Save Money and Energy – and Make Us Independent from Russia
Author: Joan Rask
Nobody cared about the cost of heating. During the Soviet-era, heating buildings was very cheap in the Baltic States. It is not that way anymore. Today, everyone pays for gas and electricity. Martins Jurjevs is CEO for the company MM Energy Solutions Ltd., which works with energy renovations of buildings in Latvia.
“I’ve worked in this business for more than ten years, and suddenly I was made aware that people don’t know how they can bring down their own electricity and gas usage,” he says.
It has been almost three years. Back then he began looking for information in both Latvian, English, and several other languages.
“I could not find enough material on this issue in Latvian and nobody had a complete list with good advices and concrete examples - then I decided to make this project,” Martins Jurjevs says.
Today, people listen to him and his two partners in Lithuania and Estonia when they explain how citizens of the Baltic States can save energy and earn money at the same time. He namely decided that this project also had to include the two other Baltic countries since the picture was the same here – the populations lacked information in their own languages.
An informative website
Actually, it was just about getting started. So says Martins Jurjevs about the big work, which is now complete, with building a website in all three Baltic languages and English where the content, at the same time, is written targeting each country individually.
“We didn't encounter any big difficulties. It has been a process where we knew what to do, what we wanted to communicate, and what was important,” he says.
The most challenging thing about the project was actually the professional communication work with the specific texts. Because how do you write one thing simply and clearly enough for people to understand it, and so that it changes their habits and makes them do things in a novel way?
“But we did reach our goals. The website meets the needs and people tell us that they are very fond of it,” says Martins Jurjevs.
Alike – and still pretty different
Martins Jurjevs has great knowledge of Lithuania and Estonia, and he experiences that the three populations essentially are much alike. But when it comes to specific rules regarding, for example, waste sorting, energy support policies from the state, and prices, there are no similarities. He was therefore forced to find local partners. One of them is Guntars Miska from UAB Garmeta in Lithuania. He also has a company which works on energy renovations of old buildings.
“Only a few years ago, almost everybody had a lack of knowledge – nobody knew how to decrease energy consumption the correct way,” Guntars Miska says.
Guntars Miska still meets many people who think they are doing the right thing. A very specific example is that it has always been recommended to leave a window ajar during winter to maintain a good indoor environment.
“Sometimes it gets to minus 40 degrees – not every winter but sometimes. Opening a window for a whole night, years after years costs a lot. Now we tell people that the correct way is to open it fully for only three minutes,” Guntars Miska says.
An infinitely large market
Guntars Miska estimates that about 70% of all buildings are flats, and that 90-95% of those are built during the Soviet-era. Many of them are built 50 years ago, with those materials available then, and they are usually entirely without insulation. It results in enormous energy consumption.
“Heat is a political factor: We only heat our houses with gas, and all the gas comes from Russia. That means Russia decides the price of gas in the whole Region and who gets the gas. That is not so nice,” Guntars Miska explains.
And he continues in a lower tone:
“That is why the state supports energy savings, so we are not so dependent on the Russian government,” says Guntars Miska.
In Lithuania, the state pays up to 40% of the energy renovation expenses. The size of the amount is decided by the amount of energy saved. The energy support policies are a little different in Latvia, but here the state also seeks to motivate savings. Martins Jurjevs too sorts his waste where he lives. It gives very palpable savings since it does not cost anything to have your waste collected if it is sorted.
“Green living is becoming more and more popular. I think it’s good of the state to support those schemes that help the most. That way people learn it much easier,” says Martins Jurjevs
In all three Baltic countries, the populations have become more aware of LED bulbs, for example. It is typically the young and well-educated who are the most positive.
“Luckily, there are more who live sustainably because they wish to consume less and bring down the drain on the planet’s resources,” says Martins Jurjevs.
He has been very happy with the cooperation with the opportunity to work transnationally. So has Guntars Miska.
“I am happy about this project and I have enjoyed creating something that is so useful to a lot of people – and, at the same time, it has been so interesting to see how the other Baltic States dealt with these issues,” the Lithuanian businessman says.
Online alone is not enough
The idea behind the project originally comes from Latvia, but Guntars Miska has no doubts that the joint website is here to stay. Gas and electricity prices will namely continue to rise, and there are lots of buildings which has yet to be visited by him. There are no easy solutions here with social media that just spreads the message. When the large residential blocks hold resident meetings, Guntars Miska or one of his colleagues participate.
“We come just to give advice when they have their annual meetings. We tell about the website and how they can save money,” Guntars Miska says.
The website is hence always the common frame of reference and a database of knowledge, which is readily available when asked for by a citizen.
Martins Jurjevs also uses word of mouth methods.
“I promote these ideas every day and to everybody I meet: I tell about the website and how they can save money. The website helps a lot – here people can see the most important things,” Martins Jurjevs says.
It is actually only the elderly population which is hard to get in touch with. So says both Martins Jurjevs and Guntars Miska. Many of the elderly have built their own houses back when they received free building materials from the Russian state. Several experience that Martins Jurjevs and colleagues criticize their home when they recommend insulation and other forms of energy renovation.
“I build this house, the walls are 50 cm thick and I am warm in the winter, they would say. Then I try to explain that it is not about not getting warm but about saving money,” says Martins Jurjevs.
But he does not always succeed with his explanation.
“There are people who do not want to understand. I focus on all the others, those who has changed their attitude towards a greener living. The rest of Europe has done this for years – and of course we can do it too,” says Martins Jurjevs.