Good Nordic practices

Why Espoo and Helsingborg?
These two Nordic municipalities have been able to catalyse their SDG localisation processes, making them front-runners in this work. With their respective approaches, Espoo and Helsingborg have made sense of how to measure progress and have both conducted comprehensive VLRs along the way. Emphasising quality of life with sustainability in daily practice reflects the language of Agenda 2030 as not just an action plan, but also an applied mindset for people and the planet. By adequately documenting, reporting, and disseminating SDG work, Espoo and Helsingborg can share valuable learnings, institutionalise knowledge from the bottom-up, and influence long-term decisions at both the local and national level. 


  • Finding a local story with global links. Espoo sees contemporary challenges and balancing global developments (technological advancement, digitalisation, population growth) in a local context, which has motivated Espoo to adapt a place-based integration of the SDGs. With their well-established local story, Espoo was able to develop their first VLR, which was published in 2020 and presented in 2021 at the UN High Level Political Forum. Importantly, the municipality states that concretising goals and indicators of the Espoo Story is key to sustainable development work.  
  • Mainstreaming strategy implementation. “Why is it worth having a VLR and a city strategy side by side?” The city strategy sets the guidelines for a 4-year period, while a VLR provides a review of the strategy and provides the foundation for the next city strategy. The two should not be considered as separate documents but interrelated processes; interconnection increases the chance for comprehensive VLR outcomes. With this perspective, conducting a VLR or tracking SDG targets, is not some kind of test or checklist but a holistic journey for the municipality to navigate together. 
  • Moving forward together. As part of their SDG sensemaking process, Espoo considered each of the SDGs separately through a community-based, multistakeholder process. The joint discussions served as an evaluation process for the city. Once stakeholders identify which SDGs are relevant to focus on, the next questions are: Are we moving in the right direction? How far away are we from meeting this goal?  
  • Identifying the obstacles is part of the ongoing process. Despite the momentum to mainstream Agenda 2030 goals into strategies, Espoo still experiences challenges primarily due to the lack of time and other priorities such as solving economic difficulties. Espoo’s sensemaking process revealed that interpretations of Agenda 2030 can vary considerably among groups, and consistency needs to occur among involved parties.  
  • Strong collaboration with other (Finnish) cities is crucial. This is evident in the ways cities have used indicator frameworks and developed their steering processes to align city strategies, sustainability targets, and VLR reports. For example, Helsinki, one of the first cities in the world to produce a VLR, provided support to Espoo in developing their VLR


  • Taking a holistic approach to sustainability work. “In Helsingborg, we often say that social sustainability is the goal, economic sustainability is the means, and environmental sustainability is the condition required to achieve this.” Long known for their climate adaption and mitigation efforts, Helsingborg presented their VLR in 2021 as a means of effectively communicating their sustainability work and inviting mutual learning both within their own municipality and with other cities around the world. The VLR has analysed what is working well and identifies aspects of city life in Helsingborg which need improvement.  
  • Helsingborg’s Quality of Life Programme is the basis for SDG localisation. The programme (updated in 2021) merges two aims: providing residents with high quality of life whilst encouraging residents to have a low environmental impact. It has been important in this process to elaborate on the connections between the programme and Agenda 2030, to understand the current situation, to find the biggest challenges, and to understand the interrelations between the local SDG context and the city region’s impact on other regions’ opportunities and sustainability developments. 
  • Development of local indicators. In their 2021 VLR, Helsingborg reports on nearly 60 quantifiable indicators using the Swedish national monitoring framework supplemented with their own indicators. Helsingborg is now in collaboration with RISE Swedish research institute developing a method to measure the preconditions of the city’s quality of life. The method will be used in further assessments of sustainable development in Helsingborg with the aim to replicate this in other cities. 
  • Reducing inequality and solving identified challenges is a key priority for the city. Every goal in Helsingborg’s VLR report was analysed through the lens of the ‘leave no one behind’ principle and the pandemic’s impact. Taking an original approach, Helsingborg has also developed an Open Innovation Database displaying test-bed projects for sustainable solutions. Linked to the database, the city also has an overview of 15 selected challenges related to issues such as health, learning, and integration, and it welcomes external suggestions for solving such challenges.  
  • Dedication to collaboration and deconstructing municipal silos. The city has been able to involve different parties with knowledge about the SDGs and their meaning for the city as well as how to harness the right competencies to find new solutions for local sustainability progress.  
  • Participatory processes in city development. Like Espoo, Helsingborg has made citizens’ inputs central in projects and initiatives. For example, the city has prioritised students’ viewpoints in the revision of the sustainable development programme. In 2022, Helsingborg will host the youth fair, Utopia Lab, bringing together over 250 young people and 150 adults with the focus of inviting young people to the forefront of developing local solutions.