Saturday

18th Aug 2018

Magazine

Bioeconomy is a win-win strategy for Finland

Nokia is synonymous with mobile phones, but the world-famous Finnish company was in fact started as a paper mill, on the banks of the Nokianvirta river over 100 years ago - hence the name.

Paper is a typical bio-economic based production, using water and wood as prime resources.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The output of the Finnish bioeconomy currently exceeds €60bn and more than 300,000 people are employed in the sector. (Photo: EUobserver)

A Nokia phone was used when the world's first GSM call was made in 1991 and the company defined the mobile industry for over a decade.

Nokia's tax revenues paid for a large share of Finland's generous social model, but Nokia lost its dominance and was sold to Microsoft in 2014.

In that same year, Finland turned back to nature and launched a bioeconomy strategy to help create future jobs and wealth.

The bioeconomy comprises those parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources from land and sea – such as crops, forests, fish, animals and micro-organisms – to produce food, materials and energy.

"What are the big problems in the world? Lack of resources and lack of bio-diversity. So, when a country is dependent on exports, like Finland is – we have to think what kind of solutions we can offer to these big problems in the entire world," environment minister Kimmo Tiilikainen explains in an interview with EUobserver.

It is not all about making Finland better, he says. It is a win-win strategy.

"Our government wanted Finland to be a frontrunner in bioeconomy, circular economy and clean-tech solutions for two reasons. We can solve the huge environmental problems in the world if we can find these kinds of solutions, and it brings markets for our companies and sustainable employment," he said.

Global scarcity of natural resources

In 2030, the world will need 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water than today, the government estimated when Finland formulated the bioeconomy strategy.

The growing demand will result in a scarcity of natural resources and push their prices up. It was thought that availability of raw materials and the efficiency of their use would thus become a new competitive advantage for Finland.

The yearly output of the Finnish bioeconomy currently exceeds €60bn, and more than 300,000 people are employed in the sector. The bioeconomy strategy aims to create as many as 100,000 additional jobs in Finland by 2025.

"We are investing in research and innovation, creating new materials, new kinds of chemicals based on biomass and, of course, in the energy sector and transport, and new opportunities in water and waste," Tiilikainen said.

Tiilikainen represents the Centre Party, a centrist, liberal and agrarian political party in Finland. He is also an organic farmer and forester himself.

"We have also learnt a lot during the process and new aspects are being added. The concept and thinking of the circular economy must be adapted into the bioeconomy," he says.

"In the circular economy the target is to improve the material efficiency and avoid material consumption - reuse and recycle. It can create new types of business models and this kind of new economic thinking must be applied, no matter if the materials are renewable or non-renewable."

Replacing plastic with biomass

"Most promising is the development of new bio-based material," Tiilikainen said, adding that "it will take five to ten years before they have full potential as commercial solutions, but research, development and innovative work has created new kinds of opportunities".

Plastic is one example.

"We have big talk in the whole world - and in the EU as well - about the increasing consumption of plastic, and whether we have a chance to develop a more sustainable material to replace plastic. Developments of bio-based materials for packaging are promising," Tiilikainen said.

But the changes won't come with one single new invention, he suggests.

"It is a process. Our forest-based industries produce cardboard for liquids, milk or juice. The development has led to solutions where more and more of the cardboard can be made from biomass and where the layer of plastic becomes thinner and thinner all the time. Some day we will see packaging that is not using plastic at all. So it is not like that one day a totally new product comes in, but a continuous process where we replace the use of plastics with bio-material."

While the EU developed its first bioeconomy strategy in 2012, only a few member states have formulated a national strategy, with Germany first in 2011, followed by Finland (2014), Spain (2015), Italy (2016) and France (2017), according to a commission report from November 2017.

"Our strategy has been developed for Finland, so it can't be copied as such to other countries. But I think for sure that EU countries can copy what is relevant for them for their process. And it is not only within the EU, also developing countries can benefit from the know-how on for example sustainable forest management and water management."

Russian potential

Finland's bioeconomy is expected to reduce the country's dependence on fossils, which could perhaps serve also as inspiration for Finland's large neighbour to the east, Russia, which is heavily dependent on exporting fossil fuels, gas and oil.

"I believe that it will take time but there is a great potential for them to turn from a fossil-based economy to a more bio-based economy and also to use the concept of the circular economy. They are very much interested in it. So that has huge potential because Russia is so rich in different resources – not only fossil ones," said Tiilikainen.

"I think that we need more cooperation in this field, between Finland and Russia, and between the whole EU and Russia in the future," he said.

The EU has close to 182m hectares of forests and other wooded land, corresponding to 43 percent of EU land area, which is slightly more than the land used for agriculture (some 41 percent).

Sweden accounted for 16.8 percent, Spain (15.2 percent) and Finland (12.7 percent) of the total wooded land in the EU.

The three countries were the only EU member states to record double-digit shares, according to 2016 figures from Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU.

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.

Stakeholder

Icelandic green biotechnology

Barley possesses unique characteristics and qualities that make it perfectly suited to our biotechnology needs.

Magazine

Bioplastics industry risks disappointing consumers

Europe is trying to kick its addiction to plastic, so businesses are on the hunt for alternatives. Bioplastics could replace 60 percent of plastic packaging on the market, but the switch is far from straightforward.

News in Brief

  1. Germany and Greece strike deal on taking back migrants
  2. Merkel confronts far-right critics: '2015 will not be repeated'
  3. UN: Predictable disembarkation process urgently needed
  4. Slovenia set to select former comedian as prime minister
  5. Polish president to veto election rule helping big parties
  6. MEPs blast UK 'alphabetical approach' on citizens rights
  7. EU hits back over Salvini's blame for bridge collapse
  8. Poll: Sweden's social democrat-led government set to win again

Magazine

The Business of Nature

The third edition of EUobserver's Business magazine looks at the bioeconomy – the parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  2. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  3. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  4. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  5. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  6. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  12. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma

Latest News

  1. EU gets record response on 'summertime' consultation
  2. 'Nativism' and the upcoming Swedish and Bavarian elections
  3. Former Malta opposition leader fears for his life
  4. Women shun EU-funded site for female entrepreneurs
  5. Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism
  6. Brexit talks resume as chance of 'no deal' put at 50:50
  7. US trial sheds light on murky Cyprus-Russia links
  8. Burned cars fuel Swedish election debate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  4. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  6. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  8. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  9. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  12. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  2. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  4. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  7. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  8. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  11. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  12. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us