Consumption and public procurement 2020
No progress in reducing the carbon footprint from consumption by Finns in the 2000s

12.4.2021 9.49
No progress in reducing the carbon footprint from consumption by Finns in the 2000s

Consumption in its present form will not produce wellbeing for people in a sustainable manner. Environmental damage caused by housing, transport and food must be significantly reduced from the current level in both private and public consumption. At the same time, the well-being of people must be ensured, and people must be given fair opportunities to satisfy their needs.

By consuming goods and services, people strive to meet their different needs and increase their well-being. There is no such thing as harmless consumption, as the production and use of products and services always requires energy and natural resources. Responsible consumption includes not only the consideration of environmental impacts but also social responsibility and economic sustainability.

Climate emissions resulting from consumption have taken an upward turn

Figure: Carbon footprint of private consumption. (Source: Envimat model, Nissinen & Savolainen 2019)

By changing the amount and quality of consumption, we can decrease harmful impacts to the environment and society. The negative environmental impacts resulting from consumption are described with the development of the average carbon footprint of Finnish private consumption. It is divided into main sectors of consumption, i.e. housing, transport, food, and other goods and services.

Finland’s current situation

Based on the latest available data, the average carbon footprint of Finnish people’s consumption increased to around 11 tonnes in 2016 and is currently higher than in 2000. It is probable that the carbon footprint has continued to grow after 2016 due to an increase in disposable income and consumption potential, with the exception of 2020, when the economy was strangled by the coronavirus pandemic. Three fourths of the carbon emissions caused by Finnish consumption are from housing, transport and nutrition.

Compared to Sweden, the carbon footprint per person is more than 30 per cent higher. Sweden's better situation is explained by low carbon energy production, which is reflected in the energy consumption at home as well as in all products manufactured in Sweden. Sweden also has a long tradition of using geothermal energy in heating homes.

SDG 12 of Agenda 2030 aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and SDG 13 aims to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. The medium-term climate plan encourages citizens to reduce their carbon footprint by an average of 50 per cent by 2030. According to climate research, carbon neutrality can be considered the long-term minimum target, which will mean that greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced to such an extent that all remaining emissions are bound, for example, to vegetation growth. Due to greenhouse gases already released into the atmosphere, this may not be sufficient to prevent dangerous changes in the global climate system, and carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere may also be needed.

Finland’s recent development

Between 2000 and 2016, the average consumption-based carbon footprint of Finns varied from approximately 10 tonnes to more than 12 tonnes. The carbon footprint of housing has decreased while the footprint of food products, other goods and services and transport have remained close to unchanged or have increased. The relative greenhouse gas intensity of household consumption, i.e. the emissions produced per euro consumed, has decreased considerably despite an increase in overall emissions. From 2000 to 2016, the increase in money used for consumption caused consumption and emissions to grow much more (16.4 million tonnes CO2eq) than changes to consumption structure (3.0 million tonnes CO2eq) and the development of technology (6.7 million tonnes CO2eq) reduced emissions. For this reason, overall emissions from consumption did not decrease. Greenhouse gas emissions that are the result of household consumption expenditure account for about 70 per cent of all consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions in Finland, which also include emissions from investments and public consumption.

Other observations related to the indicator

The indicator is based on the results of the Envimat model. Emissions have been reported as commensurable carbon dioxide equivalents for different gases. The model takes into account the life cycle environmental impacts of used goods and services in Finland and investments made in Finland. Due to the different calculation method, consumption-based results differ from country-specific production-based emissions statistics. By international standards, Finland has an exceptionally large amount of information on consumption available to the public, but it is difficult to measure the impacts of consumption on well-being and sustainable development. An increasing share of up-to-date information on consumption, housing and mobility is held by commercial operators. It is difficult to obtain this information for non-commercial research and monitoring use.

Our diets do not yet follow recommendations

Figure: Consumption of different foods. (Source: Natural Resources Institute Finland)

A vegetable-based diet in accordance with the nutrition recommendations is a better option from the perspectives of the environment and human health than a meat-based diet. Avoiding food waste and favouring environmentally-friendly food production is important in homemade meals and when dining at restaurants, workplace canteens, schools and other institutions. The development of diets is described by changes in the consumption of different foodstuff.

