Bioeconomy - renaissance of natural resources economy

The Bioeconomy Policy of the University of Eastern Finland paves way for a carbon neutral and resource efficient future. The bioeconomy touches upon all disciplines and finds new solutions to societal problems.

“The bioeconomy as a term is often associated with forests or the use of natural resources only,” says Coordinator, Senior Researcher Sari Pitkänen.

“However, the bioeconomy also includes the water economy and entire ecosystems. We are talking about economic and eco-social dimensions as well. The university’s Bioeconomy Policy, on the other hand, focuses on the bioeconomy pertaining to forests, wood and land use.”

“Our Bioeconomy Policy seeks to promote multidisciplinary cooperation between different fields of study and to identify common interests,” says Professor of Forest Bioeconomy Jyrki Kangas.

“All units of the University of Eastern Finland are affected by the bioeconomy in some way. Our idea is for the university to have a strong profile in the sector of the bioeconomy dealing with forests, wood and land use. We are home to bioeconomy-related expertise, experts and research data from a variety of fields.”

Bioeconomy as part of everyone’s studies

The university’s Bioeconomy Policy is not just about developing research; instead, the University of Eastern Finland also seeks to develop bioeconomy-related education. Already now, courses addressing the bioeconomy are available to students of wood materials sciences and tourism. Furthermore, the university's Bioeconomy Policy also proposes that a doctoral programme in the field of the bioeconomy be established.

“In one way or another, all students of the university are already studying the bioeconomy, whether they realise it or not,” Kangas says.

According to Pitkänen and Kangas, one alternative is to offer a course in the bioeconomy that would be common to all students. This could also provide interesting opportunities for student recruitment, and it might be a way to raise further awareness of the university globally.

“Illustrative materials and textbooks could be used on the course in a completely novel way, and it could also involve learning in nature. This could benefit studies in the field of nature conservation, for example,” Pitkänen says.

“Already now, we are running international Master's degree programmes in the field of the bioeconomy, and this is an area where we can further increase and diversify our offering.”

New openings at interfaces of scientific disciplines

According to Kangas, the university's research addressing the bioeconomy circles around the university's strategic strengths, but interesting new opening could also be found in emerging fields, such as business studies.

“The most interesting things can be found at the interfaces of scientific disciplines,” Pitkänen says.

“Examples of these kinds of interfaces are biology and photonics; wood materials science and health sciences; and forest sciences and education. It is also important to find interfaces between science and practice,” Kangas says.

But is the bioeconomy ultimately all about the economy?

Kangas and Pitkänen say that in addition to financial gain, there is an underlying idea of human capital. In the forest-based bioeconomy, for example, sceneries also have recreational value.

“In any case, we are facing a transition from fossil fuels to renewable natural resources. This way, we can at least postpone the moment when we have to leave this planet,” Kangas says.

“In practice, this refers to the circular economy, not wasting things and reusing everything possible.”

Multiple ways to inflict societal change

According to Kangas, the bioeconomy is currently a politically hot topic of debate at all levels. There is a burning need for research findings, and the university needs to be an active participant in societal discussion.

“A concrete example of this is the fact that the EU asks our experts for their opinions on its future bioeconomy-related funding programmes. We have a channel through which we can influence matters at the level of individuals.”

“Social criticism and the utilisation of commercial potential are not things that exclude one another,” Kangas says.

Here at UEF, we have a very good operating environment: the Finnish Environment Institute, the Natural Resources Institute Finland and the European Forest Institute are located on campus, and we have years of experience in collaborating with them.” Strong investments in the bioeconomy are also being made by regional development organisations and many local companies.

“We have also organised networking events for our students and researchers and representatives of forest sector companies. We are constantly seeking to expand our networks,” Pitkänen says.

“We are not shy about commercialising eco-innovations. It is possible to do business in a manner that is carbon neutral and resource efficient about the use of natural resources,” Kangas says.

“The bioeconomy is the future way of living and doing things,” Pitkänen says.

“The bioeconomy is the renaissance of the natural resources economy, taking it to new dimensions,” Kangas summarises.

Text: Marianne Mustonen Photos: Varpu Heiskanen
Starting the Bioeconomy Policy is financed by: