Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

During the last decades, governments in most industrialized western countries have started promoting the transition towards a greener more sustainable economy. The OECD has been mainly acting as a think tank for its member countries, promoting different macro-political concepts that were expected to revolutionize the economy. “High technology”, “national system of innovation”, “information economy”, and “knowledge-based economy” are all examples of such concepts [1]. The most recent addition to this list is bioeconomy, the newest political buzzword that is already defining entire science and technology policies in Western countries and beyond. In Sweden however, these developments seem to have taken a slightly different trajectory.

Bioeconomy was soon adopted by many governments worldwide, many showing their commitment to the concept by producing national strategies and by supporting the transition through different incentives and policies. As a result, a lot of money is currently being invested in different research & development programs and clusters that are meant to bring together the finest and brightest research and industry players. With all these investments, funding and business opportunities, both research and industry representatives soon found themselves enthusiastically supporting the newly “hatched” political concept. So in a way, this represents a rather classical, top-down development: governments lay a plan (or an “egg”) and society slowly adapts and embraces it (especially if it’s a golden egg).

Chicken

However, in Sweden, these developments seemed to have taken a slightly different trajectory. In fact, the Swedish government has been quite reserved in sharing a definitive standpoint on bioeconomy. Although Sweden has a national bioeconomy research strategy (produced by FORMAS)[2], the government has yet to produce a national bioeconomy policy strategy. On the other hand, different industries have been fast to embrace and support the concept. The Swedish forest industry in particular, is one of the biggest supporters of the bioeconomy concept. The forest industry sees itself as one of “the main drivers for a sustainable bioeconomy[3]. In fact, one of the goals of the newly drafted national forest program is to “contribute to a growing bioeconomy[4].It was only until recently that the minister of rural affairs started addressing the topic more openly[5]. So it seems that in Sweden the egg came before the chicken. With other words, it is the industry who pushes for this development, while the government follows. Does this mean that this is mainly an industry driven development? Will these actions influence the development of bioeconomy in Sweden? If so in which way? Who will be involved and who will be left out?  and…does this really matter?

It is such questions that the “Governing the bioeconomy transition: actors, values and trade-offs” project will try to tackle. Led by Sara Holmgren and Klara Fischer from the Department of Urban and Rural Development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the aim of the project is to investigate how different stakeholders in the Swedish forest sector perceive the bioeconomy transition, and how different bioeconomy pathways affect different stakeholders. The two researchers hope that gaining this knowledge will facilitate a more legitimate governing of the bioeconomy transition, where different values and interests are balanced in an inclusive and transparent decision-making processes. The project will take into consideration different stakeholders such as non-governmental organizations (e.g., association of Swedish Sami, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Swedish Forest Industries Federation), researchers, and State representatives. They do this in order to contrast different understandings and highlight how different ways of governing the bioeconomy transition affect different stakeholders.

Whoever will get to shape the concept first in its own interest will surely have much to gain. Thus the main question is if bioeconomy is just another way for industries to create new business ecosystems around themselves or if it is really going to bring about the much needed sustainability transition that is truly open and inclusive to all. It will certainly be interesting to follow how such developments unfold in Sweden, one of Europe’s most forest-rich countries and, in many ways, a poster child for sustainability.

 If you’re interested in finding out more about the “Governing the bioeconomy transition: actors, values and trade-offs” project, contact Sara Holmgren at SLU

[1] For an interesting discussion on role of the role the OECD has played in shaping new political buzzwords and policy discourses see Godin (2006)

[2] Sweden’s Bioeconomy Research Strategy 

[3] Swedish Forest Industry Federation report on Bioeconomy (in Swedish) 

[4] Updates on the Swedish National Forest Program Draft (in Swedish)

[5] Opinion article (in Swedish)

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