Environmentally responsible meetings

The environmental impacts of branches connected with tourism and travel are often connected almost solely to emissions caused by movement. Less attention is paid to the environmental impacts of activities occurring during the time spent at the venue itself, which taken together are responsible for a significant portion of the environmental impacts of the entire visit, especially for those lasting several days.

Climate change due to the emissions of greenhouse gases are considered to be the biggest environmental challenge facing mankind. Its economic, social and ecological impacts affect the entire planet. According to the Stern Review (The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, 2006), climate change will have a massive impact on national economies worldwide if we are not able or unwilling to prevent it. According to estimates, the costs of combating climate change are much less than the consequences if nothing is done. Since the economic, social and ecological impacts of climate change cannot be precisely measured, there is cause to act according to the principles of caution, prevention and sustainable development.

1.1. Sustainable development and environmental responsibility

Although sustainable development is defined in slightly different ways, the core idea in all definitions is the same. Sustainability is considered to consist of three dimensions: financial, ecological and social. This manual focuses specifically on the ecological approach. Ecological sustainability itself has many dimensions, such as combating climate change and maintaining biodiversity.

The definition of sustainable development recognises the importance and value of the wellbeing of the environment. This is true whether we are speaking about ecologically sustainable development or of natural capital. Nature in itself is of value to mankind, who should work to preserve and protect this value. Nature's value can consist of natural resources or of recreational or aesthetic values.

1.2. Environmental responsibility of companies

Companies have both a moral and a legal responsibility for the environment. Legal responsibility refers to obligations based on local, national or international legislation. This responsibility is based on the concepts of acceptable operating methods that prevail within society or a specific industry. Although activities that are contrary to moral responsibility are not legally sanctioned against, they may have social implications.

On the general level environmental responsibility means responsibility for the ecological environment. Accordingly, the key issues include the efficient and non-wasteful use of natural resources, the protection of waterways, the air and the soil, the safeguarding of biodiversity, the combating of climate change and the responsibility for all environmental impacts and the value chains of operations for the entire lifespan of a product.

In practice the environmental responsibility of companies involves identifying the environmental issues of their own operations and understanding their impacts. The environmental responsibility of companies is based in part on the law and partly on the views of customers. Companies must be aware of all the permits that their operations require, as well as what officials have to be notified about what activities. According to the Finnish Environmental Protection Act, companies are obligated to be aware of any environmental requirements that may effect them.

2 SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

Companies assess the success and efficiency of their operations by means of various indicators. For example, net sales and profit are used to measure financial success. The indicators used for measuring environmental impacts are less familiar to business activities.

Of all the environmental indicators used to measure sustainable development, greenhouse gas emissions are considered to be the most important focus for environmental policy according to Finland's national sustainable development strategy. The European Union too is committed to reducing greenhouse gases unilaterally by 20 percent from the 1990 level by the year 2020. Carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas in terms of accelerating climate change. Other greenhouse gases that are added to the atmosphere as a result of human activities include methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and F-gases.

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, other indicators are also used to measure sustainable development. These include total energy consumption and the amount of acidifying emissions. The connection between a company's financial result and the environmental load that it causes can be depicted using a so-called decoupling model. The idea of this model is to compare, for example, the correlation between economic growth and environmental impacts. In other words, do the environmental impacts of business activities increase when a company's turnover increases, or is it possible to reduce environmental impacts when turnover increases by making the business activities more efficient?

2.1. Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by providing a product, activity or service. The size of a carbon footprint is recorded as the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide in kilos. Carbon dioxide equivalents are denoted as a mass by converting the impact of other greenhouse gases to correspond with the climate impact of carbon dioxide, i.e. the global warming potential over a hundred-year period. On the global scale the biggest sources of the carbon footprint are energy production, forestry and agriculture. In Finland the main sources of emissions are industry, heating and transportation.