Finland’s current situation

At the national level, the total consumption of food changes rather slowly, even though different nutrition trends vary rapidly. Differences between the eating habits and dietary choices of individuals are considerable. Income also affects food consumption. In 2018, nearly 300,000 Finns had to resort to food aid distributed through EU assistance for the deprived at least once that year. For example, efforts have been made to reduce food waste in shops by directing food past its sell by date to assistance activities. In households, the generation of food waste can be reduced with good planning as well as by increasing consumer awareness on product labelling and the storing and preparation of food. In professional kitchens, food waste is reduced especially with good advance planning.

In line with Agenda 2030’s SDG 2, hunger should be eliminated, food security achieved and nutrition improved by 2030. In Finland, the excessive consumption of food and high-energy beverages pose a much greater risk to public health and cause more environmental harm. More meat is consumed in Finland on average than is necessary for health. Our meat-based diet also causes loading to the environment. According to dietary recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Finnish experts, people should eat no more than half a kilo of red meat and meat preparations per week. People should eat at least half a kilo of vegetables and fruits each day. In addition to health, food choices made by consumers and public sector actors are important as they guide food production and its environmental impacts. In accordance with Agenda 2030’s target 12.3, food waste must be halved globally by 2030.

Finland’s recent development

Meat consumption decreased slightly during the recession in the early 1990s, but has increased again from the mid-1990s. In recent years, we have eaten more than 80 kilos of meat each year (the figure includes bones). The consumption of poultry meat has increased to 3.7 times that which it was in the early 1990s. In particular, women and young people prefer poultry to beef or pork. The overall consumption of red meat has remained fairly unchanged. Vegetable and fruit consumption is steadily growing although there is still some way to go if we are to reach the recommended half a kilogramme per day. Potato consumption has fallen from 60 kg in the early 1990s to about 46 kg a year, whereas rice consumption has increased from 4.6 kg to 6 kg. The consumption of fish has declined slightly. Increasing the consumption of responsibly fished domestic fish should be recommended with regard to both the environmental and health objectives, provided that the recommendations provided to special groups are followed. Food causes more than one fifth of the climate impacts of consumption i.e. its carbon footprint. Most of the climate impacts of food are caused by the manufacture and use of fertilisers as carbon and nitrous oxide emissions from fields or directly from animals. The negative environmental impacts of food production can be reduced, for example, with certain cultivation techniques or by producing energy from manure and waste through biogas plants.

Other observations related to the indicator

Meat consumption is reported in the indicator as bone in meat and fish fillet weight. In nutrition recommendations, meat is expressed as the weight of cooked meat, which is usually about half the weight of bone in meat. The environmental impacts of a meat-based diet vary a great deal based on the type of meat that is in question and its production area and method. Some consumption data is not available for all years. In these cases, the amount has been assumed to be in line with that of the previous year. There is no sufficiently reliable and comprehensive data available on the amount and quality of food waste.

There are plenty of opportunities to reduce transport emissions, and particular need to cut emissions from passenger cars and air travel

Figure: Carbon dioxide emissions from passenger transport by modes of transport, 1990–2019. (Sources: Lipasto/VTT, Statistics Finland)

A reliable and efficient transport system is the basic precondition for a well-functioning society. However, mobility also has harmful impacts, which can be minimised by reducing the need for mobility, for example by means of telework and community planning, and by favouring muscular mobility, i.e. walking and cycling. The harmful impacts of transport can be reduced by introducing technical improvements to each mode of transport and by switching to a low-emission mode of transport.

