The forest sector (FOS) is yet again in the spotlight, this time as a main provider of knowhow, social capital and raw materials to the bioeconomy. However, “bioeconomy” is a concept mainly passed between policy and research actors. In fact, representatives of the FOS have had little involvement in drafting any of the national or EU bioeconomy strategies (of course, with the exception of few, forest-rich Nordic countries). Some scholars have already voiced concerns around the EU bioeconomy strategy’s lack of understanding of the complexity and heterogeneity of the FOS. Yet, any meaningful transition towards bioeconomy will have to involve a myriad of different stakeholders. The voice of the wise old German FOS had to be heard.
Few scientific studies have analyzed the bioeconomy development from a sociopolitical perspective. At this time, no studies have analyzed the German FOS’s perceptions and acceptance of the bioeconomy concept. Our colleague from Sweden, Daniel Hodge had tackled the issue from a Swedish perspective. Yet the FOSs of the two countries (Germany and Sweden) are quite different. Do forest actors in different countries speak with one voice when it comes to bioeconomy?
These are some of the aspects tackled by our colleague Michael Stein in his recently published Master thesis. Michael tried to fill this research gap by assessing whether and how forest stakeholders (forestry, wood industry, research, NGO) in Germany perceive and accept bioeconomy. Basically, he asked forest stakeholders in Germany
“What do you understand under this concept and what does it mean for you?”
His study builds on insights from the acceptance theory and its three-pillar dimensions: perception, evaluation and action. He conducted 17 qualitative semi-structured expert interviews with representatives of important institutions of the German FOS, ranging from different industry associations, to research institutions and NGOs.
Michael found that actors perceive bioeconomy as highly relevant for the FOS. Most importantly, almost all interviewees could provide a definition for the bioeconomy: “the transition from a fossil-based economy to an economy based on renewable resources”. In fact, most respondents saw FOS as an integral part of the bioeconomy development.
Several opportunities for the sector’s development were highlighted by respondents. First, was the opportunity to extend product portfolio and open up for new markets. Second, and perhaps the most interesting finding, was that actors emphasized a strategic chance offered by the bioeconomy concept. Like in Sweden, German representatives of the FOS saw bioeconomy a new way to communicate the importance of their activities to both policy makers and society. However, some actors expressed the concern that the bioeconomy concept is not well known by the broader public and called for more public information campaigns about the opportunities offered by bioeconomy. In this sense, bioeconomy was perceived as a possibility to “rebrand” the activities of the FOS.
Many of the interviewed actors also adopted a “let’s wait and see” attitude. With other words, some interviewees were rather cautious of expressing a definitive stance at this early stage, and waited for the concept “to be filled with more substance”. Once bioeconomy strategies will materialize into policies, it will be interesting to see if this consensus will remain, and if classical conflicts (for example between production and conservation) will reemerge. For now at least, the concept is broad enough to unite, rather than divide the German FOS.
Michael Stein holds a M.Sc. in Environmental Science from the University of Freiburg, with the elective track Biomaterials and Bioenergy. He is interested in bioeconomy-related developments and is currently seeking to broaden his experience in this area. We are currently working on publishing his results in a scientific journal. Once published it will be linked on this page. For more information about his study, contact Michael under: firstname.lastname@example.org