The sustainability goals of the University of Turku include carbon-neutral operations by 2025. The university has taken a step closer to achieving the goal by defining its carbon footprint.

“We want to bear our share of social responsibility and combat climate change. The goal of carbon-neutral operations is one way we’re demonstrating this,” says Vice Rector Kalle-Antti Suominen of the University of Turku.

A working group on sustainable development was established for the university in 2018. In 2019, another working group was set up under it to calculate the university’s carbon footprint. From the outset, the group has been very broad-based and consisted of several experts from different fields. One member of the working group is Ari-Pekka Lassila, Sustainability Specialist at University Properties Ltd (SYK).

Properties, travel expenses and material purchases forming the carbon footprint

As the University of Turku was the first university in Finland to start performing comprehensive calculations, a framework had to be defined for the calculation work. SYK had already calculated its own carbon footprint, which also provided guidelines for this work.

The first consideration concerned which factors could be included in the calculation of the carbon footprint. It was noted at the outset that an essential part of the emissions was created by real estate properties, travel and various research-related equipment, chemicals and laboratory equipment.

The second limitation concerned the accuracy of calculations: how accurate the initial data obtained is, and how small the factors for inclusion should be.

“For a long time, we were considering the different methods of calculation available for individual matters. There were many methods, and we ended up looking at the orders of magnitude. It makes no sense to go into detail in some aspects if others are defined much less accurately,” says Suominen.

SYK plays a pivotal role in the calculation of the footprint of real estate properties

“Ari-Pekka’s involvement was valuable for the working group. He brought expertise and a professional approach to the subject to the working group. He also had previous experience of implementing the process,” Suominen says.

SYK’s role was particularly emphasised in real estate accounting. As SYK had already calculated the emissions from its own campuses, it was no longer necessary to recalculate them for this work. In addition, the same calculation could also be used for other properties that were not owned by SYK.

The work continues

The working group is continuing its work to achieve the goal of carbon-neutral campuses. The group will continue to examine and discuss the reduction of the carbon footprint and possible compensation issues. The calculation of emissions is also becoming more accurate and extensive all the time. Open reporting of the observations and results will continue. The working group’s own observations and results are reported openly, as has been the case so far. The example set by the University of Turku has also encouraged other universities to investigate their climate impacts.

“Now that we know our carbon footprint, we can plan what we need to do to reduce it,” Suominen concludes.


© Suomen Yliopistokiinteistöt Oy 2020