Jouni Lillman has been part of the Lahti Aqua Group spirit for 20 years. Although this sounds like a long time, Jouni says that most of the staff have been here for up to 44 years. “They don’t want change,” he advises.
The long-term commitment signifies that not only is the environment at Lahti, which employs nearly 90 people, appreciated, but the business also operates as a close, cohesive unit.
“We have a company in which people like the work they do and everyone knows each other,” Jouni comments. The close relationship among colleagues is what pushed him to take on the role of Managing Director at Lahti Aqua. “Our former CEO retired, so the staff and board members pushed me to apply. They know me, and I know them,” he explains.
It all started in 1999 when Jouni came on board as a production engineer for wastewater treatment. Before this, he worked as a technical manager. Jouni rose through the ranks while learning the ins and outs of the 110-year-old water company.
“We would like to be the number one drinking water and wastewater service company in our area, in our business and Finland,” he confirms. “Beyond earning more, I know our people are ready to learn more and to be on top of the development.”
“We would like to be the number one drinking water and wastewater service company in our area, in our business and in Finland.”
Owned by the City of Lahti, the harbourside business provides drinking water and wastewater services for the cities of Lahti and the neighbouring municipality of Hollola in southern Finland. Lahti is the capital of the Päijänne Tavastia region, which has over 200,000 inhabitants.
After the collapse of industry and jobs in the 1990s following the depression, the city invested heavily in water conservation, environmental training and research. The Lahti region continues to develop as one of the main economic hubs of Finland.
Lahti Aqua serves 145,000 customers with tap water that is 100% groundwater. “The best thing we have is our water,” Jouni notes. The company pumps almost 24,000 cubic metres of water daily for domestic and industrial use, and 36,000 cubic metres of wastewater is processed daily.
The company uses pure groundwater – a valuable asset and famous for its high quality. Formed in the ridges of Salpausselkä, an extensive ridge system left by the ice age, the groundwater doesn’t need any purification. But to prevent the growth of bacteria in the distribution network, Lahti Aqua disinfects the water with chloramine and UV light.
The use of sodium hydroxide raises the pH level to prevent corrosion. The groundwater is also utilised in cooling premises and as a cold energy resource in growing urban districts, according to the city’s community organisation Smart & Clean Lahti.
Jouni says the quality of the water is what makes Lahti Aqua different from other companies in Finland. “We have only one article that we sell, and that’s water. We have to focus on that.”
The business has 840 kilometres of water pipes, with 99% of them connected to the municipal network. Lahti’s sustainable drainage systems only lose about 5% of water in the pipelines, which is proving to be quite an achievement, considering 20% of water is lost in Finland overall.
In 2019, the company recorded its revenue of €37.9 million, with Jouni proudly confirming that it’s “in excellent shape”. The future target is to spread its operations across all other municipalities which surround the city of Lahti. But such strategies take time.
Jouni clarifies that these aren’t new plans, but with politicians being slow on making decisions, you have to take small steps. “If you get your shoe in the door, then slowly it will reopen.” He adds, “We have good communication between the municipalities.”
“If you get your shoe in the door, then slowly it will reopen.”
Under Jouni’s leadership, the team will continue to take small steps until it reaches its ultimate goal. “We want to be one big area operator of this region,” he enthuses.
As part of its expansion process, the business is continually targeting more industries. Jouni confirms that the city doesn’t have a heavy manufacturing background. Instead, it is home to several port businesses because of the quality groundwater, a malt factory, a few big bakeries and a large brewery.
“All these food industries use lots of water, and they prefer for it to be of good quality. We have a good relationship with these companies,” he says. “And, of course, they produce much wastewater, but is our business to handle that as well.” In terms of the partnerships, Jouni adds, “We trust them, and they trust us.”
When speaking about Lahti’s accomplishments and point of difference, Jouni highlights that the business is “Limited”, unlike many other water companies. “When a business is Limited certified, decision-making from the politicians’ end is much quicker and easier. Lahti Aqua became Limited in 1994, and was the first to do so in Finland.”
The city of Lahti has set a target of being carbon neutral by 2025 as well as a zero-waste city and curbing over-consumption by 2040, according to the city’s community organisation, Smart and Clean Lahti. The “digital environment and intelligent design” will help create sustainable urban environments. The city is focusing on integrating a circular economy to ensure new sustainable solutions.
Lahti gained international recognition in 2017 and 2018, when the city was a finalist and winner for 2021 in the European Green Capital competition. Additionally, in 2015 Lahti received an award as part of the WWF Earth Hour City Challenge, and was the Finnish winner that year and among the best 16 cities in the world.
Another area of growth is Lahti Aqua’s relationship with China. The business will start to sell water to a water bottling company, who will then sell a lot of the bottled groundwater to China, transporting it by train. Jouni notes that this is a new project for Lahti Aqua. “We are turning a new page.”
Over the years, sustainability factors, including the use and wastage of water, has been playing on everyone’s mind. Jouni says people feel that they have to save the water, resulting in a decrease of water usage by about 1% every year.
“There is no sense to fight against that,” he says. “When you take on a new industry that uses water or welcomes new clients, then you have to think about how to make the cost more sustainable.”
There are currently over 120,000 people living in Lahti, and according to estimates, the population will rise to 150,000 by 2030 – bringing in more businesses, people and opportunities. “Let’s cross our fingers that it happens,” Jouni says. “If Lahti grows, then we grow too.”
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