A guest blog by Jaana Korhonen
Alex’s previous blog posts about the bioeconomy in Finland captures the hopes and prospects that are loaded to the evolving Finnish bioeconomy. “The bioeconomy is the New Nokia“ comparison voices out how the bioeconomy can bring salvation for the prolonged economic struggle. The bioeconomy has the potential to enhance the societal inclusiveness and sustainability by “connecting people” (Nokia slogan) with employment opportunities deriving from our natural resources.
In Finland, the bioeconomy discussion mainly revolves around forests. Forests dominate our scenery and the share of forest sector is 50 % in the national economical output. Forests are not only important for the industries, but they are also an integral part of our cultural landscape and a place for recreation.
Our clean nature has a lot to offer and there are unexplored possibilities in terms of nature tourism and other ecosystem services.
These services are becoming increasingly important for employment as well. It makes sense to take care of our nature, and we also benefit from taking care of the environment outside of Finland.
The Finnish forest-based bioeconomy has an international dimension. Finnish companies’ employees and their domestic and international customers (incl. most of who read this) are embedded in global networks. The success of the Finnish bioeconomy is dependent on the dynamics and preferences at the international markets. Every day about 20 ships full of forest products leave Finland. Paper and paperboards are the most important exported products group with a value of 7 billion euros annually. However, it is unlikely that the basic material industries continue to be the cornerstone of our bioeconomy forever. Digitization changes the way we organize ourselves, produce our goods, create our services, and most importantly interact with the world. Also how consumer perceive sustainability changes over time.
There is ongoing political debate on the optimal combination of low value, high quantity (e.g. pulp and paper, energy) – and high value, low quantity (e.g. chemicals, engineered wood products) forest-based products and services. Supporting the substitution of oil-based products, with innovative forest-based products with high-value added and long life-cycles, will have a positive impact on economy, employment and climate in the long run. Unfortunately, some of these products, such as wooden multistory-housing, face cultural-related challenges that are causing slow market diffusion.
For all these reasons we need to understand the emerging bioeconomy and its different dimensions better. On one hand, we need to understand how the products and services are exchanged and valued in the global markets due to their direct implications on the environment and people. On the other hand, we also need to understand how people feel about and react to the ongoing changes to ensure the acceptability and credibility of bioeconomy.
Our group received a four year grant from the Academy of Finland to study the bioeconomy. The aim of the project is to increase our understanding of how societal changes, values, ethics and behavior affect the emergence of the bioeconomy. Our project is called ORBIT.
The ORBIT project orchestrates research on end-user driven systemic development and growth of sustainable and diversified bioeconomy under four WPs:
- Grand societal challenges and related policy drivers;
- Changing consumer behavior and consumer-driven business models;
- Bioeconomy industry transition and business networks;
- Orchestrating user-driven future of sustainable forest bioeconomy;
From the Finnish perspective, our core focus is placed on the forests, but with sectoral boundaries blurring via policy drivers, market substitution and new forms of competition andco-operation across industries, our results have wider relevance to future of (bio)economy.
Our interdisciplinary consortium brings together expertise from forest sciences, environmental economics, consumer science, sustainability management, strategy research and futures studies. The kick-off of this project is in March 2017, so stay tuned for more information.
You can follow our project on Researchgate
Jaana Korhonen is a postdoctoral researcher in Forest Bioeconomy, Business and Sustainability research group at the University of Helsinki. Contact Jaana for more information on the ORBIT project or fore interesting discussions on the Finnish bioeconomy.