EVS Spotlight: Susan Gow at EKOenergy (Finland)


My EVS is at EKOenergy, an environmental NGO based in Helsinki, Finland. EKOenergy promotes renewable electricity around the world, and 3 years ago developed the international ecolabel for electricity, which is also called EKOenergy! Although young and low budget, EKOenergy has big ambitions and huge potential, and it is great experience to work with the team to support the development of the ecolabel.

The organisation / My role

The EKOenergy Secretariat is where the everyday office administration work happens, as well as where new ideas are developed. Working alongside the two co-founders of EKOenergy, there is an enthusiastic team of EVS volunteers and interns who support the communications and marketing of the ecolabel. At any moment there are between 5- 10 young people from all over Europe helping out. Typically, each volunteer is from a different country, and therefore manages the marketing of EKOenergy in their specific language for their own country.  My role is to promote the ecolabel in the UK and Ireland, and of course, as the only native English speaker, I also have many writing and proofreading tasks.

One thing that I really appreciate is that the work constantly changes. There are lots of chances to learn new skills and develop new ideas and projects in the team. Along with the regular administration work, emailing, updating social media, designing and writing new marketing material etc., I have worked on a few distinct projects throughout the year. The biggest one so far has been the online course which we produced to teach green building professionals about using EKOenergy-certified electricity. The course was released earlier this week, and has already been completed by almost 50 people!

Life in Finland

Arriving in January with -20 degree temperatures and 4 hours of daylight was quite a daunting experience. But equipped with a down coat and several layers of thermals and woolies, I fell in love with the snow. Finns know how to enjoy the cold weather: hibernate as much as possible, drink lots of glöggi (mulled wine), and if you are feeling brave go nordic walking, skiing or ice skating. If you are feeling even braver, strip off and go to the sauna, and whip yourself with birch tree branches. My biggest culture shock here was the sauna experience, but now it is favourite thing to do, followed by jumping in the chilly Baltic Sea.

Once summer finally arrived, Helsinki turned into a 24 hour city, with festivals every weekend, sunset at 1.55, and sunrise at 2.05. Everyone turns slightly bonkers, as you can imagine. But it was a wonderful time, especially as the office is only 2 minutes away from the beach!

Overall Experience

One of the main purposes of this EVS placement was to gain experience in the not-for-profit environmental sector. I think that because EKOenergy is mainly powered by volunteers, I have been given lots of support and responsibility to help me develop new work-based skills, and gain specific knowledge about the energy sector and renewables. While promoting the ecolabel in the UK and Ireland, I have been in contact and collaborated with many different types of organisations, from multinational corporations, energy suppliers, to environmental charities. This work has not only expanded my network, but also increased my confidence in collaborating with other professionals in the sector. I have worked in close contact with the coordinator of  EKOenergy, Steven Vanholme, and his knowledge and expertise in this field keeps me motivated to build on this experience in my future career.

I have had an incredible 10 months at EKOenergy so far, and will strive to make the final two months unforgettable. I would highly recommend the experience of an EVS to others considering taking time to gain experience in this sector. 

Published December 2015. 

An invaluable experience at an ambitious, young environmental NGO. Great learning and networking opportunities, and a chance to develop professionally in a supportive and dynamic atmosphere.
Susan Gow, EKOenergy EVS volunteer