Europe’s research bodies should lead on climate, says VTT
“Yes, I think that is a good idea. Although our national contexts are differing slightly we have way more things in common,” said Vasara in email communication with eeNews Europe. “We need to be focused on both the footprint and the handprint,” he added.
The use of the term ‘carbon footprint’ to refer to the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere – principally carbon dioxide – that an individual or organization is responsible for, is well known. Less well known is the term ‘carbon handprint’ used to describe the greenhouse gas emission reduction in a customer’s activities when replacing a baseline activity with a supplier’s alternative. As such it can be a useful part of supply chain analysis (see Carbon handprint guide).
Rising amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – due to increasing human activity – are widely seen as the biggest contributor to global warming. While there is a high degree of consensus within the academic community that major industrial and lifestyle changes must be made to avert a global catastrophe within a few decades, there is less consensus and urgency at the political and the industrial-sector level.
Speaking on the sidelines of the MEMS and Sensors Summit in Grenoble, Vasara said many companies – his own organization included – examine their own carbon footprint. “It is an important thing to do and the most important part is to look at how you source electricity.” There are increasing amounts of electricity being generated from carbon neutral or even zero-carbon methods, Vasara said.
However, such calculations remain difficult. Even though a wind turbine generates electricity from a renewable source, carbon dioxide will have been generated in the making of cement, in mining aggregate for concrete, in making components, in materials transportation and the erection of the turbine.
News: Make a carbon handprint
“But just as important as the carbon footprint is the carbon handprint,” said Vasara. “This encompasses the things we do to help our customers reduce their carbon footprint.”
However, it remains the case that if a handprint solution lowers the carbon emission due to a given product or service by 50 percent but the customer then triples the level of activity, there can still be carbon negative outcome. So whether exuberent consumption is sustainable, comes into focus.
Vasara said that all industries need to move towards carbon neutrality and indeed some need to be carbon positive – in other words consume or sequester CO2 from the atmosphere – to compensate for commercial activities such as air and road travel. But Vasara also said that a vision is being handed down by some politicians and governments. “Finland has a plan to be carbon neutral by 2035. About 80 percent of Finland’s electricity is already carbon neutral or carbon free,” he said.
In addition VTT has worked with chemical companies to help them reduce their carbon-emission footprint because they see it as good business. “Being an early mover can bring a competitive advantage,” Vasara said. “And then there are companies like Google that have said they are buying electricity only from renewable sources. Awareness in the industry is rising but no industry can say they have done enough.”
Vasara said despair at climate change forecasts is not the right response, as that would just lead to inactivity. And there are plenty of things that can be done. “The creation of cement and concrete is said to be responsible for about 8 percent of the world’s carbon footprint. There is research work addressing how to make that a carbon positive process,” he said.
Vasara said that the electronics and semiconductor industries must treat climate change mitigation as a business opportunity as well as a social responsibility.
In March 2019 Vasara was elected president of the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO) for a period of three years. Founded in 1999, the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations EARTO is a non-profit association representing European research and technology organisations (RTOs) and their interests.
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