Black-outs shine spotlight on energy consumption

  • 2015-04-04
  • By Janny Ramakers

RIGA - Residents across the globe may have noticed partial black-outs last Saturday evening. This was no power-glitch, though. People in 160 countries deliberately switched off the lights for one hour in support of Earth Hour – an annual event organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Through Earth Hour, WWF aims to draw attention to climate change, and attempts to “highlight methods to deal with its impacts [and] to promote an environmentally and climate-friendly lifestyle,” states the Latvian Earth Hour spokesperson Sabine Brice.

All over the Baltics, and most notably in Latvia, the only Baltic country with its own WWF chapter, municipalities and corporations switched off the decorative lighting of major buildings. In Riga, landmarks such as the Freedom Monument, the National Opera, the Railway Bridge (which usually basks in a bright blue halo) and the National Library (dubbed the “Castle of Light”) went dark at the stroke of 20:30.

Across the three Baltic countries, corporations such as the Radisson hotel and banks such as Nordea and Swedbank blacked out their offices and customer service centres. An easy opportunity to “greenwash” their corporate brands, or an honest aspect of a larger operation to make their operations more sustainable?

Swedbank doesn’t waste much ink on their official statement to The Baltic Times: “Environmental sustainability is a value for Swedbank by default. We would not miss a chance to remind our employees of that,” writes public affairs manager Adriana Kaulina. “We recognise that one of the most serious challenges facing society, our customers and our business, is ongoing climate change [about which] one can read on the ‘corporate sustainability’ section of Swedbank’s international website. Swedbank aims to reduce both the environmental impact of its own offices and operations, and takes into account “customers’ and holdings environmental risks and opportunities in investment- and credit decisions”. And indeed, the decorative facade lighting on Swedbank’s iconic high-rise building on the banks of the River Daugava was dutifully switched off at 20:30 - although the logo and a few office lamps remained lit. Perhaps some employees missed the memo.

Likewise, Nordea switched off the lights in 12 buildings across Latvia. Signe Lonerte, head of public relations says that Nordea uses Earth Hour as “a moment when we can look back at the previous year, evaluate our deeds and establish new goals”. The bank is making efforts to reduce consumption of electricity (down 46,100 kWh by its own reckoning) and water (down 400 litres) in its offices, and is collecting paper for recycling (1200 kilos in 2014). But a more noticeable change – at least for its customers – is a switch from paper bills to an electronic payment system, which will most likely save more energy and resources than switching off the lights for 60 minutes per year.

The blacked-out buildings may be the most visible aspect of Earth Hour. But the event is also very much about individual participation and local events. WWF Latvia announced that a record number of 55 municipalities and 20 local communities were organising events in Latvia alone – as well as a handful of independent events taking place in Lithuania and Estonia. Events ranged from simple bonfire-and-hot-cocoa evenings to concerts (acoustic of course) and discussions. Most impressive was without a doubt a 107-kilometre “extreme running” event which started on Friday evening in Riga and ended in Valmiera on Saturday evening.

The city of Valmiera also took other steps to show its commitment to the environment. In January, the city council approved the Valmiera Environment Declaration - a goodwill commitment showing the municipality’s resolution to improve its performance on 14 sustainability targets such as reducing vehicle emissions and switching to renewable energy. During Earth Hour, citizens were invited to come and sign the declaration to express their support for the initiative.