Illustration from an amusement park. (IINEStudio)

Tourism industry gains its own carbon footprint calculator

Currently, every other tourist is looking to reduce their carbon footprint, and three out of four tourists have become increasingly interested in sustainability. Two out of three tourists expect the tourism industry to provide more sustainable services. Calculating the carbon footprint of the tourism industry will become easier in the future as a recent project is developing a carbon footprint calculator specifically for the industry.

Project Manager Jonna Pitkänen from the City of Helsinki presents the background of the project, the goal of which has been to help the tourism industry towards more low-carbon operations. The carbon question is an integral part of sustainable tourism.

The EU-funded project was named 6Aika: Carbon Neutral Tourism (CNT), and in the course of the project, the City of Helsinki, City of Turku, Visit Tampere and Forum Virium Helsinki have joined various operators in the tourism industry to develop means to promote carbon neutrality and energy efficiency in the industry.

Calculator developed specifically for the tourism industry

In order to achieve carbon neutrality and improve energy efficiency, it is important to understand where the emissions and energy losses come from.

“Smaller tourism industry operators in particular do not have the capacity to collect data themselves. But at the same time, we also wanted the cities involved in the project to gain a better understanding of the state of sustainable tourism in their area,” Pitkänen says.

The cities have their own carbon neutrality targets, and in order to achieve them, everyone needs to get involved, including both the business sector and city residents. As a concrete measure, the project set out to create a tool for calculating the carbon footprint.

You can find thousands of carbon footprint calculators by googling, but according to Pitkänen, it is difficult to tell how a randomly selected calculator should be used, what the results actually communicate or how the information yielded from the calculator could be used to develop business operations.

Furthermore, the project set out to create a calculator specifically for the tourism industry. The goal was for it to be high-quality, reliable and produce comparable data. Extensive co-creation was one of the ingenuities of the project as a single operator would never have come this far on its own. CNT joined forces with the Regional Council of Lapland’s Välkky project, and together these two projects set out to achieve impressive concrete results.

Välkky has also developed indicators for measuring the carbon footprint. A precursor of the calculator had practically already been created, but it required an operating model and user interface as well as a ‘home base’, or a platform where various operators in the industry could use the calculator and where it could be further developed. And this was achieved as the project output now continues its life in the tender care of the national tourism industry expert Visit Finland.

“The industry welcomes the new tool”

One of the active co-creators of the calculator was Särkänniemi Theme Park located in Tampere. Tuula Salminen, IT Manager at Särkänniemi, says that the tourism industry has a need for the calculator.

“The calculator is easy to use, and I hope that it will be ready to be fully utilised next year. We have been working on developing a new way to calculate our carbon footprint at the same time,” says Salminen.

Särkänniemi has been making carbon footprint calculations since 2011, as Salminen says, sometimes more successfully than at others, using various methods. Their goal is now to improve carbon footprint calculations to also include the carbon footprint of visitors’ arrival to the park. This aspect is currently investigated through customer surveys and a mobile application, among other things.


Caption: The Dashboard plan image shows how concretely a company will be shown the composition of its carbon footprint.

Salminen mentions the visuals of the calculator as one of its nicest features, as the results produced by the calculator can be viewed as easy-to-understand graphs.

“For many, a carbon dioxide figure does not really say much, we are left thinking what on earth does that mean? But when comparing the figure with those of other daily things, it becomes much easier to understand.”

Salminen praises co-creation for allowing tourism industry operators to influence the calculator. Among other things, Särkänniemi asked for comparability, a feature which was also included in the calculator.

“For example, comparing figures with those of other operators and monitoring the development of the company’s own carbon footprint are excellent features. They help companies develop their own operations.”

Information security matters were also carefully considered during the development process. Not everyone has the right to enter data into the calculator.

“The tourism industry warmly welcomes the calculator. Thanks to it, we will have a common set of indicators and reliable data at our disposal, and we will continue to develop the calculator together.”

Active workshops

At the beginning of the project, in June 2020, companies operating in the tourism industry were invited to join workshops. At that time, it became evident that the industry was not really familiar with carbon footprint calculation, which was considered to be quite difficult. More workshops were held in early 2021. The goal of the workshops was to find out what kind of information companies operating in the industry wanted to extract from their carbon footprint data.

During the co-creation process, it has become clear that companies need a lot of information: What exactly does a carbon footprint consist of, what does your carbon footprint mean in relation to your turnover – and what is the carbon footprint of other operators in the industry? Are other local operators also examining their carbon footprints?


Image: The Dashboard plan shows how the various operations of a company affect its total emissions.

