In the Nessling Foundation’s autumn 2021 general call for grant applications, a total of 24 grants were awarded. Anni Orola’s research seeks to identify and improve the social sustainability impacts related to the production of various vehicle battery materials.
Anni Orola. Pictures: Eeva Murtolahti
Who are you, what are you studying and what made you choose this particular topic?
“My name is Anni Orola, I am 26 years old and have a master’s degree in engineering. I graduated from LUT University in August, and I currently work there as a research assistant. In my free time, my hobbies are bouldering and role-playing games.
I became interested in life cycle assessment as a method already during my studies at the university of applied sciences. I continued my master’s studies at LUT University and one of the courses I took made me realise something important: all sustainability projects are systemically interlinked. I started thinking about how I could combine this idea with the life cycle assessment method, and that is how I discovered social life cycle assessment (SLCA). Electric vehicle batteries entered the picture only when I needed to find a doctoral thesis topic to which I could apply the method. A year ago the social sustainability of the materials used in vehicle batteries did not receive as much attention by the media as they do today.
It is important to study electric vehicles and other solutions that mitigate climate change also from a social perspective to prevent, for example, decisions made in Finland from causing social problems elsewhere in the world. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the majority of the cobalt used worldwide comes from, is located in a region that will be severely impacted by climate change. It is not fair if the same people also have to suffer the social problems caused by climate change mitigation efforts.”
How will your research change the world?
“In the future, I would like decision-makers to take into account as many sustainability perspectives as possible. Focusing only on carbon footprint in decision-making can take us from bad to worse in solving the environmental crisis. I want to promote the electrification of transportation, and I believe that it can be done without compromising human rights.
My research seeks to identify and improve the social sustainability impacts related to the production of various vehicle battery materials. These impacts have not really been studied with quantitative methods before. Quantitative research is important because it enables making comparisons. It makes it possible to determine an order of priority for the social sustainability impacts, such as health effects and the use of child labour, based on their effect on the studied communities.
For example, companies could use the results of my research to compare different battery materials and their production methods, taking into account not only the social sustainability impacts covered by my study but also the environmental impacts. These two areas of sustainability are interlinked because environmentally harmful emissions also affect human health.”
Why is it so difficult to assess social sustainability impacts?
“Assessing social sustainability impacts has many challenges. It would be important to assess both positive and negative impacts but, at the moment, assessing the positive impacts is difficult because there are no indicators available.
The challenge in combining natural sciences with social sciences is that these two disciplines approach their topics using different methods. Often, research models that are based on natural sciences cannot be applied to the results of social sciences research as such. Challenges can arise, for example, if the research topic has only been studied in quantitative terms because, in order to make a social life cycle assessment, the data should be quantitative. However, social life cycle assessments are often equipped with quantitative data because it enables describing the topic in more detail. In an ideal situation, qualitative and quantitative data work together, complementing each other.”
Picture: Eeva Murtolahti