Helsinki to decrease climate emissions through acquisitions

News 2019-11-18 at 18:10
The Kalasatama region in Helsinki during the construction phase © Antti Pulkkinen/Helsingin kaupunki.

The City of Helsinki was the first city in Finland and a global pioneer to examine the carbon footprint of its acquisitions. Construction and the related energy costs cover the largest part of the environmental load of acquisitions. Helsinki is also developing environmental criteria and tools to help make the city’s acquisitions more sustainable.

Intensive construction leaves the largest print

As the most populous city in Finland, the total carbon footprint of Helsinki’s acquisitions is large when compared to other municipalities. In 2018, the total carbon footprint was 0.81 million tonnes CO2e. This corresponds to the combustion-based emissions from the Finnish manufacture of iron and steel.

The pace of construction is rapid in Helsinki, and the largest carbon footprint is caused by construction investments and the related annual construction and maintenance services. The second largest print comes from the heating and electricity consumption of buildings, as their emissions factors are high.

"At the moment, we have some ongoing significant construction projects with large investments, such as the Central Library Oodi. There are also many renovation projects", says Project Specialist Reetta Huomo from the City of Helsinki.

The acquisitions of cities, municipalities, and the state are immensely significant, as their total annual value in Finland is approximately 30 billion euros. As the largest city in Finland, Helsinki’s annual acquisitions add up to approximately 2.5 billion euros, depending on the implementation of the investment programme. Measured in money, the largest objects of acquisition in Helsinki include construction, office and expert services, and IT acquisitions and the related services.

Services are climate friendly, but their amount is burdening

The structure of the carbon footprint of Helsinki’s acquisitions corresponds the general emission structure of municipalities. 34 per cent of the climate emissions of the city’s acquisitions were caused from the acquisition of services, 32 per cent from goods and supplies, 27 per cent from investments, and 8 per cent from external rent expenses.

"The emission factor of services is usually lower than that of goods. However, the amount of services acquired is high, compared to tangible goods, which may increase their effects to up to half of the carbon footprint of all acquisitions of the municipality", says researcher Hannu Savolainen from the Finnish Environment Institute.

Environmental criteria for the different acquisition groups

Helsinki aims for carbon-neutrality by 2035. As a significant acquirer, Helsinki is in a significant position: by allocating its acquisitions wisely, the city can decrease climate emissions, but also create a market for environmentally friendly products and services.

"We had a rough idea of which acquisitions are significant from a climate perspective, but we now have calculations to base the information on. We will focus on developing the acquisitions with the largest emissions, but also those where the amount of emissions can be significantly reduced", says Project Coordinator Satu Salonen from the City of Helsinki.

In the future, the focal point of the work will be moved to the development of climate criteria for the various acquisition groups.

"Criteria which consider the environmental effects have been used for a long time in the various acquisitions of the divisions, such as construction projects and centralised joint procurements, like foodstuffs and cleaning services. However, the carbon footprint of the product or service has, as far as we know, not yet been used in the guidance of acquisitions", Salonen says.

Pilot sites from construction to restaurant services and ICT equipment

Decreasing the climate effects of acquisitions is piloted in several acquisitions in Helsinki at the moment, one of which is the new wooden residential buildings in Kuninkaantammi. Another is a renovation site built in the 1970s – one of many similar sites in Helsinki, which create a demand for sustainable renovation methods. A carbon footprint calculation has also been entered as a guiding factor in one competitive contract tendering process.

Another significant pilot area covers the acquisition of foodstuffs, particularly meat and milk products, and the competitive tendering processes of restaurant services, where the carbon footprint calculator for meal services developed by SYKE is utilised. The City’s acquisition of vehicles and ICT equipment will also be closely examined.

Pilot projects and acquisition development work will be carried out in cooperation with all of the City’s Divisions.

Acquirer support for climate-smart acquisitions

A city may achieve significant emission reductions by taking the climate and environmental impacts into consideration already in the acquisition phase. Huomo considers it important to help the acquirers in their busy and challenging work, where environmental issues may not always be the top priority. Check lists and instructions can be prepared to support sustainable acquisitions, for example.

"I believe acquirers can make the world a better place. They have a true opportunity to affect climate change, and we hope they will understand it and be proud of it", Huomo says.

In order to increase awareness, Helsinki is organising trainings for its employees regarding climate-smart acquisitions. Carbon footprint calculation training is provided for the contract suppliers and the City’s acquirers in connection with the acquisition of the wooden apartment buildings, for example. Helsinki also participates in the low-carbon construction development group at the KEINO competence centre.

"Through our acquisitions, we can also point out that the city creates preconditions for a climate friendly life. We also encourage the residents to make a difference and give us tips on how to improve the climate friendliness of our operations",  Salonen notes.

This is how the carbon footprint of acquisitions was calculated

The carbon footprint includes the greenhouse gas emissions of a product or service throughout its life span. It covers emissions both in Finland and abroad. The calculation tool developed by the Finnish Environment Institute first examined how the acquisitions are targeted at the various groups of acquisition costs. A separate model was used to estimate an emission factor, or emissions per euro, for each group of acquisition costs. The total greenhouse gas emissions for the various kinds of acquisitions are then calculated by multiplying the acquisition costs with the emission factor. The information is based on the acquisition costs in 2018.

The City of Helsinki participates in the Towards Carbon Neutral Municipalities (Canemure) project with the subproject Carbon footprint criteria as promoters of sustainable acquisitions.

Further articles on the topic 

  • The carbon footprint of the consumption of Finnish households increasing, the carbon footprint of public acquisitions calculated for the first time (The Finnish Environment Institute's bulletin 8 April 2019)

Further information

  • Project Coordinator Satu Salonen, City of Helsinki, tel. +358 (0)40 669 5160,
  • Project Specialist Reetta Huomo, City of Helsinki, tel. +358 (0)40 849 6446,
  • Researcher Hannu Savolainen, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), tel. +358 (0)295 251 839,

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