Home E Societal Engagement Story – A year in the life of a student

A year of student life


 Chapter One: Autumn

Kerttu and Hannu have just finished carrying their last moving boxes in their new flat in the Student village in Turku. The flat is provided by TYS, Turku student village foundation. They are about to start their studies at the University of Turku. While reading the guidance for residents, Kerttu’s face lightens up and she says to Hannu: “Did you know that the energy bills are already included in our rent?” Hannu is standing by the window looking over the Student Village and replies: “What does that mean?”

– Usually in Finland, the heating is included in the rent, but tenants must pay electricity bills by themselves, based on their consumption.

– That’s good news, we can use electricity as much as we wish!”

Kerttu gives Hannu a disapproving look and continues reading the guidance. On the TYS website, she notices an invitation to a Treasure Hunt for the residents and gets Hannu to join her.

They head outside and start walking along the rainy main street reading the instructions from TYS Instagram:

1st tip: This building has no less than 516 solar panels installed

on its roof, producing more energy than its annual need.  

About this story

RESPONSE project is one of the EU’s Horizon 2020 Positive Energy District projects, which supports green transformation at the local level. Even though the project consists mainly of innovative energy solutions, citizens are regarded as important actors in reaching environmental goals.

As one of the project partners of Turku Lighthouse City, Turku University of Applied Sciences is responsible of implementing citizen engagement activities. Because energy is abstract and invisible, it is taken self-evident until something happens. For this reason, it is challenging to stimulate citizens’ interest towards energy issues. In  RESPONSE, we decided to take this challenge directly to the citizens themselves and recruited peer mentors to innovate and design activities for other citizens in the region. Their main objective is to raise awareness of energy issues and encourage citizens to monitor and change their energy consumption to be more environmentally friendly.

This is a story of these mentors and the ways they tried to tackle the challenge of reaching young people. It pictures the way how mentors’ activities  appear in students´ everyday life and support their intensions for more energy positive lifestyle. The characters are fictional but all events have taken place during the project.

– Look, there are a lot of solar panels on the roof of this building, says Kerttu, this must be the one!

Hannu picks up a vegan chocolate bar “This must be the treasure!”

While searching for the next tip from her mobile app, Kerttu notices: 

– The Treasure Hunt seems to be organised by RESPONSE mentors, who are voluntary residents of the Student Village, Kerttu explains. I wonder what else they do?

– Look, there’s a link, let´s find out.

 Electric mobility & Journey Planner

Electric mobility is a crucial part of the RESPONSE project. It is also an everyday life matter for the residents.  RESPONSE promotes e-mobility with, for example, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging stations for e-cars and charging stations for electric bikes. RESPONSE has created the Journey Planner application, which shows users different options to choose from when planning their walking or cycling routes, based on air quality, greenery or elevation.

Buses pass by while they are walking around the neighborhood, making Hannu wonder:

– Do you know how to get to the university campus from here? I wonder if we need our own car, although I read somewhere that there are shared cars in the area.

– Actually, the Student Village is situated so close to the university campuses and the city center that we don’t need a car to run daily errands. We can use these city bikes instead.

– I also found this Journey Planner app designed for Turku, this will come in handy.


Engaging with students

To raise general interest in energy issues in the living area, where electricity expenses are integrated into the rent, is especially challenging. Those residents who are studying engineering might be interested in the technical solutions, but not necessarily the environmental aspect of energy. However, it is important to raise awareness and share knowledge with all citizens with relevant facts. Some students are also eager to meet like-minded people and discuss environmental issues more generally, so it has been noticed during the RESPONSE project that social dimension is an important and attractive aspect to many residents.

Thandiswa Nqowana discussing water quality results with a community member at the Amakhala Game reserve.

Picture by Hana Suominen, city of Turku

Chapter Two: Winter

The school year passes by smoothly for Hannu and Kerttu in their new home. Kerttu has started following the mentors Instagram RESPONSE mentors´ Instagram page: “There is an interesting event about carbon neutrality at the Student Village coming up soon and the RESPONSE mentors are also involved.

– Could the mentors help us with the heating of the apartment? asks Hannu, I am freezing.

– Let’s go to the event and find out!

Kerttu and Hannu arrive to the Tomorrow’s carbon neutral Student village event, where they learn about the technical solutions implemented in the project. They also hear more about the mentor activities and meet the mentors during a coffee break. Hannu takes this opportunity and ask one of them:

– It is freezing cold in our apartment, can you help us? We live in the 5th block.

