The University reduced its carbon footprint in 2023

The University succeeded in reducing emissions particularly through the purchase of carbon-neutral electricity. In future, the University will incorporate sustainability goals more closely into procurement and cafeteria tendering.

In 2023 the University reduced its carbon footprint from the previous year to 49,992 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO₂e).

Emissions were successfully reduced particularly in facilities, the area accounting for a large (38.5%) share of the University’s carbon footprint.

The reduction of emissions is largely due to the purchase of carbon-neutral electricity, for which the University bought guarantees of origin for nuclear power.

In addition to facilities, emissions were generated by procurement (40% of the University’s total emissions) and travel and transport (17%). Food accounted for 4.5% of the total emissions. Small reductions were made in 2023 to emissions from procurement and food, but those from travel and transport increased.

To promote its goal of carbon neutrality, the University published in spring 2023 the Carbon-neutral University of Helsinki 2030 roadmap, with emissions reduction goals for the four areas with the highest emissions. The primary goal is to lower the carbon footprint by reducing emissions.

All purchased electricity was carbon neutral

In 2023 all the electricity purchased by the University was carbon neutral, as it bought guarantees of origin for nuclear power.

The goal for 2030 is that all purchased electricity and district heating in the University facilities will be carbon neutral, while 10% of energy consumption will be covered by independently produced renewable energy. At the same time, fossil heating fuels will be abandoned.

The University is unable to influence the goal of carbon neutrality for district heating, as it depends on the energy company Helen and its operational targets.  

The amount of waste produced in facilities increased by 5% from the previous year. The recycling rate was 56%.

Impact through market dialogue

As a major organisation, the University successfully used tendering to reach its goal of making purchases by prioritising suppliers committed to low-carbon activities. However, the University does not yet have access to comprehensive information on the production chains of all the goods and services it purchases. The goal is to track reliably the carbon footprint of purchased goods and services.

Further goals are to introduce efficient recycling and circular economy models, and nurture a strong culture of shared use. The University will invest in these goals by enhancing market dialogue and internal circular economy models.

New travel guidelines to reduce emissions

Travel emissions increased due to the rebound in travel volume following the pandemic.

In 2023 the University prepared new travel guidelines. Monitoring compliance with them in the coming years will show how the guidelines affect travel emissions. The University will examine both commuting and work-related travel, whose greatest respective sources of emissions are private car usage and air travel. 

Measures taken in the next few years include developing bicycle parking on the campuses.

Towards more sustainable meals

Most food emissions are generated by the lunch cafeterias operating on the University premises, which are expected to prepare transparent low-carbon and sustainability programmes.

The cafeteria operators have made efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of lunches and catering and to offer sustainable options.

At UniCafe cafeterias, for example, vegan and vegetarian options accounted for 48% of all lunches sold in 2023. Vegan options are always cheaper than non-vegan ones, and plant-based alternatives are placed first on the counter.

The University will continue to engage in active dialogue with cafeteria operators and incorporate sustainability goals more closely into the associated tendering processes.

The University’s new catering recommendations support its goal of prioritising plant-based food in catering services by 2030.

More emissions reductions needed

Although the downward trend in emissions is encouraging, more action is needed.

“We now have guidelines for emissions reduction goals, but all members of the University community are responsible for achieving them,” says Vice-Rector Anne Portaankorva, who leads the University’s sustainability work. 

Although reducing emissions is the primary target, the University will also examine broader developments in climate work, the promotion of biodiversity and the steps taken to offset emissions at the University and in the wider community.

“For example, we are monitoring actively how the regulations being prepared in the EU affect companies and organisations in defining responsibility goals and offsetting climate emissions,” notes Senior Specialist in Sustainable Development and Responsibility Riina Koivuranta.

Explore the roadmap for a carbon-neutral University of Helsinki by 2030. 

Read more about sustainability and responsibility at the University of Helsinki

How the carbon footprint is calculated

A carbon footprint is calculated in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG). The University of Helsinki takes into account not just direct emissions and emissions from bought energy, but also indirect emissions, such as travel and procurement.