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Progress You Can Measure

You probably haven’t heard of Vaisala. While the small-cap company has been around since 1935, it is headquartered in Finland and doesn’t receive a lot of international press. But Vaisala’s products are fundamental to addressing the climate crisis–and its corporate approach to climate responsibility is exemplary.

Vaisala is the world’s leading manufacturer of meteorological and environmental measurement equipment. Its weather monitoring customers include the meteorological institutes and transportation authorities of governments around the world, as well as the energy and maritime industries. But while the relevance of weather measurement in the fight against climate change should be evident, it might actually be the other side of Vaisala’s business–in industrial measurements–where the most creative work is taking place to help slow greenhouse gas emissions.

Vaisala’s industrial measurement products have a wide range of applications, including improved efficiency for wind turbines, indoor heating and cooling systems, transformers, semiconductors, and batteries–efficiency that in turn helps other industries lower their emissions. Vaisala also makes industrial measurement products specifically for fuel cells and biogas. And through a combination of its weather and industrial measurement technologies, Vaisala delivers forecasting and analysis for wind and solar projects worldwide, including over 1,800 renewable energy assessments delivered to date, and hourly forecasts covering 150 GW of global wind generation capacity (equivalent to more than 60,000 utility-scale wind turbines, enough energy to power over 100 million homes).

As a company, Vaisala is committed to reducing its scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions (those that derive from electricity generation) to 0 by the end of 2020, compared to its 2014 baseline. Through 2019, the company had achieved 90% of that goal, mainly by getting 93% of its electricity from renewable energy sources (Vaisala has signed an RE100 commitment to become 100% powered by renewable electricity in 2020). Vaisala has 85% of its workforce on ISO 14001 certified sites, and has aligned itself with 12 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Perhaps none of this should be surprising for a company with deep roots in science, that is sometimes referred to as Finland’s “first high tech company.” In 1934, Vilho Vaisala, the company’s founder, pioneered what was at the time the world’s lightest–and least expensive–radiosonde. (Radiosondes remotely transmit weather measurements from balloons or other hard-to-reach locations.) In 1936, his new company began producing its first commercial radiosonde, the RS11. In 1937, the RS11 won the gold medal at the Paris World’s Fair, and was delivered to Vaisala’s first customer–the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Today, Vaisala’s product list has expanded to feature technologies like first-of-their-kind, thin-film humidity sensors and silicon-based carbon dioxide sensors. Among the company’s current projects are the delivery of airport weather observation systems to 31 Argentinian airports; a system for monitoring snow and ice on Norwegian roadways; and new national weather monitoring networks for Vietnam and Ethiopia.
While you may not have heard of Vaisala, once we learned about the company’s alignment of mission and values we found it hard to forget. Vaisala’s Vietnam and Ethiopia projects are public-private partnerships the company takes on jointly with the Finnish government’s Public Sector Investment Facility for developing countries. When Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas in August 2019, Vaisala quickly donated meteorological equipment to replace its own systems that had been destroyed in the storm–systems which themselves had almost certainly saved lives via early-detection capabilities. For a company that has historically flown under the radar, Vaisala’s importance to meeting the global climate challenge is already measurable.