In practice the size of a carbon footprint can be defined using a concrete measurement of emissions, by calculations based on quantities, or by assessments based on references. The most precise estimate is achieved by measuring emissions at the source, whereas the various calculation and assessment methods involve several uncertainty factors. In general carbon footprint calculations are based on the quantity of resources required to produce a product or provide a service, as well as on emissions quotient data for these resources. When interpreting or comparing carbon footprint information, it is important to ensure that data taken from different sources is all based on the same basic assumptions. Data calculated according to different assumptions are not necessarily comparable.

2.2 Other sustainable development indicators

The ecological footprint is a measurement technique to help assess the environmental load on the planet created by humans. The amount of load is measured in hectares. The calculated figures describe how much land or water area is needed to support human lifestyles in terms of food, the consumption of energy and materials, and the amount of waste.

The size of the Finnish footprint is currently 5.2 hectares, which is the 16th biggest in the world. According to forecasts, in order to maintain our lifestyles, the resources of two planets will be required by the year 2030.

The ecological backpack describes in kilos the amount of material consumed by the production, use and waste management of a product at any given time and in any given place in the world. The ecological backpack is thus an invisible burden that any given product carries with it.

MIPS (Material Input Per Service unit) measures material consumption in terms of service or product units. It differs from the ecological backpack in that it takes into account the product's own weight. The MIPS figure assesses the amount of natural resources consumed for a specific benefit. This allows the production of the same service to be compared in different ways.

2.3 Monitoring the consumption of resources within companies

At its simplest the measurement of sustainable development can involve measuring and monitoring the consumption of resources by your company's own activities. When monitoring consumption it is important that the recorded figures are applied to functional units, i.e. to the products or services provided by a company (reference unit). Simply monitoring total consumption cannot explain changes or provide sufficient information to support decision-making. The main resources that should be monitored when providing services are:

Environmental aspects / Resource
Amount
Unit (example)
Heating energy
  kWh / m2
Electrical energy
  kWh / m2
Fuels
  litres / kilometre / person
Assorted waste amount
  kg / participant
Water consumption
  litres / participant
Chemicals
  g / participant
Procurements and materials
  kg, litres, units / participant 

 

3 ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Environmental issues are factors related to a company's operations, products or services that may affect the state of the environment. Environmental impacts are any changes in the state of the environment, positive or negative, due in part or in whole to a company's operations, products or services. A company's environmental aspects define the basis for a company's environmental work and ecological sustainability. In practice environmental aspects are those things that companies should strive to influence in their environmental work.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide the reader with basic information about different environmental issues that can be used when assessing the environmental impacts of your own operations. The following sections present the most common environmental issues connected with providing services.

3.1 Energy

The environmental impacts of energy consumption depend on the amount of energy consumed and how the energy is produced. The sustainability of different forms of energy can be assessed from environmental, economic and social perspectives. For this reason, a straightforward measurement of sustainability is almost impossible and its assessment very challenging. Whether a certain activity is sustainable or not depends a lot on the point of view and assumptions that have been made. In this manual sustainable development is measured by greenhouse gas emissions, which are formed primarily from the production and consumption of energy. The greenhouse gas emissions of energy production and consumption depend on the form of energy production.

Utilising renewable energy sources creates hardly any measurable greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy sources include hydroelectric and wind power, solar energy, biogas and wood-based fuels. Other environmental impacts created by the use of renewable energy sources include a reduction in natural biodiversity, as well as visual and noise pollution.

The production of nuclear power does not create greenhouse gas emissions but does involve a variety of environmental issues, such as the risks of radiation and nuclear accidents.

Fossil fuels refer to fuels that are not renewable forms of energy from the human perspective. Fossil fuels, such as coal, brown coal, natural gas and oil, each have their own carbon dioxide factor. The emissions factor describes the climate change effect of different energy forms. Other environmental impacts of producing energy from fossil fuels include emissions of particulates and heavy metals and scenic drawbacks.

