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Towards ecologically sustainable residence activities

The unique milieu and nature of the Saari Residence serve as inspiration for work on biodiversity. Connected to its location not only through its local activities, but through its history too, the residence also reaches outside Finland’s borders by fostering international cooperation.

Kone Foundation announced its new strategy in April 2021. The strategy’s emphasis lies in fostering the freedom of research and the arts and enabling this freedom through grants and residence activities. Another key value in the new strategy is eco-social culture and education, which refer to “social, cultural and ecological responsibility for humans, other species and the environment.”

International Saari Residence for artists and researchers, maintained by Kone Foundation, is committed in developing its residency activities to be more sustainable on a long-term basis through experiments and continuous learning. Saari Residence’s goal is to be a forerunner in sustainable operating models within the international artist-in-residence sector.

A good basis for continued work

Saari Residence’s Programme for Ecologically Sustainable Residence Activities was launched in the spring of 2020, when the coordinator of the programme, Jaana Eskola, started work at the residence. During their first year, they mostly mapped out the residence’s needs and also what systems are already in place and made plans for the future. “It has been great to see how much work has already been done at Saari Residence towards more ecological operations. The value of sustainability in residence activities set up by Hanna Nurminen, the first executive director of the residence, has been beautifully built on under the leadership of the current executive director, Leena Kela,” says Eskola, the coordinator of the programme.

“A large part of the residence’s operations are already sustainable, and this is a good place to continue developing them further. The residence is rooted in its locale and connected to its location through its history, but at the same time, we are reaching out to the residency sector outside Finland by fostering international cooperation. Working together with top professionals in academic research and the arts, as well as with local professionals, has been very fruitful for the programme and inspires us to keep on developing it further. The artists-in-residence have also been eager to participate in all the discussions about sustainability, and we are all constantly learning from each other,” they continue.

In the autumn of 2020, the activities of the Ecologically Sustainable Residence Programme was launched locally in Mynämäki in the form of workshops. In cooperation with the municipality of Mynämäki, Saari Residence organised the Sustainable Lifestyle Accelerator produced by D-mat Oy, with about a dozen households in Mynämäki taking part in a month-long workshop in search of more sustainable ways of living. The accelerator attracted a lot of interest and discussion among the participants, and learning and gaining new insights together was doubtless one of the most valuable things the workshop offers to its local participants. 

You can calculate your own carbon footprint here:

The EcoCompass environmental system harmonises the residence’s activities

At the beginning of 2021, Saari Residence started building the EcoCompass environmental system, which is designed to reduce the environmental impact of its operations and streamline its practices. “Building the EcoCompass for Saari Residence creates an excellent sustainability framework for our operations. EcoCompass enables us to work with experts to find ways to create a more sustainable basis for the residence’s activities as a whole. The project has also inspired the staff to grow their skills and expertise,” Eskola says.

The work with EcoCompass will focus on three areas of work on its year: biodiversity, environmental communication and sustainable procurement. In addition, the residence is further improving its energy system based on the principle of continuous development.

The residence is in the process of switching over to renewable energy, and the electricity it is currently using is domestic wind power. The Saari Residence’s buildings – apart from one of the residential buildings and the sauna – are being heated with geothermal heat, and the remaining two buildings will also be converted to renewable energy heating in due time. In case of power cuts and to secure the heating, the residence has a standby generator, but a more sustainable alternative is being sought to replace the diesel it currently runs on. “In the next few years, we aim to also increase the energy efficiency of the residence and reduce energy consumption. Energy efficiency will be increased through renovations and lighting, for example, and special attention will be paid to the heating, ventilation and air leakage of buildings during future renovations,” they explain.

When talking about the artist in residences, travel is obviously one of the key areas when aiming to cut down our CO2 emissions. The core idea behind artist residences is that they are located in a specific place that is new to the artist who travels there to break away from their everyday life and make room for new kinds of ideas and stimuli. 

At Saari Residence, we encourage applicants to apply for support for slow travel at the same time they apply for a residency. In addition, to support travel, artists may receive a work grant for the duration of the journey if it takes more than a week in total. Also, we recommend the one-month-long group residencies for working groups that come from further afield. However, slow travel is not always possible due, for example, to geographical location or safety considerations, which is why residences and travel to them will continue to be a topic of discussion and development. 

At Saari Residence, we have had a leased electric car since the autumn of 2020 in order to reduce emissions from local travel. The aim is to break away from using fossil fuels for residence activities and the associated travel. 

Residency artists are encouraged to use bicycles to get around emission-free, and nowadays, they also have a few electric bicycles at their disposal to make more long-distance trips in the Mynämäki region. In addition, the residents are advised to buy food and supplies for the whole week during a shopping trip made together once a week.

Protecting and conserving biodiversity 

In 2021, the Saari Residence has been able to take concrete action, and, in general, a great deal is being done to make the residence’s operations more ecologically sustainable. The main focus of the programme this year is protecting and conserving biodiversity.

