The world’s first carbon footprint calculator for NGOs

The world’s first carbon footprint calculator tailored for NGO’s facilitates climate action – “Hiilifiksu järjestö” project (2018-2019)

Link to calculator download (In Finnish)
Link to “Hiilifiksu järjestö” project website (In Finnish)

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations can now calculate the climate effect of their activities using a new calculator tailored for NGOs. Developed by Sitra in co-operation with the University of Helsinki’s Department of Forest Sciences, it helps organizations verify and reduce their emissions..

According to current understanding, the calculator, developed by the Hiilifiksu järjestö (“Carbon smart NGO”) project, is the first of its kind specifically made for NGOs. Consumers can calculate their carbon footprint using, for example, Sitra’s Lifestyle Test, and investors and businesses can monitor the carbon footprint of Nasdaq Helsinki-listed firms, which was determined by Sitra.

The project for developing a calculator for NGOs has been led by long-term climate change expert, Professor Markku Kanninen, who took part in writing the Special Report on 1.5. Degrees published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018.

The Paris Agreement and the sustainable development goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda require immediate and concrete climate action by everyone. In Finland, there are over 100,000 registered associations that together form an extensive field of action, but the third sector’s potential to promote climate responsibility has yet to be sufficiently recognized.

“We’ve put together the best scientific data on climate emissions and turned it into an easy-to-use calculator. Hopefully, it will encourage all organizations to adopt low-emission strategies so that climate action becomes an integral part of their activities,” Professor Kanninen says..

According to Markus Terho, Project Director for Sitra’s Resource-wise citizen project, before the “Hiilifiksu järjestö” project, few NGOs in Finland had calculated their carbon footprint: “It has been a pleasure to see the NGOs recognize the importance of the calculator and to use it. The pioneering NGOs that have already calculated their effect on the climate can set an example of how to mitigate climate change and encourage decision-makers to adopt a more ambitious climate policy.”

The new calculator will provide NGOs with a clearer view of the sources and scale of their emissions. NGOs’ carbon footprints typically come from the energy consumption of their premises, travel, procurement, services and the organisation of events.

Carbon footprint accounting to be part of NGO reporting

NGOs play a central role as catalysts for societal change. At some point in their lives, 75% of Finns are members of an NGO. They play a key role in the search for ways to make Finnish society carbon neutral. “We felt that the calculator was useful, and we are also planning to calculate our carbon footprint in the future, after completing the annual financial statement. This way, we will gain an understanding of what decisions and changes in our operations affect our carbon footprint,” says STTK’s (Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees) Taina Vallander, Acting Director, Public Advocacy Work.

STTK was among the first NGOs to test the new calculator, and it has made a procedural commitment to monitor its carbon footprint on a yearly basis. The “Hiilifiksu järjestö” project encourages all NGOs to do the same. “Although it has been on our agenda to have an impact on sustainable development, we have not collected data on our own operations early enough,” Vallander says. “This was an excellent way to make our partners aware of the figures required from a carbon-smart organization in the future. Only comparable information can provide a genuine opportunity to assess one’s own actions and seek low-carbon options.”

Other NGOs that have calculated their carbon footprint are also calling for comparable information.

“Different parties’ assessments of the carbon footprint of flying vary greatly, and airlines need a standardized way to calculate emissions,” says Anu Juvonen, Executive Director of Political Parties of Finland for Democracy (Demo Finland), who also tested the calculator. “Voluntary organizations and individual consumers do not necessarily have time to search for information on the carbon footprint of different services and products, and consumers should not have to carry too much of this burden.”

“Funders could well require that NGOs report on their carbon footprint and take the verification of climate impact seriously. NGOs now have an opportunity to face up to their climate responsibility, and everyone should take part,” Juvonen says. And according to Sitra’s Markus Terho: “We need the sense of community created by NGOs and positive ways to take part in climate action at home, at work and in our leisure time. Inspiring examples will hopefully make a larger crowd participate in climate work together.”

Text by Sanna Autere, Sitra

The new carbon footprint calculator tailored for businesses can be downloaded from the website of the Hiilifiksu järjestö project (in Finnish).