New information on how Finland´s traffic system consumes natural resources

Ministry of Transport and Communications
Publication date 3.4.2006 16.01
Press release
Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Transport and Communications

By driving your kid to and from a school at four kilometers' distance you will, in one year, contribute to a consumption of non-renewable natural resources amounting to as much as 13,300 kg. The same trips by bicycle only consume 320 kg, whereas bus trips use 470 kg of non-renewable natural resources annually. This means that one school day trip corresponds to 74 kg of these resources by car, 2.5 kg by bus and almost 2 kg by bicycle. Such are the results of a recent study entitled FIN-MIPS Liikenne, e.g.traffic.

This research project covered the consumption of non-renewable natural resources caused by the Finnish traffic system. The consumption was calculated using the so-called MIPS figures which illustrate Material Input Per Service Unit for the whole life-cycle of the service in question.

The MIPS figures for Finland's traffic by vehicle, bicycle, rail, air and sea are based on studies taking account of the consumption of non-renewable natural resources and water and air. On the other hand, other environmental impacts have not been included in the study, since all non-renewable natural resources are similarly weighted in the MIPS calculations, irregardless of their different environmental impacts. It can be noted that MIPS figures do not take account of, for instance, groundwater pollution, noise, vibrations, effects of emissions and discharges on human health and the environment, or traffic safety. Nor are the impacts on the landscape or on land use included in the MIPS calculations.

The study revealed that traffic is a great consumer of natural resources, since the study also includes the resources used for building and maintaining the required infrastructure. "In Finland, the traffic system consumes on the average 25 tonnes of non-renewable natural resources per person annually. This corresponds to one hundred shopping bags every week," says researcher Satu Lähteenoja at the Helsinki University. Over 90 percent of the consumption is caused by building and maintenance over the lifespan of the infrastructure, that is, streets and roads, railroads, airports and harbours.

"The high MIPS figures for residential and private roads are one example of the problems caused by the use of private cars and dispersed municipal structures," says researcher Suvi Talja at Helsinki University. "Extensive areas with one-family houses and dispersed settlements, where there are long stretches of residential streets or private roads in relation to the users, require considerable material inputs. A more cohesive municipal structure, both in dense settlements and dispersed ones, would render the use of the present road networks more effective. At the same time, this would curb the building of new, scantily used roads and save public resources," says Talja.

"The recently concluded research project FIN-MIPS Traffic has to some extent produced surprising results," states Mr. Arto Saari, who is a Leader at the Helsinki University of Technology and headed the project. "Calculated per person and kilometer, cycling consumes slightly more non-renewable natural resources annually than the corresponding trips by bus or metro. This is due to the fact that the study also took into account the use of these resources in the building and maintenance of traffic infrastructure such as cycle lanes," he clarifies.

However, this surprising result does not mean that cycling as such consumes more natural resources; instead, it shows that the Finnish network of cycle lanes is heavy in relation to the total number of kilometers cycled. The researchers point out that of all the non-renewable natural resources consumed by the traffic system, cycling only corresponds to 0.4 percent. And of course, cycling is rarely confined only to the cycling lanes built for the purposes.

A long-range journey by train hardly consumes less non-renewable natural resources than the same journey by car. Both these modes of travel consume more than an air trip, because air traffic only needs little infrastructure.

"One surprising result was the role of air traffic," says the project coordinator, eco-efficiency consultant Michael Lettenmeier from the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. Lettenmeier points out that "Air travel uses less non-renewable natural resources per travelled kilometer than does a trip by private car or train. One problem with air traffic is the rapidity - it will entice us to make ever longer travels more and more frequently. This, again, increases the consumption of natural resources, although the overall aim is to curb this consumption."

MIPS calculations are not intended to bypass other assessments of environmental impacts but instead, they should supplement these by introducing the viewpoint of the consumption of natural resources. This means that the method introduces a new element to the discussion on the environmental impacts of traffic and sustainable development. The MIPS method offers one illustrative tool for assessing the consumption of natural resources, for instance in the planning of traffic systems and in the assessment of the environmental impacts of traffic channels. The MIPS method also makes it possible to work out products and services which offer high-quality produce with less consumption of natural resources.

For more information please turn to:
Mr. Arto Saari, leader of the research project, the Helsinki University of Technology, phone +358 50 563 0803
Project coordinator Michael Lettenmeier, Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, phone +358 40 5412 876
Senior Adviser Merja Saarnilehto, Ministry of the Environment, phone +358 9 1603 9622
Researcher Outi Väkevä, Ministry of Transport and Communication, phone + 358 9 1602 8661

The study, in Finnish, is to be found under the title
"LiikenneMIPS - Suomen liikennejärjestelmän luonnonvarojen kulutus", Report No 820 in the series Suomen ympäristö
and more information, also in Finnish, in report No 14/2006 of the Ministry of Transport and Communication,
Previous publications in Finnish on the project by the Ministry of Transport and Communications are Reports No 54 - 58/2005