Finland’s current situation

Emissions from passenger transport are dominated by car traffic and international air traffic. Total emissions have not decreased from 1990 levels. In the context of road transport, the calculated CO2 emissions of first registered passenger cars are decreasing, particularly as the average emissions per kilometre driven of non-petrol and diesel vehicles (rechargeable hybrids, electric cars, gas, flexifuels) are much lower compared to vehicles running on conventional fuels. Emissions are particularly low when using waste-based ethanol or diesel, biogas or ecological electricity as a power source. While the number of cars travelling with alternative power sources is currently small, it is rapidly increasing.

The aim of Finland’s national energy and climate strategy is to cut emissions from car traffic by half by 2030 compared to the 2005 situation; the EU target for the average specific CO2 emissions from newly registered new passenger cars is 95 g/km in 2020 (in Finland, these were on average 117 g/km for new cars and 158 g/km for all passenger cars used for transport in 2018). According to the medium-term climate strategy, traffic emissions will be reduced by replacing fossil fuels with renewable and low-emission alternatives as well as by improving the energy efficiency of vehicles and the transport system. A procurement subsidy is available for electric cars and the conversion of old cars to biofuel and flexible fuel powered cars will be promoted. An additional aim is to speed up the construction of electric charging points and biofuel stations and to increase the number of charging points for electric cars in housing companies.

The objectives of the Society's Commitment to Sustainable Development emphasise the importance of communities that reduce transport needs. Overall, the need for transport must be reduced, while creating everyday environments that encourage healthy and sustainable mobility. The objectives of urban transport systems are defined in land use, housing and transport (MAL) agreements. Cycling and walking is promoted with a joint programme by municipalities and the state.

Emissions from aviation are underestimated, as the emissions included in the figure do not take into account the so-called radiative forcing factor, but the emissions have only been calculated based on carbon dioxide emissions. While the value provided by the radiation force coefficient is uncertain, a coefficient between 2 and 3 is often used. If the emission values of international flights are multiplied by such a coefficient, the resulting number is close to the emissions of private cars. 

Finland’s recent development

The calculated specific emissions of new passenger cars have decreased over the past decade by 28 per cent. However, the total emissions from road transport have not decreased as the total number of kilometres driven has increased. The average age of passenger cars used in transport also grew throughout the past decade. In 2008, Finns drove a car for an average of 9.9 years, whereas in 2018 the average age of a passenger car was 11.7 years. According to the LIPASTO model, road transport accounts for around 95 per cent of domestic transport emissions, and these emissions have only decreased by 2 per cent since 1990. Railway traffic emissions have reduced by around 70 per cent.

Other observations related to the indicator

In addition to road traffic, air and maritime traffic should also be taken into account. They have increased considerably in recent decades, especially in international transport, which dominates emissions. It is difficult to form an overall picture of emissions from ships used in passenger transport, as a very large part of shipping is freight transport.

The total amount of municipal waste continues growing

Figure: Total municipal waste. (Source: Statistics Finland)

An economic system that saves raw materials, recycles materials effectively and prevents the creation of waste is a basic requirement for sustainable development. The majority of waste is created by construction, agriculture and production processes. In particular, the amount of waste from extractive industries has increased in Finland. Changes in the quantity and management methods of municipal waste illustrate how well society succeeds in exploiting the waste generated directly by our consumption and in controlling the damage caused by it.

Finland’s current situation

A record amount of waste in the 2000s was generated in Finland in 2018: a total of around 3 million tonnes. This amounts to over 500 kg of waste per person. Around two thirds of municipal waste is generated in households and the rest in administrative, service and business activities. Municipal waste only accounts for around three per cent of all waste produced in Finland.

Target 12.5 of the 2030 Agenda is to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030. The prevention of waste generation is also one of the basic objectives of the circular economy. Waste generation can be prevented and recycling increased with measures such as promoting ecological product design, developing producer responsibility schemes and new business models as well as encouraging people to change their consumer habits. Municipal waste recycling targets have been tightened in recent years. In accordance with the EU Waste Directive, the aim is to recycle 50 per cent of municipal waste in 2020, 55 per cent in 2025, 60 per cent in 2030 and 65 per cent in 2035. The generation of biowaste can be reduced by preventing food waste. In construction, the use of material can be optimised at the planning stage, by increasing the life cycles of buildings and by using buildings for multiple purposes. According to the EU directive on waste, arrangements for the separate collection of textile waste must be made by 2025.

