When I think of Russia, environmental protection and efficient use of resources aren’t among the first things that spring to mind. That’s part of what made it so interesting to travel to St. Petersburg with other Aalto University students for the October 10–15 Environmental Responsibility and Resource Efficiency of Companies (ERREC) event series, arranged in collaboration between Russian and Nordic universities. Russia hosting a whole week’s worth of events dedicated to environmental responsibility and resource efficiency is enough on its own to boost my confidence in the country’s ability and willingness to address environmental issues. At least ITMO University, in St. Petersburg, which hosted our group, is taking environmental issues seriously.
What struck me during the trip was that Russia seems to be a very divided country by most measures, including those related to the environment. Since a week’s stay in the country wasn’t long enough to provide me with more than superficial knowledge of the two Russian cities we visited, I’d like to avoid making sweeping statements about the country on the whole here.
While I didn’t spot any actual job opportunities in the forest industry during my time there, I’m sure a skilled engineering graduate can find work in the field of green technology and in industry in general. With potential jobs in those fields firmly in mind, I wanted to assess the Russian cities we visited, St. Petersburg and Veliky Novgorod, which are 200 kilometers apart, via the Läsäkoski index, which I introduced in my blog article “Looking for Läsäkoski.” The index is used to grade a potential summer-job location for how much of a one-horse town it is. With its focus on environmental responsibility, the itinerary for our visit spurred me to add a new criterion, “environmental management,” to calculation of my index value. The lower a town’s score for this category, the more room for improvement there is in this sector and the more important it is for the future of the entire planet that engineering experts be recruited to come up with solutions for the relevant region’s problems.
Fellow students, don’t let Finland’s eastern border limit your options when you’re looking for next summer’s Läsäkoski.
Distance from Otaniemi: ~ 400 km. According to Google Maps, the distance between Otaniemi and Vaasa, on the west coast, is greater. What’s more, the trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg just flies by, thanks to the fast and convenient Allegro trains. One Läsäkoski point.
Leisure activities: This city, with five million residents and a rich cultural life, doesn’t shut down for the summer. Even I, a guy who’s always subscribed to the view that sports are fun and old buildings are boring, stood slack-jawed in awe in front of the Hermitage Museum. A city that never sleeps, St. Petersburg earns -1 Läsäkoski point for its leisure opportunities.
Comments: An amazing city where you can easily spend more than one summer. You can get by with English, but being able to speak a few words of Russian or just knowing the Cyrillic alphabet will come in handy. I recommend trying eateries that serve local food instead of international chains. The meals served at Subway outlets elsewhere are standardized, but it seems that not even this global fast food giant is able to escape the restrictions imposed by Russia’s counter-sanctions that prevent imports of meat. Therefore, St. Petersburg gave me the worst sub I’ve ever tasted. Don’t repeat my mistake.
Environmental management: On the surface, everything seemed to be in order. The local ITMO University offers a degree in environmental management, which makes it safe to assume that expertise in this topic can be found in working life too. We were taken aback, though, when our plan to visit a local waste treatment facility was thwarted by a “force majeure” event at the plant. Instead, we were taken to see a facility that was rather lacking in atmosphere and could hardly be called representative of local industries – a Coca-Cola plant. Rather unfortunate, don’t you think?
When listening to the authorities, you got the impression that environmental management in St. Petersburg is of high quality and on a par with Western standards, but local residents painted a slightly different picture. Students we talked to particularly lamented indifferent public attitudes to environmental issues and the rigid Russian environmental legislation, which has stalled numerous initiatives aimed at progress.
Because of this contradiction, I was left slightly in the dark about the real state of affairs. Since the city seems likely to be in need of environmental expertise, I give it one Läsäkoski point in this category.
Läsäkoski index (0–7): When it comes to leisure opportunities, St. Petersburg is less Läsäkoski-like than any town in Finland. However, the distance to Otaniemi and the new factor, environmental management, push St. Petersburg’s Läsäkoski score above 0. Score: 1/7.
Distance from Otaniemi: ~ 600 km. The distance from Veliky Novgorod to Otaniemi gives the city some credibility as a Läsäkoski. Here, it notches up a total of two Läsäkoski points.
Leisure activities: The city boasts a fascinating history. Ravaged by bombings in World War II, the city’s buildings and monuments have been renovated, returning them to their former glory, and a visitor can easily spend a week or even two visiting these sights. The October weather made the city seem gray and gloomy. However, things pick up in the summer months when Russian tourists flock to the city, and, for example, the vast, centrally located sandy beach by the Volkhov River must be a great place to hang out. Zero Läsäkoski points.
Interviewee comments: Veliky Novgorod is similar to most places in Finland: it’s great in summer, but its charm isn’t immediately evident on a cold and gray October day.
Environmental management: “Environmental responsibility” and “resource efficiency” seemed to be totally new concepts to most people in Veliky Novgorod. A lecture given on the topic by a local professor touched on issues such as building a landfill site. And not a particularly fancy or modern landfill – just your run-of-the-mill dump. They had come up with a radical idea: rather than dump trash along the sides of the roads and in the forests, they could collect it all in one location… This led me to think that Veliky Novgorod could find a use for university graduates with a master’s degree in engineering. Or graduates with any engineering qualifications. Or even just Finnish high-school students. Two Läsäkoski points.
Läsäkoski index (0–7): Its distance to Otaniemi alone is enough to make Veliky Novgorod a more credible candidate for a true Läsäkoski than St. Petersburg is. In combination with the dismal state of its environmental management, this gives the city a respectable overall score of four Läsäkoski points. Score: 4/7.