Choices for personal well-being – and that of the entire planet

People are faced with having to make all sorts of choices in their lives. Due to climate change, however, many choices relating to family size, food, housing, transportation, hobbies and travel, for example, are no longer as obvious as they used to be.

Text Marianne Mustonen Photo Westend61 / Lehtikuva Illustration Raija Törrönen

Climate anxiety can be alleviated by life cycle thinking.

“The idea of life cycle thinking is to look at things in their context rather than as isolated phenomena. Complex climate feedback makes this approach a challenging one, yet it is inevitable if we are to find wise solutions,” Associate Professor Arto O. Salonen from the Department of Social Sciences says.
“Life cycle thinking allows us to take a comprehensive look at reality: to see it as it is. This calls for systems thinking, which is essential when we are dealing with issues of manufacturing and consuming on a finite planet.”

According to Salonen, people’s attitudes towards climate change are linked to their conception of reality.

“If human life is seen as something unique and intrinsically valuable, climate change is without a doubt an ethical issue. Having reduced opportunities for a dignified life – mostly as a consequence of human activity – is an example of stupidity,” he says.

“Individuals are the building blocks of society. Big rivers are born from small streams, and small streams from single drops of rain. Becoming part of the solution is a greater justification for one’s existence than remaining part of the problem and pointing a finger of blame at others.”  

Professor Arto O. Salonen is a member of the Expert Panel on Sustainable Development.

Salonen points out that governmental policies can lead the way to a good future.  

“Finns have got their values right. No one is advocating climate change, but practical measures to mitigate it are often difficult to implement. Wisely formulated policy measures create conditions where climate change mitigation is easy.”  

Would it make a difference if five million Finns decided to stop flying altogether?

“Setting an example has a considerable impact. Our actions are being monitored and followed, thanks to Finland being one of the world’s most successful societies according to dozens of different indicators. When talking about well-organised societies where citizens thrive, the world turns its gaze to Scandinavia.”  

According to Salonen, it is tempting to integrate selfishness into actions to save our planet, as that’s when the question is no longer about giving something up.  

“Favouring a plant-based diet has immediate beneficial effects on one’s own well-being as well as on that of the planet, and the same is true for walking and cycling more. The more we do something we feel is right, the more content we are with our lives. Looking in the mirror, we see someone who is happy about doing what needs to be done,” he says.


Burn wood right

When it comes to climate change mitigation, district heating is the best way to heat houses in urban areas, provided that the thermal energy is produced by using a renewable fuel, such as forestry residues or wood chips. In rural areas, however, different types of heat pumps are the best solution.

Correspondingly, renewable energy, such as wind, water or solar power, should be preferred when heating your sauna.

However, we all know that there is nothing like bathing in a wood-fired sauna. So, if and when you choose to use wood to heat your sauna, pay particular attention to wood combustion practices, keep your stove in good condition, use good-quality wood and avoid over-heating.

Jarkko Tissari
Docent, Senior Researcher
Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences

Less meat and more veggies goes a long way

Wondering how to reduce your carbon footprint at the table? By simply complying to dietary guidelines would make a difference for most of us. Consuming less meat and more vegetables are key actions in both climate change mitigation and health promotion.  

The Finnish dietary guidelines, for example, recommend limiting the use of red and processed meat products to a maximum of 500 grams a week, but at the moment, this is exceeded by 79 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women. On the other hand, the daily intake of fruit and vegetables should be at least 500 grams, which is achieved by only 14 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women.  

Minimising food waste is crucial, too. Food waste alone generates an estimated eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Roughly one third of the food produced in the world goes to waste. The whole food chain plays a role, but more than half of the waste is produced by households. To avoid throwing food away, buy only what you need, store food items correctly so they don’t go off, and find use for leftovers.

Arja Erkkilä
Docent, PhD  
Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition

Tourism grows, staycations gain in popularity

Sustainable tourism is a balancing act between the economic, ecological, social and cultural aspects of well-being. Globally, traditional mass tourism is dominant, but we can already see weak signs of groups of tourists who are actively taking tourism in a direction that is more environmentally sustainable. Staycations – spending your holidays in your home country – could be a trend that can reduce the environmental impact of tourism. Remote destinations can also be explored in virtual reality.

So, what can individual tourists do? The most environmentally friendly option is to cycle or walk to your neighbouring town. Instead of going on a long-haul flight, you can fly to a destination closer to you, or you can take a train. Choosing your home country as a holiday destination is also a good option.

Juho Pesonen
Research Manager
Business School

Buy less, use more

The life cycle of fashion trends is a short one. The clothing industry is putting out products at an ever-increasing speed, and a certain percentage of clothes is never sold to consumers in the first place. What is more, the number of times consumers wear their clothes has decreased. The environmental impact of the clothing industry depends, among other things, on the amount of water used in manufacturing, and on how much of the different substances used in the process leach into the soil.  

As individual consumers, there is plenty we can do to mitigate climate change. We can choose to buy clothes that are produced as responsibly as possible and that are sustainable. It is also important that our clothes can be maintained to last longer, and that we opt for timeless fashion. The way we care for our clothes also matters: how often we wash them, how we choose to repair and renew them, and how we eventually dispose of our textile waste.  

Sinikka Pöllänen
School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education

Electricity, natural gas or maybe diesel?

The climate discussion is heated when it comes to cars, and the future of diesel in particular raises questions. When choosing a car, a life cycle assessment can help.

Life cycle assessments look at the net carbon dioxide emissions, ranging from the mining of metals to the final recycling of the car. Against this background, an electric car might not be the best alternative.

The net emissions of petrol cars are also high, even when a petrol car is converted into a car operating on natural gas or biogas.

The best option would be to choose a car that has an efficient catalytic converter and that runs on natural gas or biogas, or a hybrid car running on electricity and natural gas.

Your style of driving is also a tool for reducing emissions: lower your speed and avoid unnecessary stops when driving in the city.

Niko Kinnunen
Postdoctoral Researcher
Department of Chemistry

Wood construction leads to long-term carbon storage

Sometimes it feels like people have lost the basic understanding of the global carbon cycle. Oil pumping and coal mining always add to the amount of carbon in the fast carbon cycle. However, using wood does not increase the amount of carbon in that cycle at all, as that carbon is already included in there.

It is essential to prevent the amount of carbon in the fast cycle from increasing in the long run. In other words, we need to reduce our use of fossil natural resources. It is also important right here and right now that we take various measures to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, including using forests as carbon sinks.

Wood can replace fossil raw materials in many places. The amount of carbon in the fast carbon cycle gets reduced whenever wood is used instead of coal mining or oil pumping, i.e. compared to using fossil natural resources.

In wood materials science, we study how wood materials and wood fibres can be used to replace fossil raw materials. Wood construction deserves special attention: wooden buildings serve as a long-term carbon storage.

Jyrki Kangas
School of Forestry

UEF Bulletin 2019