Carbon footprint of the University of Oulu

Carbon Footprint of University of Oulu

In relation to the importance of addressing the ongoing climate change, the assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and a subsequent introduction of mitigation measures is becoming increasingly necessary. Conducting calculations of carbon footprints on an organisational level offers possibilities to analyse the situation on a broader scale. This work is carried out also in University of Oulu.
Outline of two footprints, which consist of vegetation

Project information

Project duration


Project coordinator

University of Oulu

Contact information

Contact person


Project description

As part of the strategy to push the development of sustainable campuses, the University of Oulu has decided to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% until 2025 compared to the level of 2019. To make this endeavour possible, the carbon footprint working group (CF WG) has been mandated to calculate the CF of the University of Oulu. As part of this work, several researches were initiated to calculate our carbon footprint and handprint, which include the following ones,  among others:

The Carbon Footprint of the university in 2019

Carbon footprint of the University of Oulu in 2019.

According to the final results, the carbon footprint of the University of Oulu in 2019 was around 19 072 t CO2 equivalents. This is about 1.13 tonnes per person, which accounts to about 16 one-way Oulu-Helsinki flights. The largest part, 41% of the carbon footprint is due to heating. It has to be noted though, that SYK, the property owner is compensating all building-related emissions. The emissions due to electricity equal zero, because the University is using 100% renewable electricity on all premises. However, the electricity consumption costs of the university are considerable, so electricity is always worth reducing. 

Even though it is not typically included in an organization's carbon footprint, we have decided to include also the impact of commuting of students and staff from home to the campus. The argument behind this decision is that a university’s purpose is research and education and, therefore, people, their awareness and knowledge level is central to our activities. Hence, the environmental impact caused by the individual members of the university community should be of importance. Given the large amount of comments received on the survey, university staff is clearly interested in improved their commuting habits. Read the report from the commuting survey (PDF) to find out more. 

Currently, we are also investigating the carbon handprint of our research and are also looking into the impacts of distance teaching when extending the boundaries of calculations beyond the campus. A master’s thesis on the subject was recently published (in Finnish).

The next steps in our research is the follow-up our CF as a continuous process, as well as defining reduction targets.

The development of the University's Carbon Footprint

The University’s carbon footprint has so far been calculated for each year from 2018 onwards. While the results for 2019 are used as the base year, the following years are very important in terms of assessing the performance of mitigation measures.

In 2018, the carbon footprint amounted to 18 232 t CO2e with district heating and the procurement of research equipment contributing the highest shares. Mainly due to an increase in the consumption of district heat on campus, there was a slight increase in 2019. The carbon footprint of that year sums up to 19 072 t CO2e.

2020 has been a special year and, as can be seen, the footprint due to business travel has reduced significantly (from 9% in 2019 to 1% in 2020). There is also a reduction in the impact of food services, as a result of fewer staff and students present on the campuses. However, the largest contributor to our CF, heating, was reduced only to a small degree - the buildings still had to be heated. Note that the contribution of the university's car fleet, as well as cooling and water consumption, are so small that they are practically invisible in the columns. Overall, the carbon footprint of 2020 amounted to 13 715 t CO2e.

Comparison of the University's Carbon Footprints, 2018 to 2021.

The most recent calculation was done for 2021 and a preliminary version of the results is also published in form of a data collection report (PDF). A clear reduction can be seen when comparing the results to the previous years: total emission sums up to 10 714 t CO2e. This is about 612 kg per person, which accounts to about 8 one-way Oulu-Helsinki flights. 

Overall, the carbon footprint of 2021 has a strong resemblance to the one in 2020, mainly due to the continuing restrictions due to the pandemic. There was a slight increase in undertaken business travel, but the commuting emissions only rose slightly. Lectures were still mainly organised remotely or in hybrid mode, and many researchers decided to continue the multi-workplace approach, decreasing the commuting days significantly. The emissions related to the food provided by the restaurants on campus were decreased due to improved acquisition of data for the calculation. However, the main reason for the decreased carbon footprint is the reduced impact of the district heat consumed on campus. Based on the switch away from peat towards a higher share of low-carbon fuels, the district heat provider managed to reduce the emissions released per MWh significantly.

Carbon footprint of the University of Oulu in 2021.

The Carbon Footprint of research activities

Based on the above results of the carbon footprint calculation, the procurement of research equipment and laboratory supply accounted for around 16% of the total amount of emissions allocated to the University in 2019. This share is, however, solely based on the investment costs and does not take the usage phase of the items into account. While the University is buying electricity generated by 100% renewable energies for all premises, resulting in zero emissions for the electricity consumption, it is still desirable to reduce the overall consumption of electricity. This could for example be achieved with more responsible handling of laboratory equipment. At the moment, only about half of the research infrastructure of the Linnanmaa campus has been inventoried. However, it has been noted that there is insufficient information on the energy consumption of laboratory devices  and life-cycle environmental impacts.  This will need to improve, as sustainable laboratory operations will help achieving the goal of carbon footprint reduction of the University of Oulu.

This work will continue, meanwhile, you can read the preliminary report on the  Carbon Footprint of Research and Laboratory Equipment of the University of Oulu.

Infographics about climate-friendly best practices for research facilities

The Carbon Footprint of ICT equipment and Internet use

Utilisation of information and communication technologies is an integral part of a university. The University of Oulu currently leases or owns over 3000 laptops and more than 1000 workstations or desktop PCs , with additional screens, mouses and keyboards. Additionally, the University also offers mobile phones for work-related purposes to staff members. While the impact of the equipment related to the direct electricity consumption might be the most tangible part, the usage share is only one aspect that contributes to the life cycle carbon footprint of ICT equipment. In addition to the emissions related to the life cycle of IT equipment, an assessment was made also regarding the carbon footprint  of data transmission and network usage. A carbon footprint calculation was done based on the assumptions for yearly working hours of staff members, the energy intensity of the data transmission network and data centres, as well as the electricity consumption of servers, wireless base station and other relevant telecommunication equipment. 

Data regarding  the CF of ICT equipment or Internet in particular are hard to com by, and many generatizations had to be made. However, the preliminary results indicate that around 170 t CO2e are released annually as a consequence of our computer use, which equals the emissions released flying 33 times around the globe. The research also considered the carbon footprint of free-time internet use as well, in order to raise awareness among students and staff the emission associated with activities such as surfing the net or streaming HD videos.

Comparisons between using of IT equipment and other emission creating activities.