“Last October, our staff and residents visited the Qvidja Farm in Pargas. The visit was inspiring for the whole team and gave us a lot of ideas for developing our sustainability programme. In addition, the unique milieu and nature of the Saari Residence serve as inspiration for our work on biodiversity,” Eskola explains.

The location of the Saari Residence in the vicinity of Mietoistenlahti and its cultural and historical significance give it its special character. The Mietoistenlahti bay is part of the Natura 2000 network, the waterside with its meadows and fields is a nationally valuable landscape area, and, what’s more, the Saari Residence is one of Finland’s built cultural heritage sites of national significance. The Saari Manor is also protected by the Antiquities Act due to its historical importance and cultural heritage.

Mietoistenlahti bay is one of the most valued waterways for birdwatching in Finland and an important resting place for migrating birds. The Natura 2000 area is also a special protection area (SPA) for birds. At the end of April and the beginning of May, you may see thousands of waterbirds resting in the bay at one time. It is a popular recreational site, which also has three bird observation towers.

The Saari Residence is committed to taking care of its valuable cultural landscape in accordance with the Finnish Heritage Agency’s instructions. In the summer, the Saari Manor area is also tended by sheep, while cows look after the meadows by the shore and the Natura area. In the vicinity of the Saari Manor, there is also an old protected grove of oak trees.

During the summer of 2021, two new pastures will be built for sheep and cows in the Saari Residence’s area. “Grazing is one of the most effective ways to restore biodiversity in the area. Rotational grazing over many years allows the cultural heritage landscape to return organically to a state of enriched biodiversity of the area’s plants, organisms and birds,” Eskola says. In addition, we are looking into possibilities of creating ecological corridors between the forest areas surrounding the manor’s fields. Ecological corridors are narrow zones that allow animals and organisms to move from one place to another, consequently increasing biodiversity.

“In order to safeguard biodiversity, Estate Manager Heidi Lapila has already carried out various measures in the manor park, and these will be continued in the future. Meadows have been created in the park, and grass has been left uncut in places to give plants time to seed and thrive the following year too. This year, we are going to create a butterfly park, continue building more insect hotels and leave decaying wood in woodland pastures,” Eskola says. 

Biodiversity is a topical theme that interests a lot of people, and safeguarding biodiversity is a theme that many artists working in the residence include in their projects. One visible part of the theme of biodiversity is the cooperation project between the Saari Residence and Luomuliitto (Association for Organic Farming). In this pilot project, sound artist Ville Aalto works together with the Kampars organic farm in Sauvo. The finished work will be put on display on the Culture Trail on the residence’s land during the summer, where there are also works by other artists who have worked at the Saari Residence. The Culture Trail is open from the beginning of June until the end of August and offers the opportunity to explore biodiversity through art.

“This year, we will meet with a number of biodiversity experts with whom we have already talked about the possibilities for safeguarding and increasing the biodiversity in the Saari Manor area. In April, biologist Leena Luoto visited the residence, providing the staff with new information and inspiration for the planning process. Continuous learning is important for our team: it’s essential to learn and update our knowledge and to share ideas with experts which actions are important and relevant to our efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity,” Eskola says. “We have many fascinating projects in the pipeline this year. Among other things, we are planning to conduct a species mapping in the area of the manor. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic prevents events for large groups, but as soon as the situation allows, we aim to arrange expert lectures on issues such as carbon farming and increasing biodiversity in household gardens,” they say.

Eskola does not work only in Mynämäki. Instead, a key element of the coordinator’s job description is cooperating with operators in different sectors and other residences for artists focusing on ecological issues. “I’m in regular contact with international operators and Finnish art organisations, and I work in cooperation with researchers and other experts weekly,” Eskola says. 

Sustainability runs through the entire foundation 

Ecological sustainability does not apply only to the Saari Residence but to the entire Kone Foundation organisation. 

In all its activities, Kone Foundation takes into account the environmental damage caused by its operations and seeks to do everything it can to ensure the preservation of biodiversity. That’s why, in 2017, the Foundation established the Kulla Nature Reserve in Kemiönsaari, and in March 2021, it purchased the Sanginjoki forest area from the City of Oulu and donated it to the Finnish state for nature conservation purposes. With the conservation of the 130-hectare nature reserve in Kimitoön, the Foundation wants to compensate for the use of nature and consumption of natural resources by its employees and nearly 1,000 grantees. Protecting the Sanginjoki forest is one way the Foundation safeguards biodiversity, and it hopes the Finnish state will turn the protected area into a national park. In accordance with the principle of the Nature Gift to Finland, which is set out in the Finnish Government Programme, the Foundation has also expressed to the state its wish for the protection of another area of similar size.

The Foundation is currently analysing its carbon footprint with the help of Green Carbon Finland Oy’s CO2 measurement service, which will provide important information on the climate impacts of the Foundation’s operations.