– There is a thermostat that should keep the indoor temperature at 21 degrees, the mentor says. Now, as the air has turned colder quite suddenly, it may take a moment for the thermostat to adjust. Here, have a thermometer so you can check the temperature in the apartment. Also note that new innovative thermostats will be installed in your apartment as part of the RESPONSE project. These will adjust the room temperature according to what is comfortable for the residents.

– Thanks! Good that we didn’t buy an extra heater yet, says Kerttu.

Another student approaches the mentor, who says goodbye to Kerttu and Hannu

– We can continue our discussion in our next event, the Earth hour quiz night at Tyyssija. It is the new building in Student village.


Explaining energy innovations 

An important part of the RESPONSE project is the retrofitting of a block of apartment buildings constructed in the 1970’s, called the 5th block. The energy efficiency of the building is enhanced by installing the best insulating windows in the market and renewing the ventilation. The indoor temperature will be monitored and adjusted with sensors that consider more factors than simply the outdoor temperature, such as humidity and weather forecast. The indoor conditions are adjusted according to human thermal model developed in the project. For making energy innovations understandable and easy to use, RESPONSE will organise co-creative workshops with mentors and other residents. Guidance developed in these workshops will be visualized and delivered in a way that will interest residents, utilising for example avatars.  

Following the mentor’s advice, Kerttu and Hannu join the Earth hour quiz night where discussion about increasing energy prices and possible blackouts is going full swing. “Is it really so that there can be a complete blackout even in the cities?” asks Hannu

– Yes, but of course we try to avoid that,” responds one of the mentors, “there are now loads of instructions about what you can do to cut your energy usage. Have you, for example, checked out the State’s Down a degree campaign?

– Yes, we saw it and we have decided to cut our shower time to 5 minutes, flags Kerttu We got this hourglass to track time in the shower from TYS. Saving hot water is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to save energy in an apartment building. I just read from the news that Finns have saved 10% electricity in December compared to last year. People are really changing their consumption now that the power shortages are widely discussed.

– Saving energy is relatively easy in the end, says Hannu, it is also good for the climate!

Thandiswa Nqowana discussing water quality results with a community member at the Amakhala Game reserve.

Chapter Three: Spring

No power shortages occurred during the winter, thanks to the mild weather, but Kerttu and Hannu have continued considering their own energy usage. They have started to think that what individuals can do by themselves is limited – but as a part of a broader community, it would be possible to do more. Kerttu is going through the webpage of the City of Turku to find out what the city does regarding energy and climate issues. Kerttu points out to Hannu: “The city has a very ambitious Climate plan to become carbon neutral by 2029 when the city turns 800 years.

– The mentors will soon organise a plogging event to clean the green spaces in the neighborhood, followed by some discussion time.

– What does plogging mean?

– It’s a combination of jogging and picking up litter: you run and clean the environment at the same time. Let’s go there and find out if they know more about this climate plan and ways how to influence the right stakeholders in the city of Turku.


In the plogging event, much to their delight, Kerttu and Hannu find out that mentors have already planned a meeting with the city servants and politicians. The need for this kind of discussion popped out in the survey implemented in the Student village, which indicated that young people are unsure what to expect from the decision makers. In addition, mentors have interviewed other students to get wider view from the citizens.  

The sounds of clinging coffee cups and vivid discussions fill the lobby as Kerttu and Hannu arrive for this meeting. They sit down in the meeting room full of excitement. Kerttu trembles with impatience:

– I’m looking forward to hearing what the local politicians have to say about the climate plan and citizen participation in the process.

 – I’m most interested in the panel discussion, says Hannu. The mentors are also participating.

– The climate and energy issues really seem to be a big deal.

– Yeah, it is great that the EU is doing so much and Finland, and Turku especially is so ambitious with the climate targets.

– This makes me want to contribute more to the green transition, I will apply to be a mentor next year!


– Me too!

– Really, Hannu! Are you going to give up your unreasonable energy consumption? Do you admit how much your attitudes have changed? Mentors have done good job!” laughs Kerttu.

Mentors of 2022-2023
The RESPONSE project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement nº 957751. The document represents the view of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility: it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). The European Commission and the Agency do not accept responsibility for the use that may be made of the information it contains.

Text by Heidi Heikkilä and Ritva Salminiitty, Turku University of Applied Sciences. 

Clara Boissenin, Cristina Paca, Nick Murray And Nicola Hamilton  (Ecsite) contributed.