Green-Bio-or Circular- Economy?

A guest blog by Dalia D’ Amato

Our last entry from the series “Following the traces of bioeconomy in Finland” deals with a very relevant and timely topic, namely the definition and interrelation of the concepts of Green- vs Bio- vs Circular- economy. At first glance, these concepts seem fundamentally similar, in the sense that they strive for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of using our resources. At times, their objectives seem to overlap. But how does a green economy differ from a bioeconomy? And are Green and Bioeconomies circular? Some would argue that a bioeconomy is inherently circular, and have already coined the term “Circular-Bioeconomy”. But what do they exactly mean? Are they just new political buzz words or selling points for already established industries? And if so, how have they been picked up and interpreted by the research community? Dalia D’Amato and her colleagues are exploring some of these issues in their research project. The starting point is an extensive literature review dealing with these three concepts. Let’s Dalia explain how they are tackling the issue and what they expect to find.

When observing any world phenomenon, natural scientists are condemned at wondering how things are related to each other – hierarchically and horizontally. In other words, to postulate a taxonomy of things and a system in which they interact. It is with this mindset that I look at the concepts of Circular, Green and Bioeconomy.

Circular, Green and Bioeconomy are boundary concepts coined in different historical contexts, but joint under the common ideal to meet economic development and environmental and social goals. As one or the other concept gains political favor, it comes to exercise enormous influence on several societal actors (industries, academia, citizens, NGO’s, policy makers), which try to shape and adapt their activities around them.

Given the multiple actors involved in the development of each of these concepts, their interpretation and understanding is bound to be plastic, evolving and internally diverse. This process risks to result in a rhetorical fuss.

While it is certainly interesting to question why these concepts come to be dominant in the political agenda and what powers shape them, my interest is oriented to uncover what do these concepts really include and/or exclude. Rather than abandon or dismiss them when they lose momentum, and far from considering them a panacea, we should understand how these concepts can be interpreted and employed in a more integrated way to enhance effectiveness towards common societal goals. Without denying the internal diversity and constant evolution of each concept, their core ideas can be briefly summarized as follows.


Core idea

Circular Closing the currently linear economy in a loop by maximising material/energy efficiency and recycle through technological development and industrial symbiosis.
GreEn Enhancing the functionality and resilience of socio-ecological systems by cherishing natural capital; Complementing technical fix with nature-based solutions.
Bio Substituting or complementing industrial inputs with renewable biological resources; Fostering innovation and inter-sectorial collaboration; Promoting biosecurity in agri-environmental systems.

This type of analysis can help to identify synergies and limits among the concepts and possibly working towards a harmonization of their divergences. In the context of the forest sector, for instance, the cascading use of wood applies the Circular economy idea of waste hierarchy to biomass resources, by a prioritization of higher value uses of wood (e.g. biomaterials before energy production). Similarly, the idea of natural capital and related nature-based solutions promoted under the Green economy concept could be integrated in the Circular economy.

These are the premises for the projectGreen, Bio, Circular economy: synergies, limits and implementation of sustainability narratives in the private sector” (CEGEBE). The project is developed as part of my post-doctoral research with Prof. Anne Toppinen at the University of Helsinki, jointly with collaborators from other domestic and international institutions.

CEGEBE project focuses on two complementary objectives: 1. A systematic comparison of current global sustainability concepts Circular economy, Green and Bioeconomy; 2. The analysis of the implementation level of such concepts in corporate sustainability, in the context of the forest sector and beyond. The two-year project (2017-18) is funded by the Metsäteollisuustuotteiden vientikaupan edistämissäätiö and the Jenny and Andalia_pictti Wihuri Foundation.

Originally from Italy, Dalia D’Amato has a background in ecology and did her doctoral degree in forest economics and marketing. She is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Forest Bioeconomy, Business and Sustainabiliry Research (FBBS) group at the University of Helsinki. Updates about Dalia’s research can be followed on Researchgate


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