Towards Science Based Targets – Venla Vilhonen’s thesis was an important step in Pohjolan Voima’s sustainability effort

Pohjolan Voima aims to increase the share of carbon-neutral electricity production to 99% by 2025. The carbon neutrality target set for heat production is 85% by 2025. The determined work towards a low-carbon society took a new step forward when a thesis commissioned by Pohjolan Voima explored the application of the Science Based Targets in the company.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) was created to promote climate action in the private sector. The targets are called science-based because they are in line with the most recent climate research and the Paris Agreement. The widely recognised standard allows companies to reliably demonstrate that they are reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

In accordance with its strategy, Pohjolan Voima is committed to the development and management of sustainability. We have made climate efforts for a long time, succeeding in the reduction of our carbon dioxide emissions by developing our core operations, i.e. electricity and heat production.

“The work has focused on investments in technologies, energy efficiency and fuel choices. The next natural next step in our long-term, goal-oriented development work is to find out how we can set Science Based Targets for Pohjolan Voima’s operations, and what practical measures are needed to achieve them,” says Katja Permanto, Pohjolan Voima’s Sustainability Manager.

Climate effort requires research-based knowledge

In her master’s thesis, Venla Vilhonen, who graduated as a Master of Science in Technology from Tampere University in the spring of 2023, studied how Pohjolan Voima could apply the SBTi. Vilhonen’s thesis, which completed her studies in the environmental engineering and energy technology degree programme, provides excellent information about how Pohjolan Voima’s climate efforts can be boosted.

“I decided to do a thesis on the subject when I saw an ad published by Pohjolan Voima. I was particularly interested in the Science Based Targets and carbon accounting. It’s an important issue, and there should be no doubt at this point as to why greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced. For companies, key aspects include identifying where their emissions originate and what the impact of different guidelines is,” Vilhonen says, continuing:

“The developing Community law requires companies to provide more information. It’s important for companies to clearly communicate externally their progress towards the targets.”

Full review of emissions required two methods

To correctly dimension the Science Based Targets, Pohjolan Voima needs to thoroughly know its greenhouse gas emissions. The SBTi requires companies to prepare an inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions according to the standards of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG).

Vilhonen set out to tackle the challenge by delving more deeply into the requirements of the SBTi and the GHG on carbon accounting and the setting of the targets. She looked at Pohjolan Voima’s different emission sources in the light of the standards. “Determining what the emission sources from different forms of production looked like in such a large company was extremely interesting,” Vilhonen says.

She calculated emissions reduction targets for Pohjolan Voima using two different methods. For this purpose, Vilhonen created a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory of the company’s direct emissions and emissions related to energy consumption. The work was not limited to carbon accounting: she also addressed the broader meaning of the Science Based Targets, further deepening Pohjolan Voima’s understanding of their impact.

During her research, Vilhonen discovered that carbon accounting and the preparation of a greenhouse gas inventory were iterative processes: “Determining specific figures is challenging, but this does not diminish the importance of trying to understand the emissions. Continuing the work, even with incomplete information, is important so that progress can be made.”

Proactive sustainability effort continues – research results point the way forward

The results of the thesis show that the majority of Pohjolan Voima’s emissions are caused by the combustion of fuels in combined heat and power plants. Although the results were largely in line with expectations, the fact that the guidelines are difficult to interpret was surprising.

“When preparing guidelines, balancing feasible measures with comparability can be difficult. The guidelines often contain sections that are open to interpretation or do not take the specific characteristics of companies into account,” Vilhonen explains. She continues: “Nevertheless, the purpose of the targets is to enable the generation of comparable results.”

During the project, Vilhonen learned a great deal about the technical aspects of energy production and the actual sustainability reporting work. “The thesis, which was made possible by Pohjolan Voima, broadened and deepened the knowledge I’d gained from my studies. It gave me good tools for the future,” she says.

Collaboration with her mentors, Pohjolan Voima’s Sustainability Manager Katja Permanto and Group Treasurer Kaisa Ahtiainen, was an important part of Vilhonen’s research process. Permanto says that the thesis is now leading the way in the promotion of the science-based climate effort.

“With the aid of Venla’s thesis, we were able to assess how a target according to the SBTi could be achieved. We also gained plenty of insight into the development of greenhouse gas emissions reporting. The thesis offered us excellent data to help make better sustainability decisions,” Permanto summarises.