A Visit to the Greenest of All U.S. Embassies

Today I had a chance to visit, with a group of fellow NestorPartners members, the U.S. embassy in Helsinki, Finland. Before the discussion on how the embassy advances the U.S.-Finnish business relations, our host, Mr. Rodney Hunter, gave a short presentation on the building itself and how environmental issues were considered in the renovation.

Bruce Oreck, the U.S. Ambassador to Finland, has been perhaps the most publicity-oriented ambassador I can remember. He is tall, a bodybuilder, a former boxer, and a convincing speaker. He said during one of his public appearances that Finland is a place where the conversation around climate change, energy efficiency, alternative energy, renewables, and green building are front and center. These things are a part of the Finnish agenda, a part of President Obama’s agenda, and a part of Ambassador Oreck’s personal agenda as well as his wife’s program. Therefore, he was happy to announce that the refurbished embassy—now called the Innovation Center—would become the greenest of any U.S. embassies in the world.

The new Innovation Center opened in February 2013. It houses the public offices of the embassy. The $140 million investment in the project is a strong statement of America’s deep and lasting relationship with Finland. Why is Finland so important right now? Mr. Hunter made the bold claim that Finland is becoming the epicenter of the “New North.” The opening up of the Arctic, the country’s position as an air traffic hub between Asia and Europe, its strong commercial ties to Russia, and so on make Helsinki the perfect place to conduct business. From Helsinki, it’s just an hour’s flight to Stockholm or St. Petersburg, and a short boat trip to Estonia.

The Innovation Center is a LEED Platinum-level building. Its projected energy cost reduction is 46 percent. The city of Helsinki provides both district heat and cooling, so the embassy did not have to purchase or maintain its own cooling systems. The building uses natural ventilation, and all lighting is done with LEDs and OLED units.

The products used in the construction were all American with one exception. Kone, the hugely successful Finnish company, provided its state-of-the-art elevator because it is the most energy-efficient elevator available on the market. Like a hybrid car, it stores energy while decelerating.

The interior of the embassy looks very “Nordic,” with its light colors and wood surfaces. At the end of our visit, Mr. Hunter led us to the sunny roof terrace that, according to him, boasts the best view in Finland. He was not kidding. The panoramic view of the city, the harbor, and the sea with surrounding islands certainly makes this a great place to work and to host American business people interested in doing business in the New North.

P.S. Here’s Bruce Oreck’s Intention to Implementation video from 2010