“Figuring out new things is more fun than being right” – Tuuli Hakala’s job is to reduce milk’s carbon footprint

Tuuli Hakala has spent her whole life advocating for the wellbeing of animals, nature and people, and would prefer to figure out new things than to be always right.

Your job is to reduce Valio milk’s carbon footprint. What does that actually entail?

To do this job right, you have to know milk’s climate effects extremely well: where they come from exactly, what the results of recent research is, and what the public discourse around the subject is like. Most of milk’s carbon footprint is created in primary production, i.e. at the dairy farms. Feed production and cows, being ruminants, make up the largest share of milk’s climate emissions.

I’m always reading something on the subject, and most recently on my list have been ways to control the emissions from peat fields. I meet with a lot of people, both in-house and externally. Different events are important for growing my knowledge and developing my networks. Being in contact with the milk producers and visiting their farms is also an important part of my work.

My first degree was that of an agronomist, and I value the work Finnish farmers do very highly. I see maintaining agricultural livelihoods and local food security as being very important – to make sure that we continue to have food produced in our own country. I’m a developer by nature and in my current work, I’m overjoyed to have the opportunity to increase my knowledge of animal, soil and climate sciences.

In your work, you focus especially on methods for binding atmospheric emissions. Tell us more!

We want to promote the carbon farming approach at farms: milk producers can reduce their farm’s greenhouse gas emissions by farming grass that binds carbon effectively. That grass is also their animals’ main source of food; our cows don’t get fed any soy. It is possible to enhance carbon binding to the soil by maintaining the soil in a sustainable manner, leaving longer stalks when cutting the grass, and choosing a large variety of plants to grow.

It's possible to control the volume of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere by reducing our use of fossil fuels. Valio’s answer to this challenge is its own technology to convert cow manure into traffic-use biogas. The process also generates clean water as well as nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser for use in the field.

Of course, we are working throughout the production chain to reach the goal: carbon-neutral milk in 2035. The important questions are related to logistics, plant energy efficiency, waste and packaging, among other things.

How and why did you end up at Valio?

I ended up at Valio through my master’s thesis, studying the climate effects of Finnish milk and beef production. Valio’s Carbon Neutral Milk Chain team had only just been founded, so I was in the right place at the right time. My dream was to have a job where I could combine my farm know-how with animal welfare and environmental advocacy. And now I have that job!

You want to increase consumer and decision-maker understanding of food production. What is your plan for success?

I think the most important thing is to consider all the perspectives and understand the big picture for yourself – to generally be receptive to what others think. That is the only path to constructive and real change. I also want to believe in my own expertise and know that information develops and refines all the time – we are all here to learn. I don’t want to place any blame or judge; I want to understand others and maybe get others to understand me. I hope that open discussion will pass my enthusiasm on to others, as being right is nowhere near as fun as figuring out new things.

You studied animal sciences at University of Helsinki. What lead you to study animals?

I knew from when I was little that I’d work with animals. First, I wanted to be a vet, then a riding instructor. I wanted to go to a farm and understand how and why farm animals are kept the way they are. I didn’t want to be labelled as an animal or environmental activist, I wanted to understand all the perspectives and open up the discussion based on common goals. Changing things is often a heavy process for producers, both from an economic and a practical perspective, and I want to carry out the development work by their side.

What are the sustainability choices you make in your day-to-day life?

For over 20 years, I have focused on vegetables in my diet along with fish, milk and eggs. Most of all, I like the good feeling my diet gives me, but I do consider how sustainable it is from different angles.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve worried about production animal welfare and that’s why I’ve tried to eat high-quality meat, and only in moderation. It’s important to me that animal, environmental and human welfare has been considered in the making of a product and that farm animal production is sustainable. Milk products supplement my vegetable-focused diet fairly well.

My motivation towards the work is also more personal: I love cheese and I want to be able to eat delicious, sustainably produced Finnish cheese with a clear conscience in the future!

Who is Tuuli Hakala?

  • AGE: 35 years old
  • Development manager for Valio’s Carbon Neutral Milk Chain team
  • Her master’s thesis, published in autumn 2019, is a study on the climate effects of Finnish milk and beef production from a lifecycle approach perspective.
  • Something in particular that she likes about her work at the moment is getting to take the sleeper train to northern Finland to meet Valio milk producers to develop solutions for reducing peat field emissions.
  • Uses Valio's red whole organic milk in her morning coffee.

Climate change is the global challenge of our era, with an effect on people as well. Through our own actions, however, we can help to make things better. We are aware of the environmental impacts of our operations, and we want to be part of the solution. Our goal is not just to reduce milk’s carbon footprint, it’s to cut it completely by 2035.