Academy professor Craig Primmer and a group of evolutionary biologists from the University of Turku arranged the ESEB2019 congress in Turku without compromising the principles of sustainable development. The carefully selected arrangements provide an operating model which conserves nature even for future event organisers.

The ideal is firmly set in the personality: everything must be perfect. Whether a marathon or scientific work, academy professor and evolutionary geneticist Craig Primmer from the University of Helsinki always strives to do better than ever before. When the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) encouraged him to apply for the congress organised on alternate years to be organised in Finland for the first time, Primmer knew what his personality would incite him to, which is why he weighed his decision carefully. Working at the University of Turku at the time, Primmer finally took enthusiastic action and started to compile information for the application.

‘I felt the congress to be a good way of giving something back to ESEB, whose members are my colleagues but also my friends. I also wanted to give something back to the University of Turku, which was where I found my first appointment,’ Primmer says. He originally came to Finland from Australia.

In the application phase, Turku beat Prague and Barcelona for the position of congress city. Primmer planned every detail carefully and in good time in order to avoid a last-minute rush. The six-year marathon culminated in August 2019, as 1,300 evolutionary biologists from 50 countries came to Logomo to exchange their thoughts on nature, life, and the world. Almost 500 speeches were heard during six days, and there were 650 posters.

‘Turku and Finland now have an even stronger position than before in the research of evolutionary biology,’ Primmer points out.

The scientific yield of the ESEB2019 congress was of the highest quality. This claim is backed by the feedback survey in which science was number one. The second best thing about the congress, according to the participants, was the food. The catering can say a lot about the environmental friendliness of the event, which Primmer wanted to cherish in his uncompromising way.    

‘I’ve often been irritated at congresses for coffee being served in plastic cups and lunch being served in a plastic package. With 1,500 participants at an event, the amount of plastic waste is incredible,’ he says.


Tasty catering with no plastic

Primmer praises event centre Logomo and Sunborn Catering for fluent cooperation. The requirements of using no plastic during the congress and providing mostly vegetarian locally sourced food were taken seriously in the kitchen. Coffee was served using china, and water was available in glasses or the visitors’ own refillable bottles.

‘We informed the guests in advance about Finland having the best and purest tap water in the world.’

Kitchen manager Kristian Karnell of Logomo Kitchen created menus for the lunches and coffee breaks utilising as much organic and locally sourced ingredients as possible. Delicious vegetarian meals were served to the evolutionary biologists, as well as fish cakes by the S. Wallin fish store, made using locally sourced coarse fish with a lower price per kilogramme.

‘The lunches served at Logomo were so good that it placed high expectations for the dinner, which is usually the culinary peak of the congress week,’ Primmer praises, smiling.

The ESEB2019 conference dinner was memorable particularly for foreign guests, as it was arranged at Moomin World in Naantali on the last evening of the conference. In addition to the tasty dinner itself, guests were delighted by the beautiful environment and the characters of the theme park. Many of the researchers took photos together with Moomin characters in order to share the experience on social media.

‘The environmentally friendly values of the Moomins were a perfect match with the congress, which the guests also praised. The evening and its sunset was a wonderful experience for them.’

Delegate bags in leftover fabrics

The congress guests received a tip about the dinner venue the year before, when the event was marketed at the evolutionary biology world congress at Montpellier, France, together with the Turku Convention Bureau. Moomin magnets made of birch plywood were immensely popular, and they also sent the message about the environmental values of the congress.

‘The Turku Convention Bureau of the City of Turku and Visit Turku welcomed our green challenge warmly. As marketing support, we received Urban Legends delegate bags made using leftover fabrics. The bags were praised by the participants,’ Primmer says.

The Convention Bureau has previously ordered all delegate bags distributed to congress guests from abroad, but inspired by the ESEB2019 congress and its values, all bags are now sewn at Turku City Employment Services Centre’s Valmennuspiste, which rehabilitates and supports people with their employment goals. Primmer is happy that his environmentally friendly choices were adopted in Turku as heritage for future congresses and events.

‘Sustainable principles should be thought of already in the planning phase,’ he says, encouraging persistence.

‘For example, I absolutely wanted the congress shirts to be made using recycled cotton, even though they proved difficult to find and slightly more expensive. I find it important for ecological products to have a demand, even though the supply is limited at this time. Otherwise, the environmentally friendly message will be lost.’

Supported by an extensive cooperation network

The ESEB2019 congress in Turku was strongly embodied in Craig Primmer, but he was supported by the Turku Convention Bureau, the committees of the event, congress service provider Aboa Congress and Event Services, the extensive local cooperation network, and some forty volunteers who all helped fulfil the ideals of the host.
‘My aim was for all areas of the congress to be better than anywhere else – no more,’ Primmer laughs at his temperament.

‘I would say that 95 per cent of the arrangements were better or at least as good as the previous congresses.’

Primmer enjoyed the ESEB2019 congress even though his focus this time was on hosting and the practical arrangements. Science will come after a short break. He has already compiled a list of presentations he absolutely must see as video recordings.

Text: Merja Kallikari
Photos: Mika Okko