Happiness first. 2020-2021 edition. Part II.
Montel Intergalactic’s responsibility and sustainability report 2020 and plan for 2021.
This is the second part of our sustainability report 2020 and plan 2021. The first part of the report 2020 and plan 2021 was published earlier in our blog. It was about the social and cultural as well as economic aspects of sustainability. You can read it here. This second part focuses on environmental sustainability.
We have set a goal to be the most responsible and sustainable software company in Finland. To reach this goal we need data to know where we stand as well as measurable effective actions. As this is only our second ever annual sustainability report and plan there is still plenty to do in terms of actions, indicators and reporting. We appreciate any feedback from you.
Chapter 3: Montel <3 Earth
Climate campaign: cooperation with Ilmastometsä
In 2019 we kicked off our climate act campaign. We reached out to climate actors to share their ideas of software projects in social media, and started a pro bono collaboration project with Idean design studio and Ilmastometsä NGO. In 2020 we built a tool for participatory forest conservation. The launch of the tool was postponed due to corona but we can’t wait to see the tool published in spring 2021.
More about the campaign on our blog posts Software development to fight climate change and Designers, tech-heads and a bunch of strangers for forest conservation.
Even though we are stoked about this project we know that our real impact is not on individual projects or campaigns, but on our everyday actions. More about them follows.
Our climate footprint
The software business per se is not harmful to the environment and can even help to diminish global CO2-emissions or other environmental issues with new technology. That said we also need energy and other resources to do our business.
To get a clearer vision of our company’s impact on climate, we used WWF’s climate calculator for offices to estimate our greenhouse gas emissions for 2019 and now again for 2020. We also checked and complemented the calculations using another calculator by the University of Helsinki.
During 2020 there have been changes in our office situation which have made it quite hard to know in fact the climate footprint of our office/workspace use. Before the corona pandemic started most of us Montelieers worked part of the week in our 200 m² office in the heart of Helsinki. Those of us who are not located in the Helsinki region (5 out of 19 Montelieers in 2020) worked from home or in their local coworking spaces. Also, three of us tended to mostly work in clients’ offices.
At the end of March, the corona situation forced us to go fully remote for some time. At the end of June, we moved our office to UMA Teurastamo coworking space where we have two smaller office rooms and access rights to all common spaces and facilities. This new office space has been used by just a few of us every now and then, depending on the current corona situation.
In the calculations, we have only included our Helsinki office spaces: the old office for the first half of the year and the current one for the last part of the year as taking people’s home office corners into calculations would have been overly complicated.
Our current office at UMA in Trooli has a LEED certification, level Gold. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building certification program that aims to help building owners and operators be environmentally responsible and use resources efficiently.
Energy & water use
From January to June 2020 (for our old office) 100% of the electricity we bought was LEED-certified wind power produced in Northern Europe. During that first half of the year, we used 3900 kWh (vs. 5300 kWh in January-June 2019). The decrease in energy use was because of the decreased use of office facilities due to corona. In reality, this was to some extent compensated with increased energy use at our home offices (of which we don’t have data).
In July-December 2020, our energy consumption decreased even more due to the new smaller office space (and low level of use of it). We used only 680 kWh of electricity during the second half of the year. (This was calculated from the energy use of the whole UMA for the percentage of office space we inhabit so we have to call it a rough estimate.) UMA buys Perussähkö from Helen of which only 5% is from renewable sources.
For 2020 our use of electricity was almost half of the amount of 2019 (4500 kWh vs. 8400 kWh). It caused us 0.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
For the first half of the year (for the old office space) we used the numbers from the year 2019 for heating, cooling and water use as the only change that was made was the level of use of the office space, which was offset by the use of energy and water at home offices.
For the latter half of the year 2020, we got data from UMA/Trooli. Due to the great decrease in the size of the office as well as the level of use we managed to cut down quite a bit of our heating/cooling energy and water use.
For 2020 we caused 2.36 tCO2 emissions from the heating and cooling which was almost half of what we caused in 2019 (4.19 tCO2). The water consumption was cut even more: to 9 m3 (2020) from 28 m3 (2019).
[Generally, about 60 % of energy use at offices comes from heating. Lights, computers and other electronic gadgets each take a bit more than 10%. Warm water consumes the remaining about 5 % (says a study by Helen). The calculator that we use does not include the emissions caused by water consumption into the overall climate footprint.]
At the moment there is not much we can do about the energy use (we always turn off the lights when we leave and use power save modes for our screens and computers) but when looking for the new post-corona office we can make big difference by renting a space that is just the right size for us, lies in a building that has good energy efficiency, and by also making sure that our new electricity plan is with energy from 100% renewable sources.
For new electric devices bought we check for the electricity consumption level and take that into account in the purchase decisions.
A notable part of our energy consumption comes from server use. Our own services are running on Hetzners virtual cloud servers. Unfortunately, we could not find out the amount of energy our use of these virtual servers consumes. (Hetzner guys kindly told us it’s impossible.) So from our carbon footprint, the use of servers is excluded. But the good news is that the servers we use are located in Data Center Park Helsinki and use 100% wind and hydropower by Vantaan Energia. (Click to read more about Hetzner’s sustainability actions.).
In total, according to the calculator, our energy consumption in 2020 caused emissions of 2.56 tCO2 + the server use. In 2019 it was 6.6 tCO2 eq + the server use. The biggest cause of this improvement is moving to a much smaller office (due to the corona situation).
Waste and recycling
Recycling was part of the day-to-day at our old office and has remained to be so in the UMA office too. Biowaste, energy waste, paper, cardboard, glass, metal, cans and bottles as well as batteries and electronics are all recycled.
