Carbon footprint of the University of Oulu
Carbon Footprint of University of Oulu
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 University's Carbon Footprint in 2022
The most recent calculation was done for 2022 and the results have also been published in form of a data collection report (PDF). The overall carbon footprint was calculated as 10 645 t CO2e. This is about 601 kg per person, which accounts for about 9 one-way Oulu-Helsinki flights.
Emissions due to the purchased research and laboratory equipment contribute the biggest share with 33%, followed by the impact of other procurements accounting for 17% of the carbon footprint. Commuting, business travel and property management account for 10%, 13% and 12%, respectively. Shares of under 10% have been calculated for restaurant services, direct fuel combustion and the consumption of district heating.
The calculation methods have been updated for the most recent calculations (updated emission factors and improved allocation of emissions) and 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. From summer 2022 onward, the district heating procured for the University’s premises has been carbon neutral.
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.
For 2021, a clear reduction can be seen when comparing the results to the previous years: total emission sum up to 10 714 t CO2e. 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.
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.
The Carbon Footprint Working Group has also been investigating the carbon handprint of our research and has been looking into the impacts of distance teaching when extending the boundaries of calculations beyond the campus. A master’s thesis on the handprint subject was published in 2021 (in Finnish).
The next steps in our research is the follow-up our CF as a continuous process, as well as defining reduction targets.
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.
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.
Carbon Footprint of food services
The CF of the University of Oulu's food services in 2022 was calculated to be 770.17 tCO2e. Among the service providers, Uniresta accounted for 270.04 tCO2e, while Juvenes had a footprint of 500.13 tCO2e. This value represents an increase compared to the food CF in 2021, which constituted approximately 6% of the university's total CF, amounting to approximately 643 tCO2e.
More information can be found in the published report for the Carbon Footprint Working Group or the master's thesis about the topic.
Carbon Neutrality Roadmap
The University of Oulu's Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality identifies measures and actions needed to achieve the target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030.
The roadmap was created in three steps: First, the carbon neutrality targets of the service providers to the University of Oulu were assessed. Second, the measures and suggestions to reduce the carbon footprint and their impact were analysed. Third, the possibility of compensating and purchasing offsets to assure the target accomplishment were evaluated.
Proposed measures and action for reducing the University's carbon footprint include among others the procurement of carbon-neutral district heating, improving the efficiency of premises, introducing sustainable travelling guidelines and developing the restaurant services on campus. If only the service providers' carbon neutrality targets are taken into account, the carbon footprint of the University of Oulu will still amount to around 10 498 t CO2e in 2030. Based on the reduction potentials assumed in the roadmap, the University could lower its carbon footprint to 6 800 t CO2e by 2030.
The Carbon Neutrality Roadmap represents the first step towards achieving the University's goal. Now it is important that the various emission reduction strategies are put into action, and that the carbon footprint is being tracked annually. The roadmap sets high standards that will take a lot of effort to meet and should be handled in cooperation between staff members, students, faculties and other parties involved in providing service to the university. Building a culture of sustainability will require a continuous effort and the implementation of more innovative solutions as the measures presented in the roadmap are just the start.
- Julia Kiehle and Meeri Hilli (2023): The Carbon Footprint of the University of Oulu. Data collection 2022.
- Aida Hosseinian (2022). Carbon Neutrality Roadmap. University of Oulu 2023-2030.
- Julia Kiehle and Meeri Hilli (2022): The Carbon Footprint of the University of Oulu. Data collection 2021.
- Rishikesh Raut (2022): Best practices for research laboratories to reduce their carbon footprint - Report to the Carbon Footprint Working Group of the University of Oulu.
- Julia Kiehle (2021): University of Oulu's commuting survey for staff members. Report.
- Rishikesh Raut (2021): Carbon Footprint of Research and Laboratory Equipment of the University of Oulu - Research report.
- Amin Javid (2021): Carbon Footprint of the ICT equipment and Internet use at the University of Oulu - Research report.
- Julia Kiehle and Meeri Hilli (2021): The Carbon Footprint of the University of Oulu in 2019 – Calculation report.
- Julia Kiehle and Meeri Hilli (2021): The Carbon Footprint of the University of Oulu. Data collection 2018–2020.
- Dilshika Heenatigala Kankanamge (2023): Carbon footprint of food services at the University of Oulu.
- Rishikesh Raut (2022): Achieving carbon neutral research practices at the University of Oulu.
- Amin Javid (2022): The impact of multi-location work on reaching carbon neutrality objectives : the carbon footprint of ICT equipment use at the University of Oulu.
- Anna Kemppainen (2021): Oulun yliopiston tutkimustyön hiilikädenjälki: positiivisten ilmastovaikutusten mittari.
- Julia Kiehle (2021): Carbon neutral campus. Tools of carbon footprint and handprint assessment.
- Julia Kiehle, Maria Kopsakangas-Savolainen, Meeri Hilli and Eva Pongrácz (2022). Carbon footprint at institutions of higher education: The case of the University of Oulu. Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 329, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.117056.