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“This is the greatest threat to humanity”— Telia's Vice President of corporate reponsibility is after zero emissions

5 min
Eija Pitkänen went to visit one of the largest wind power parks in the middle of the North Sea during the shooting of the short film “The Birth”

In the middle of the North Sea, Eija Pitkänen looks around with a serious face. Hundreds of giant wind turbines are spinning over the water, manufactured by the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, the Danish Vestas. Pitkänen served seven years in the company’s board.

As Telia’s Finland-based Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, Pitkänen has travelled a long road to this moment that she describes as the greatest threat to humanity. Educated as a microbiologist, she started with corporate responsibility at Cultor, from which the career path took her via the Danish Danisco and Finnish Stora Enso to Telia seven years ago. Her titles have ranged from Environmental Director to Vice President, Corporate Responsibility.

“Over the decades, I have argued with Greenpeace about the forests of Lapland, had battles of will on the rights of people without land rights in the rainforests of Brazil and started mine clearing in the jungles of Laos,” Pitkänen reminisces.

The experiences have shaken her beliefs and values, and now Pitkänen is convinced that the greatest struggle—the battle for the environment—is only about to begin.

“Everyone must do their part in this undertaking. What other options do we have?” Pitkänen wonders.

BUSINESSES ON THE DRIVER’S SEAT

Pitkänen herself represents a party whose choices will determine the outcome of the battle. Estimates vary but the companies’ proportion of the actions needed to stop climate warming is 70–80%. In particular, energy companies and large enterprises that require endless amount of energy for their business have great responsibility.

“It is our job to clean up our mess but we must also help other companies and consumers make responsible choices in their everyday lives. On the global scale, the most important thing is to reduce the use of coal power and put an end to it as soon as possible,” Eija Pitkänen says.

Telia, which at that time went by the name Sonera, decided already ten years ago to start using only renewable electricity. To date its greatest environmental decision, the company announced last March it would decrease its emissions and waste to zero by 2030.

“This is an ambitious commitment and very challenging to implement,” Pitkänen emphasises.

The goal immediately gave rise to a large study that calculates the actual carbon footprint of the company in Finland. The results are about to become available in the coming weeks.

“We need precise information on what our carbon footprint comprises and how we can most effectively influence it. Our goal is to reach zero emissions throughout our value chain. The majority of the emissions are produced by the services and goods we source,” Pitkänen explains.

Pitkänen has taken interest in following the debate in the media and social media on the emissions caused by data storage and transfer. For example, Yle and HS have tried to determine the emissions that watching a one-hour video clip causes. According to the corporate responsibility director, it is equally important to understand the footprint that the transmission and video content have.

“Our study will give answers to all these questions. I hope that our management will understand that it will not be just pleasant information but may mean truly major changes in the business,” Pitkänen sighs.

THE PATH TO ZERO EMISSIONS HAS STARTED

“As part of our own zero emissions goal, we sent a letter last spring to our 3,000 subcontractors where we required them to make their own plans to reach zero emissions by the end of next year. Completed last year in Pitäjänmäki, Finland’s largest open data center, for its part, has been running on renewable energy since its beginning. Also our energy efficiency has improved considerably,” Pitkänen elaborates on the actions already taken.

“On the consumer side, we have successfully tested the sale of recycled phones and even on the corporate side, the share of recycled device sales is increasing. In addition, 90% of our waste is already recycled or reused,” the corporate responsibility director adds.

Companies in the ICT business also help other companies reduce their emissions. According to Pitkänen, the positive impact on other businesses is manifold compared to the companies’ own total emissions.

“For example, we have already developed an IoT-based solution that reduces the emissions of public transport and heavy traffic by more than 10 percent,” Pitkänen explains.

“Digitalisation will inevitably increase the consumption of electricity but, at the same time, it can be used to create services of immense importance in the work against climate change. As a company, we have great responsibility here, as well.”

Responsible business is not always easy for a major enterprise. See how difficult it has been for Telia

 

Text: Janne Kaijärvi

Photo: Otto Uotila

 

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