3.2 Water

Approximately 3 percent of the planet's water resources is fresh water. For Finns, however, water is not a limited natural resource. Finns consume approximately 155 litres per person per day. Washing accounts for the greatest consumption of water - 60 litres per day.

Some of the water that is consumed is heated water. The energy consumed to heat the water is responsible for approximately one-fifth of total household energy consumption. The environmental impact of heating water depends on the form of energy used, which together with the amount of heated water consumed have an impact on the formation of the carbon footprint.

3.3 Waste and wastewater

According to the Finnish Waste Act, waste refers to any substance or object that the holder discards or intends, or is required, to discard.

The environmental impacts created by waste can be reduced by preventing the creation of waste. If this is not possible, an efficient waste management and sorting system should be implemented.

Sorting waste can be divided into three main categories:

1. Recyclable waste includes waste that can be reused either as is or as the raw material of a produciton process. The most common types of recyclable waste include biowaste, paper, cardboard, glass and metal.

2. Hazardous waste refers to waste that poses a danger or risk to one's health or the environment due to its chemical or other properties. Hazardous waste includes alkaline washing detergents, heavy metals and small fluorescent lights.

3. Mixed waste includes waste that cannot be technically or financially utilised and that is either incinerated or dumped.

The environmental impacts of waste management depend on the amount, quality, transportation requirements and handling techniques of the waste. For example, transporting waste causes exhaust emissions, noise pollution and dust.

Organic waste that is dumped generates is a significant source of greenhouse gases (methane). Around half of all methane emissions in Finland are generated at landfills.

In addition to solid waste, human activity produces wastewater. Many hazardous substances are released into the environment with untreated wastewater, causing the eutrophication of water systems and contamination of the environment. Many noxious chemicals are also released into the environment through wastewater. Modern sewage systems and wastewater treatment plants play an important role in reducing the environmental impacts of wastewater.

3.4 Chemicals

Mankind has developed and adopted countless numbers of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment. Over 30,000 chemicals are currently used in Finland. Some of these chemicals are released into the air, water and soil, where they cause detrimental effects, such as chemicalisation and eutrophication.

Chemicals are classified as hazardous to the environment if they have detrimental effects on water systems or destroy the ozone layer. In addition, chemicals can be classified as hazardous to other parts of the environment due to their toxicity, permanence or ability to multiply.

According to the Finnish Chemicals Act, businesses have a selection obligation, which entails that, whenever possible within reason, businesses must select the chemical or method that result in the least risk. Business also have a supervision obligation, according to which sufficient care must be taken when handling chemicals to prevent any health or environmental hazards.

Environmental labels offer a way of identifying chemicals that pose the least threat to the environment. In addition, product information sheets provide details on the correct handling and use of chemicals.

3.5 Procurements

A portion of a company's environmental impacts are created indirectly through various procurements. The environmental impacts of products are created, for example, as a result of procuring the raw material for the product and manufacturing, using, disposing and recycling the product. These are all parts of a product's lifespan environmental impacts. These impacts do not necessarily appear in the procuring company's own environmental impacts but are indirect environmental impacts.

According to research carried out for the EU in 2009 concerning the effects of green procurements on greenhouse gas emissions, if environmental issues are considered during the procurement process, procuring organisations can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent.

Environmentally friendliness during the procurement process can involve a product, service or operating methods. The easiest way to identify environmentally friendly products, services and companies is through various environmental labels, systems and certificates.

3.6 Transportation and travel

The environmental impacts of transportation and travel depend on distances, the form of transportation, the utilisation rate of the vehicle and the amount of fuel consumed. Transportation and travel account for approximately 16 percent of the energy consumed in Finland and one-fifth of carbon dioxide emissions.

The most widely used fuels for transportation are gasoline and diesel fuel, which contain 85 percent carbon and 15 percent hydrogen. In a clean combustion reaction the only byproducts would be carbon dioxide and water. However, combustion is seldom perfect. As a result, other substances, such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and particulates, are released into the environment. Emissions from transportation pose health hazards, cause acidification and noise, and increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.