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Forest Bioeconomy Foresight Symposium outlined pathways to a sustainable biosociety

Glass ball, stump and trees

The University of Eastern Finland (UEF) organised an International Forest Bioeconomy Foresight Symposium on 22 June 2021. This symposium gathered 66 participants from 12 countries. The event provided a multidisciplinary view on forest-use futures as well as bioeconomy policies and businesses. High-quality presentations from Europe, North America and South America were followed by panel discussions moderated by Nataša Lovrić from the European Forest Institute (EFI).

Teppo Hujala (UEF) talked first about the multiple frames of forest bioeconomy futures studies and stressed that bioeconomy is a contested and evolving concept. He pinpointed that “it is the responsibility of foresight scholars to serve EU with relevant policy recommendations and useful scenarios.” In the next presentation, Andreas Pyka (Uni Hoheinheim, Germany) focused on strengthening the relation between modelling and forecasting. He stated that “the current modelling does not fully support the transformation, which depends on rebound effects, extremely strict regulation, and the creativity of the system. We need both top-down and bottom-up approaches.”

Anne Toppinen (Uni Helsinki) talked about the role of forest industry in sustainability transition. She mentioned “a circular bio-based economy requires accelerating business collaboration and better engagement with end-users”. Thereafter, Harald Vacik (BOKU, Austria) introduced non-wood forest products and ecosystem services as an option for diversifying European bioeconomy. He noted that “people’s attitude towards NWFP is changing over time and people increasingly perceive forest as a recreation area, as a part of the landscape, and as a source of well-being.”

David N. Bengston (USDA Forest Service) presented his recent study about cascading implications of a wild card and mentioned that negative impacts of climate change might trigger positive second-order impacts, such as increased innovation to improve agriculture and forestry sectors. Lucía Pittaluga Fonseca (UdelaR, Uruguay) talked about the transition of Uruguayan forest bioeconomy and said that forest industry has a decent contribution to the Uruguayan national economy. She said: “International research community has contributed in terms of the innovation for bioeconomy sector development, and it has a positive impact on building the network of small firms.” Finally, Eric Hansen (OSU, USA) talked about Future-Fitness as a competence concept for forest sector firms. He noted that many forest sector companies are midfielders in embracing corporate foresight and innovation management, while some firms are in the forefront of innovation.

The two panel discussions highlighted some important aspects in biosociety transformations. First, international collaboration is a key to scaling up innovation. Second, evidence-based knowledge and science panels have a substantial influence on stakeholders. Third, futures research provides creative ways to identify influential external drivers and how to constantly adjust to them. Fourth, long-term commitment of communities may be achieved with participatory, action-oriented methods and regional cooperation.

The symposium scanned through important aspects that forest bioeconomy future research can and should do for the benefit of forests, people, and the planet. The event was organized as a part of the UNITE Flagship outreach activities, funded by the Academy of Finland. Moreover, the event was made possible via funding from the Saastamoinen Foundation and belongs to 2021 activities of UEF’s Research Community “Forests and Bioeconomy”.

Karuna Karki, MSc European Forestry student, trainee in UEF