When the calculator data is further refined in the future, a more specific picture will be obtained, for example, of how many trees need to be planted to compensate for the company’s carbon footprint. Or what the price of the company’s emissions would be at EU emissions trading prices. The idea is not to accumulate information for nothing, but to put the data in good use. It is needed not only to identify emission sources but also to justify carbon neutrality work, among other things.

Lower threshold to start calculating

Sustainable travel expert Liisa Mäkelä from Visit Finland confirms that many tourism operators find it difficult to start calculating their carbon footprint. Mäkelä says that she is able to relate as, up until now, the tools available for the calculation have been mostly just Excel sheets, which are not only cumbersome to use but also do little to encourage you to take up calculation.

“There are so many other things that need to be done and documented in the travel industry today. As a result, regrettably few operators have calculated their emissions.”

“The new calculator is sorely needed, and hopefully it will lower the operators’ threshold to start calculating their numbers.”

Mäkelä points out that the major players in the industry have investigated their carbon dioxide emissions with the help of consultants, for example. She feels that an easy-to-use and free calculator is particularly welcome to small and micro-enterprises. However, large companies are also welcome to utilise the calculator. It can be a useful tool among others for them as well.

However, Mäkelä also stresses that the carbon footprint is just one factor of sustainable tourism. In order for tourism to be considered sustainable, the industry needs to pay attention to environmental issues much more extensively, as well as questions related to safety and social factors, such as human rights and equality issues.

“However, the carbon footprint calculator is an important tool that can help in this process.”

Forum Virium Helsinki leads practical experiments

The project also included experiments led by the City of Helsinki innovation company Forum Virium. The experiments aimed to determine the carbon footprint of mobility in particular. They combined mobile phone data with the results of surveys conducted among tourists, which, among other things, focused on different means of transport used by tourists. The income brought in by tourists was also surveyed. This way, the CO2 emissions from travelling and CO2 emissions per euro brought in by tourists were calculated. The experiments were conducted because very little data on CO2 emissions of mobility existed.

The Carbon Key experiment used service design as an additional tool to determine the root causes of tourism industry emissions. The many operators involved in the experiments will continue to develop low-carbon services as part of their operations.

The experiments were conducted by TAK and Elisa, Salmi Platform and Telia, and Positive Impact. In addition to experiments, sustainable tourism has been promoted through an innovation competition.

Towards a carbon-neutral goal

Visit Finland aims to ensure that as many companies operating in the tourism industry as possible commit to calculating their carbon footprint. This would help give comparable data on the situation of the industry. Mäkelä hopes that tourist destinations will also calculate their own carbon footprints.


Caption: The City of Helsinki aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. The picture shows Allas Sea Pool in front of the city and Katajanokka. (Jussi Hellsten)

Jukka Punamäki, Senior Advisor on Tourism at the City of Helsinki and Matti Pollari, Visit Tampere Project Manager for sustainable tourism development, point out the cities’ goals when it comes to carbon neutrality. Both cities aim to be carbon neutral by 2030. Turku is working hard to stay ahead: it aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2029.

“The City of Helsinki is currently working on a new road map for tourism where sustainability plays a key role,” says Punamäki.

In the Tampere region, the aim is to utilise the lessons learned from the mobility data experiments during 2022. The idea is to consider at the same time the different ways the calculator can be used, for example, in monitoring the effectiveness of bicycle tourism.

In the future, Pollari would like to see the calculator help tourism industry operators pursue a smaller carbon footprint and develop their operations. In his opinion, this is the essential goal, and not the use of the calculator results as a marketing tool, for example.

“Carbon neutrality is a continuous learning and improvement process. We are hoping to develop for this purpose an open learning environment where the means of carbon calculation will be specified as more background information is added.

Much more remains to be developed. At the beginning of the project, the goal was to create a calculator that would include more analytics and, for example, the possibility to automatically import companies’ consumption information from various data sources. The development of such features is postponed to the future.

At this point, Mäkelä of Visit Finland is not yet able to say what kind of features will be added to the calculator in the future. Visit Finland has its own Sustainable Travel Finland programme for sustainable tourism. They also have a label by the same name that is awarded to companies promoting sustainable tourism.

“For us, the project has been an excellent basis for promoting major issues,” Mäkelä says.

The project’s final seminar will be organised on 28 January 2022. More information about the seminar: https://www.lyyti.fi/reg/kohtihiilineutraaliamatkailua (in Finnish)

More information from projects website (English summary is below Finnish summary).

For more information, please contact Project Manager Anna Peltosaari, email: anna.peltosaari(at)hel.fi, tel. +358405507308.

News photo: Särkänniemi Theme Park in Tampere is planning to specify its carbon footprint calculations. Young visitors particularly are interested in the park’s CO2 emissions. (IINEStudio)