Figure: Municipal waste in Finland per treatment type (Source: Statistics Finland)

Finland’s recent development

The total amount of municipal waste has increased. Every Finn currently produces an average of over 80 kg more waste each year than twenty years ago. The dumping of municipal waste in landfills has ceased nearly completely and it has been replaced primarily with waste incineration i.e. energy recovery. As a result, the depositing and use of ash from waste incineration plants has posed additional challenges. The utilisation of municipal waste as material, i.e. recycling, has also increased over the past twenty years. The share of recycling has increased from about 30 per cent to over 40 per cent. Waste management has become more specific in general, and, in particular, the collection of hazardous waste and the recycling of glass, small metal, paper and cardboard have been managed well in Finland. There is much room for improvement in the recycling of plastic and electronic waste. Legislation and other societal steering play a fundamental role in ensuring that sustainable and recyclable products are available on the market, the production, use and disposal of which generate no unrecoverable waste.

Other observations related to the indicator

There are variations and differences in the definition of waste and in the compilation of waste sector statistics especially internationally. Finland uses the strictest possible method for calculating its recycling rate for EU reporting. The current recycling rate would rise to near 50% if Finland calculated the rate in the same manner as several other EU countries.

Public procurement and investments has a large carbon footprint

Figure: Carbon footprint of public procurement. (Source: Finnish Environment Institute) 

The lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of public procurement have been examined using the ENVIMAT environmentally extended input–output model. In 2015, the carbon footprint of public procurement was 8,3 Mt CO2e, totalling at 11 Mt CO2e when combined with the inventories of organisations. The scale of the investments can be better understood when compared with the emissions caused during the operation of a passenger car, which amounted to around 6 Mt CO2e.

Of the emissions related to procurement, 1.78 Mt originated from procurement by the government, 4.73 Mt by municipalities and 1.79 Mt by joint municipal authorities. Of the central government procurements, 42% of emissions originated from the purchases of services, 38% from materials, supplies and goods, 12% from rents and 8% from other costs. Materials, supplies and goods caused the largest share of emissions in the administrative branch of the Ministry of Defence (55%), while services accounted for the highest share (81%) in the branch of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. In the procurement by municipalities and joint municipal authorities, between 42 and 43 per cent of the emissions originated from the purchase of services and 52 per cent from materials, supplies and goods. Of the administrative branches of the central government, the most greenhouse gas emissions (43%) was caused in the administrative branch of the Ministry of Defence, followed by the administrative branches of the Ministry of Transport and Communications (21%) and the Ministry of the Interior (10%). In joint municipal authorities, emissions were highest (1.03 Mt) in the hospital districts. Of the emissions related to procurement by the municipalities, 3.33 Mt originated from urban, 0.69 Mt from densely populated and 0.71 Mt from rural municipalities.

Changes implemented to indicators

  1. No changes have been made to the indicator as the Envimat model has not been used for calculating new results. However, there are plans for doing this, and data on the emissions in 2017 and 2018 might be available next year.
  2. The indicator has been updated with the most recent available data, i.e. 2019 data.
  3. A new kind of a picture has been produced for the emissions generated in passenger traffic, as the CO2 emissions of newly registered cars are no longer descriptive due to changing the method for measuring the comparability of CO2 data and because cars may utilise several power sources. In any case, emissions from passenger transport per mode of transport and in total serve as a better indicator for describing the emissions originating from transport than the emission characteristics of new cars, which is only one of many factors affecting emissions.
  4. 2018 data have been included in the indicator.
  5. Greenhouse gas emissions from public procurement is a new indicator. However, data on only one year, 2015, are currently available. The aim is to include more detail and other public sector units in the indicator in addition to central government, municipalities and joint municipal authorities, for instance, the emissions from procurement by parishes and universities. New information will be published at the beginning of 2021 in connection with the VN TEAS project “HILMI”.

Ari Nissinen, Finnish Environment Institute