Between 29th November – 1st December 2022, two Academy of Finland research flagships, FinnCERES and UNITE, presented their world-class research to policymakers and stakeholders at a variety of events in the heart of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
The aim of the expedition was to enhance the dialogue between researchers and EU policymakers and to highlight the importance of research-based knowledge in decision-making. Together, these flagships cover the complete supply chain from forestry to wood-based products and advanced materials. Furthermore, they are both members of the Boreal Alliance Network, a transnational research collaboration network for bio-based materials innovations emanating from the boreal forest. Access to the latest scientific knowledge is key to effective policymaking so it is vital that researchers and policymakers are active in communicating developments.
Beyond the Bio-Bubble
The main component of the flagships’ mission to Brussels was the “Beyond the Bio-Bubble: Solutions for a circular forest bioeconomy” event which took place at the NH Hotel Brussels Berlaymont. Professors Jyrki Kangas of UNITE and Monika Österberg of FinnCERES opened by welcoming the participants and gave an overview of their respective flagships. Two short documentary films created by the filmmaker and journalist Nina Pulkkis, “Transforming forestry in Finland” and “Visionary use of biomass”, were also shown. These provided a deeper dive into the flagships and the themes surrounding their research activities.
From the UNITE side, professors Juha Hyyppä (FGI) and Juho Hamari (TAU) presented “The digital revolution in forestry: From lasers to gamification” and showed how pointcloud laser scanning and motivational information systems are helping the forest sector modernise and transform. Then, visiting presenter, Professor Manfred J. Lexer from The University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, gave a presentation titled “Climate change adaption and mitigation through multifunctional forestry” where he talked about how the multifunctional approach can best work for future-proofing Europe’s forests when it is tailored to local conditions.
From the FinnCERES side, Jussi Manninen (VTT) presented “From science to new industries”, highlighting the challenges in bringing the new bio-based materials to everyday use. After that, Kristiina Kruus (Aalto) discussed the complexity of the bio-based materials and its effect to policymaking in her talk “Are there simple answers to complex challenges? The paradox of conveying scientific knowledge in politics”.
The event ended with a panel discussion that included some of the presenters, Manfred J. Lexer, Jussi Manninen, Juha Hyyppä and Juho Hamari as well as Jori Ringman, Director General of Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) and Raisa Mäkipää (Luke). The panel discussed the challenges facing the entire supply chain of wood-based materials and the importance of stability and predictability in the regulatory landscape.
After the event, the Uusi Puu (New Wood) exhibition showcased many new bio-based products and applications. There was also a demonstration of research on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in forestry by Assistant Professor Oğuz ‘Oz’ Buruk and Senior Research Fellow Timo Nummenmaa of the Gamification Group at Tampere University.
The Brussels expedition included several events
UNITE and FinnCERES also co-organized a Members of European Parliament (MEP) breakfast meeting in the EU Parliament. This was hosted by Elsi Katainen MEP (Finland), Ulrike Muller MEP (Germany), and Juozas Olekas MEP (Lithuania), all from the ‘Sustainable Forest Management Working Group’ of the European Parliament Intergroup on ‘Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development’.
During this meeting, Nordic perspectives on sustainable forest management and the potential of new bio-based material solutions were presented. Professor Raisa Mäkipää (Luke) explained how UNITE research has revealed that managed forests have an important, but limited capacity to mitigate climate change. Professors Monika Österberg (Aalto) and Tekla Tammelin (VTT) showed how FinnCERES research in new lignocellulose-based materials will help Europe pivot away from the use of fossil sources. In addition, Sari Tasa from the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment talked about the potential of the circular forest bioeconomy in the context of rural development.
These presentations were complemented by the decision-makers as they shared their perspectives on the forest bioeconomy. Elsi Katainen talked about redefining the bioeconomy and shifting the focus to advanced materials. Ulrike Müller, as rapporteur on a new EU Forest Strategy for 2030, discussed the role of European forests and circular bioeconomy in challenging times, while Juozas Olekas talked about the EU bioeconomy strategy and the role of forests and forest-based materials.
UNITE and FinnCERES also hosted a session at the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) event, the Paper and Beyond conference at the Marriott Hotel Grand Place. The session “Beyond the bio-bubble – Researching sustainable solutions” was kicked off by a talk from MEP Mauri Pekkarinen (Finland), who spoke about EU regulations for forests and wood-based materials and how we secure their sustainable use. Thereafter, Monika Österberg and Tekla Tammelin of FinnCERES showed several research highlights ranging from novel packaging material solutions to capturing of microplastics with nanocellulose meshes. Heli Peltola (UEF) introduced the Climate Smart Forestry approach and presented MEP Pekkarinen the newly published book “Forest Bioeconomy and Climate Change”. The session was concluded by Juha Hyyppä (FGI), who introduced novel technologies for mapping and digitizing forest resources for better decision making.
Additionally, UNITE researchers participated in a meeting at the European Forestry House with industry organisations working on forest and wood-based bioeconomy policy at the EU level. They met with representatives from the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF), The European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR), the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Here they presented the work of the flagship and discussed the role of science in the current legislative landscape. Finally, the FinnCERES delegation held a meeting with Bio-based Industries Consortium, presenting the latest developments in research and the potential of advanced bio-based material solutions.
FinnCERES and UNITE Flagships would like to express their gratitude to Finnish Forest Foundation for supporting the expedition financially, as well as to Uusi Puu for supporting the events with their bio-based product exhibition.
Photos: Philip Chambers and Jukka Hassinen