The amount of office waste has been reduced due to us spending less time in the office. Especially office food waste has been reduced as we don’t have our Monday brunch anymore, nor our own fridge full of snacks. This decrease in the amount of waste and the following decrease in emissions caused by waste – from 0.14 in 2019 to 0.04 tCO2 eq in 2020 – is of course quite artificial as again it’s about the consumption just changing from office to home offices.
We are a distributed company: Montelieers live and work in different cities, countries and continents. Mostly we see each other online. However, every now and then our remote developers living in Kouvola, Joensuu and Fiskars visit our mothership in Helsinki. Also, once a year we gather the whole company – including our abroad-based developers from Pakistan and Argentina – in Helsinki and travel together to Lapland.
2020 we had our skiing trip just before the first wave of corona hit Europe. Even though we made almost all the journeys by train the Lapland trip caused by far most of our traveling and commute emissions. Most of these emissions were caused by flights from Pakistan to Helsinki and back.
We have (even before corona) had the habit to communicate through a video connection with not just our colleagues but also current and future clients. Still every now and then we have face-2-face meetings and workshops with our clients. In 2020 we traveled to Oulu and Joensuu a couple of times to meet our clients.
In the beginning of 2020 we set a goal to cut down the emissions of both air and car travels by doing less international travels and by using train as much as possible for domestic long distance travels. We reached that goal and cut the traveling emissions into just one third of 2019 emissions. The biggest reason for this was reduced air travels.
In 2020, the emissions caused by traveling were:
Flights (15 400 km) 3.96 tCO2, car and bus travels (4 800 km) 0.77 tCO2 , train trips (22 900 km) 0.04 tCO2, and 0.01 for boat travel. In total 4.77 tCO2.
In 2021, the traveling emissions will most likely increase as we are hoping to have the Lapland trip in post-corona times and now we have more people and also two abroad based Montelieers instead of one. However, we will do the compensations and do all national travels by train (apart from the necessary couple of cars).
We say that we all work in Office Earth which means that remote work has always been part of our work culture even for those of us who live near our mothership. Remote work naturally decreases the emissions caused by travels from home to work and back. In 2019 the commute caused emissions worth 0.7 tCO2, in 2020 the number was about the same. Our commute kilometers by public transportation decreased about half but as the commute kilometers done by personal cars were around the same the overall commute climate impact did not decrease.
We support Montelieers to use public transportation (instead of private cars) by offering an annual commute benefit (allowance for public transportation) to all our employees. By far most of our commute kilometres are done by public transportation.
In 2021 we are going to start offering a bicycle commuting benefit. Also, when searching for our new office space we’ll make sure it is well connected by public transportation and within cycling distance to as many of us as possible.
We are a nearly paperless company and didn’t buy any new office furniture in 2020. We did buy cool t-shirts and tote bags to everyone but they were made of waste cuttings from organic clothing and recycled plastic bottles.
We also bought a few new pieces of electronics which caused us 0.63 tCO2 eq of emissions. As we need electronic appliances for our work the best way to reduce these emissions (and the problems caused by e-waste) is to buy high-quality appliances that last longer and can be repaired.
Though currently we are not doing much groceries shopping for the office, we do have guidelines for sustainable shopping, including instructions to choose organic, eco-labelled and fair trade products, and to avoid meat and dairy as well as non-recyclable wrappings and containers.
Events & services
The WWF’s climate calculator was missing events and services but we used another calculator to include them too. The carbon footprint of services and events totalled around 1.52 tCO2 eq. A bit more than half of that came from phone and internet use and the rest from office cleaning, hotel nights and the accommodation of our Lapland trip. Also food and beverages for the events organised by us were included in this category.
The result of the calculations is that our company produced emissions of around 9.7 tCO2 eq (vs. 25 tCO2 eq in 2019). To give some perspective the carbon footprint of an average Finnish person is approximately 10.3 tCO2 eq in a year.
The picture below visualises the amount of emissions from different sources. (The picture shown only those sources that produce more than 0.02 tCO2 of emissions.) As we can see from the picture, cutting the air travels and energy use will have the most impacts on our carbon footprint. Apart from that, there are smaller, yet meaningful things mentioned in the text that we can do.
It’s awesome that we managed to decrease our emissions a lot but the changes caused by the corona pandemic instead of our sustainability actions skew the result. The real challenge is when society starts opening up again. How can we hold on to the climate positive habits when we are free to move and gather in the office again? Figuring out that will be the main focus of our 2021 sustainability work.
From negative to positive impacts
In 2019 we compensated emissions of air travel by conserving old forest in Northern Finland through The Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation. (Read more about this in our blog post (Can We) Compensate.)
In the beginning of 2020 we made the decision to compensate for all our emissions for the whole 2020 and we will continue to do so for 2021 too.We don’t think compensations as an easy way to wash our hands from emissions or any other negative impacts but as a way to take care of the compulsory emissions that we can't get rid of, such as energy use.
We chose to compensate our emissions by Taimiteko which is a project by the 4H Finland youth club. The youngsters will be employed by 4H to plant trees to sequester carbon dioxide.
Our emissions for 2020 were 9.7 tCO2 eq which equals to about 40 trees planted. As we wanted to also compensate for the remote work and server use emissions that were not in the calculations we decided to buy 100 trees. 100 trees sequesters 23 500 tCO2 and employ one youngster for one hour of work. (Wow, they are quick at planting trees.) It feels good to be carbon negative!
This was a summary of the actions taken and the plans and principles we follow to be a more environmentally sustainable company and the most responsible software company in Finland. Again, any comments, we would love to hear them.