a lot of water voles in the Saari Residence’s grounds and they have eaten their way into the residential structures. We hope to get tawny owls to nest in the area to keep the number of voles down by natural means.

What makes an artists’ residence a unique and exceptional workplace is the fact that it’s not just an office, but the artists in residence live their everyday lives here. On field trips and every time I’ve stayed over for dinner or drinks with the residents in the evenings, I have had a chance to take part in some great conversations. It’s been wonderful to discover how deeply people think about ecological issues and learn from each other here.”

Photo: Otto-Ville Väätäinen

The transformative power of art is created by sharing information about the work we do

“It has been amazing to discover the transformative potential of art in creating new kinds of understanding, thinking and emotions. I feel like we don’t always realise how flexible and adaptable we are at the Saari Residence. It’s obvious to us that, as a rule, we try to travel by land and avoid flying. Our buildings are heated using geothermal energy and all the electricity we use is produced by domestic wind power. All the food we offer in our events is plant-based. These things are unfortunately still far from being self-evident facts in other sectors.

I have been involved in several seminars during the past two years telling people about our activities. We try to share our best practices with other organisations. It gives me hope to see that people in the arts and cultural sectors are becoming more and more aware of the necessity of an ecological transformation. There are many different initiatives to increase environmental sustainability in the creative field, and we have begun collaborative work to bring these initiatives together.

Saari Residence is part of the Nordic Alliance of Artists’ Residencies on Climate Action (NAARCA) network together with seven other artists’ residency centers from Nordic countries and Scotland. NAARCA has got off to a good start over the past year. All the residencies involved are committed  to take action to address the climate crisis. We have three working groups under way: information production and communication, pedagogy and art commissions. For example, we are producing a podcast series that is scheduled to be released next year.

It’s also important for us to share knowledge ourselves, as we have learned a lot during the past two years while developing our ecological residency activities. The Saari Residence’s podcast ‘Reviving the Wild’ has come out in September. In the podcast, our invited guests will share themes related to the daily life of the residence, such as food, biodiversity, empathy, soil, forest and trees.

Our partners have brought a tremendous amount of expertise and relevance to this work, as well as a great deal of joy. Collaborations between scientists and artists will most definitely continue also in the coming years.”

Our next objectives: carbon neutrality and a carbon budget

“Measuring our CO2 footprint was the first step, but I think the next goal should be the carbon neutrality of the Saari Residence or the Foundation as a whole. To that end, we need a road map to carbon neutrality, which we have already talked about in meetings at the idea level. So far, we have taken some corrective action to improve our everyday activities, but we still need a longer-term plan.

We could also do with a carbon budget to guide our everyday activities. For example, if we invite a team of artists to Saari from the Global South using our residence allowance for the Global South, we may be able to bring these visitors here, at our own discretion, even though it requires many long flights. But the flights should be compensated for by minimising other air travel within the limits of our annual carbon budget.

We need to take into consideration all aspects of our activities. Our ecological residence activities are not a programme detached from the Saari Residence’s other activities, nor a narrow sector of work within the residence, but a new way of living, working and operating.

Values discussions are absolutely essential. During these discussions, we sometimes end up with someone who is exhausted by the pace of work asking, why do we need to carry out ecological activities at all and why do we need to ponder ecological issues? This, I think, takes us to the heart of the matter: do we have a choice? My aim has been to set in motion a profound paradigm shift that would result in an understanding of our own place alongside other species, not above them, and in learning to live in a way that respects and nurtures nature, instead of consuming it more and more.

A gratifying aspect of my time at the Saari Residence has been the way our organisation has developed internally. It has taken us on a two-year long learning process that has changed our thinking, knowledge and actions. We have internalised a new way of thinking.

The best thing about my work has been the feeling of hope and enthusiasm and the opportunity to enable change. We need to keep on experimenting and we need to keep an open mind to new things. The Saari Residence is itself a special, magnificent and unique place that feeds new ways of thinking and inspires people.”

Listen to our new podcast Reviving the Wild

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