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Doctoral defence of Tommi Suominen, MSc, 14 Jan 2022: Modelling for sustainability impact assessment

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Forestry will be examined at the Faculty of Science and Forestry on the Joensuu Campus and streamed live.

What is the topic of your doctoral research?

Decision making for sustainable development calls for scientific support in anticipating the possible consequences of decision alternatives and identifying the trade-offs between these alternatives. At the EU level, there has been a consistent movement toward the utilization of Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIA). First, the EU Strategy for Sustainable Development voiced the need to look at how EU policies contribute to sustainable development. Next, the European Commission committed to perform impact assessments of all proposed major initiatives. SIA can be used to study how factors such as policy, management, or technology development affect the sustainability of a sector or value chain and helps to inform decision makers about consequences of decision alternatives.The Tool for Sustainability Impact Assessment (ToSIA) was developed to achieve a holistic assessment method for structuring sustainability questions as value chains of interlinked processes that enable evaluating the impacts of changes in these chains. To evaluate these changes, indicators of ecological, economic and social sustainability are utilised to describe different sustainability dimensions. Selecting the preferred alternative within these calculated differences in sustainability indicators may imply trade-offs and is enabled for example by the multi criteria analysis appended on top of ToSIA. The use of ToSIA is demonstrated through its application in numerous case studies conducted by various organizations and scholars.

What are the key findings or observations of your doctoral research?

This thesis presents the developed ToSIA from a methodological point of view, describing how the method is used. ToSIA is the first software implementation of a method that combines material flow based value chain analysis with indicators of different sustainability dimensions and harmonized system boundaries. ToSIA is a valid tool for evaluating consequences of the difficult decisions ahead that need to be made as we strive to enact a transition both to a 1.5 degree warming future, as well as a more sustainable humankind.From the perspective of software development, ToSIA uses the OpenMI (Open Modelling Interface) in an innovative fashion. OpenMI is developed for connecting models to each other. The thought of networked models for the work in question leads to calculating cyclic and cascading value chains. This is relevant for analysing sustainability questions for the circular economy. Introduction of cascades to existing value chains may result in trade-offs that are significant from a sustainability perspective, which is another area of focus in this thesis. Another examined question is how to allocate a share of the impacts from a large multithreaded value chain to a single selected product from therein.

How can the results of your doctoral research be utilised in practice?

Beyond the papers included in this thesis, a large body of work has been carried out in applying ToSIA and extending its methodological reach. As an example, ToSIA was used in strategy work of the North Karelia Regional Council in the development of the North Karelian Forest Programme and the Climate and Energy Programme. This entailed capturing a vision of a North Karelia free from fossil oil in energy production by 2020 in an ex-ante assessment carried out with ToSIA.An overview of several case studies utilising ToSIA ranging in scope from regional to EU-wide scale has been presented. Examples of alternative regional forest management case studies have been carried out by comparing forest management alternatives in Germany and Sweden and comparing forestry and reindeer husbandry taking place in the same forest area in Sweden. Logging operations at different geographic scales have been assessed using ToSIA, and the impacts of shifting log transport from road to rail has been evaluated in a regional case study in Germany.

A province-level bioenergy case study has been carried out in Finland, and the effects of increasing bioenergy production in Nordic countries, Canada and Italy have each been described separately. In Scotland, ToSIA has been used to contrast competing alternatives in land-use planning. Stakeholder engagement has been actively employed in designing value chain scenarios and the selection of relevant indicators for decision support.

What are the key research methods and materials used in your doctoral research?

This thesis is thematically allotted to Forest Sciences, but by content it is quite inter-disciplinary. It has been challenging to balance between the views of different disciplines, while keeping my own direction. The background of the author is in computer science, but he has been working in a forest research and sustainability science context for over 10 years. One of the pre-examiners stated that the “thesis could have meritoriously been positioned within the field of systems analysis for sustainability or similar (sustainability science)”, while another noted that “It is very positive that the defendant is capable of combining competences in the field of forest science, sustainability science, life cycle assessment and informatics.”

 The work described in the thesis has taken place in the context of the EC FP6 project EFORWOOD (2005–2010), EC Northern Periphery Programme Project “Northern ToSIA” (2008–2011) and EC FP7 project CASTLE (2012–2016). A four-month grant finalization of the thesis has been provided by the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) Faculty of Science and Forestry.

More information on the ToSIA method is also available from or by contacting We have also produced a light-hearted video to give an introduction to the method, which is watchable here:

The doctoral dissertation of Tommi Suominen, MSc, entitled Modelling for sustainability impact assessment, will be examined at the Faculty of Science and Forestry on the Joensuu Campus, Agora, AT100, on 14 January at 12 noon. The opponent will be Assistant Professor, Carlo Ingrao, Department of Economics, University of Foggia, Italy, and the custos will be Professor Timo Tokola, University of Eastern Finland. Language of the public defence is English.

Public examination online

Photo available for download 

Dissertation book online