Travel and tourism have become one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. The same is true in Finland, where the travel sector is as big as the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.
Carbon Neutral Tourism (CNT) project and its resulting carbon footprint calculator have become promising tools to aid travel companies to answer the call to action for sustainability.
Cooperation across regions
The CNT project was initiated in March 2020 by 6aika, a joint strategy that brought together the six largest cities in Finland – Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku, and Oulu – toward sustainable urban development. The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council funded the strategy through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The CNT project was coordinated by the City of Helsinki, with other parties being the City of Turku, Visit Tampere and Forum Virium Helsinki. Participating cities recognised how data-driven smart solutions and operating models could reduce the travel sector’s carbon emissions while increasing energy efficiency.
The project involved over 70 companies and organisations and was able to prototype several iterations of digital tools.
The main result of the project was the carbon footprint calculator for travel companies.
Pressing need for a common tool
The CNT project began to research what kind of carbon footprint calculators were already used by travel companies in Southern Finland. On the other side of the country, VÄLKKY project by The Regional Council of Lapland was also searching for existing footprint calculators to develop low carbon and economically sustainable tourism in Finland. Both actors agreed that there was a pressing need for a unified approach.
– Our main goal was to calculate the carbon footprint of tourism regions in Lapland. The way to do this was to benchmark the local travel companies and estimate the regions’ emissions based on the companies’ footprint, says Project Manager Lotta Eerikson of the Regional Council of Lapland.
Some companies already utilised Excel-based carbon footprint calculators. The challenge is that the entrepreneurs need to update emission factors and data themselves in order to have precise results. Lotta Eerikson says how comparisons between other companies and regions is also challenging.
– A user-friendly and universal calculator is essential to provide developers up-to-date emission data to make more informed decisions in regions.
After mapping different alternatives, both the CNT and the Välkky project came to the same conclusion: an Excel-based calculator by XAMK – The South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences would be the one to be developed further.
A close cooperation around the calculator had started.
Giving benefits to travel companies
Accessibility and ease of use were key considerations in developing the calculator. The two projects organized multiple workshops with travel companies involved in the process, and the calculator was further developed based on the feedback.
Users collect essential data such as the electricity consumption and the list of purchases the company has made. The open browser-based calculator then calculates the carbon emissions and identifies the most significant sources.
The dashboard, user interface, and operation model built around the calculator communicate these findings, enabling the travel companies to take actions to reduce their footprint. Comparisons across companies are also made possible.
Stakeholders at destination organisations can also follow the emissions generated by the travel sector in their respective areas. By having access to this data, they can set monthly or annual targets, plan reduction measures, allocate investments, direct travel flows, and many others.
While many travel companies intend to become more sustainable in their operations, a lack of knowledge of their biggest emissions sources can hinder efforts. The carbon footprint calculator serves to bridge this knowledge gap and overcome the challenge. Moreover, the resulting data can aid companies to become more energy efficient and cut costs in daily operation.
Piloting experiences in Helsinki Smart Region
Maria Ojajärvi of Ecotravellers Finland, a Helsinki-based tour company specialising in 1–2 week volunteering trips, says the calculator has helped her make sustainable choices when purchasing services from others.
– In the case of our company, the real change happens in the NGOs and partners we collaborate with, especially on footprint related to accommodation, transport, heating, and recycling, Maria says.
– The better you monitor the activities of your partners and demand changes, the greater the impact will be.
Stefan Blomqvist of Smiling Redfox (Nature & Outdoor Activities) from Espoo agrees with the calculator’s promise and says it is a step in the right direction.
– Hopefully in the future, the calculator will also be better suited for calculating the carbon footprint of a small business like mine, Stefan says.
He envisions the calculator’s potential in creating common measures and comparable data to tackle a growing trend in the sector.
– Many companies market themselves as carbon neutral, but without any justification about how this happens.
The calculator’s future
While the CNT project officially ended in February 2022, work on the carbon footprint calculator continues.
– The calculator is still in the piloting phase. We focus now on continuing the pilot and further developing it, says Liisa Mäkelä, manager at Visit Finland’s Sustainable Travel Development (STF) programme.
Current development plans for the calculator as a fully functional and easy-to-use tool are slated for the end of 2024. The calculator will then be integrated in the STF programme to provide companies a concrete toolkit for sustainable tourism.
Read more about Visit Finland’s Sustainable Travel Finland programme here.
Find out about the results of the Carbon Neutral Tourism project here.