1.1 Changes in the operating environment

The Finnish Bioeconomy Strategy was prepared in 2012-2014, when the Finnish forest industry was going through a transformation. The strategy has gone a long way to support the search for a new common direction and shared communication on the significance of the bioeconomy.

When the updated EU Bioeconomy Strategy was published in 2018, the next transformation was just beginning. The rulebook for the climate agreement was approved immediately after its publication. The importance of the circular economy in the measures was strengthened. The massive steps taken in digitalisation changed the demand for pulp-based products, as online trade required more packaging materials and the demand for printing paper continued to decrease. The debate on plastic and restrictions on its use led to a ban on some single-use plastic products. Regarding bio-based products, concerns have been voiced on the impacts of their production on biodiversity and the adequacy of raw materials for products replacing plastics, which in Europe has also turned public debate partly against the bioeconomy. The European Green Deal, the Renovation Wave Strategy and the New European Bauhaus emphasise the carbon storage impact of bio-based materials, especially in renovation.

An operating environment analysis was commissioned for the strategy update in the form of a material and interview study.  The operating conditions are still fairly similar to those of the previous Finnish Bioeconomy Strategy. The bioeconomy or circular economy is increasingly being described as a necessary change to meet global challenges. The main documents are the Paris Agreement and its continuation the Global Warming of 1,5°C report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018.  The IPCC report states that the ambitiousness of climate policy must be increased if countries want to pursue a 1.5 °C target in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The new reports confirm the need for action.

Sustainable development has increasingly become a principle guiding the economic activities of society. The global Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030), adopted by the UN in 2015, aims to turn global development onto a path where people’s welfare and human rights, a prosperous economy and a stable society are ensured in a sustainable manner from the perspective of the environment. The change is also reflected in the development of the bioeconomy. The updated EU Bioeconomy Strategy will increasingly focus on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Paris Agreement.

The predictability of the industrial operating environment, safeguarding the availability of raw materials and ensuring the functioning of the market remain at the core of both national and European publications, and as even stronger priorities than in the previous Bioeconomy Strategy. The demands for biodiversity and preservation of natural values are now more important than before in the current operating environment. The key driver here is the EU Green Deal, which gives them a great deal of emphasis.

In particular, the use of forests is subject to significant pressures and the use of forest-based raw materials may not be seen in quite the same way as in the previous strategy. The Finnish Forest Strategy is updated regularly, so it provides a foundation for the Bioeconomy Strategy, from which we can determine the marginal conditions related to the availability and growth of Finnish forest biomass.

Increasing the degree of wood processing, new products and entirely new product areas are strongly emphasised in several Finnish studies on the utilisation of wood biomass. A green transition and the circular economy are considered key drivers of change. The importance of industrial side streams and the increased efficiency of material cycles are emphasised in nearly all the other examined strategies related to the bioeconomy.

The growth in the demand for food and clean water and changes in consumer habits create opportunities for the bioeconomy related to the food system. Consumers are increasingly aware of and have higher demands regarding the quality, origin, ethicalness and environmental friendliness of food. In order for the food system to be able to respond to consumers’ wishes and demand, it must be profitable and competitive for its operators. Research and development can help in finding new ways for producing food and developing the sustainability of existing operating methods.

The provision of education in the field of bioeconomy has developed considerably in recent years. There have also been a good amount of applicants. Cuts in funding to higher education institutions and research are weakening the competence base at the higher level. The need for continuing education for those employed in industry was highlighted as a desire priority for further education. There is a great deal of concern about the interest and expertise in natural sciences also outside the bioeconomy sector.

Positive priorities and growth estimates remain for the chemical industry and wood construction. The EU Bioeconomy Strategy identifies biotechnology and biotechnologies, as well as biomedicine and health as an area of growth that is expected to double in size over the next 10 years, although they are not included in the definition of bioeconomy.

The pull factors of Finnish tourism are based on nature and increasingly also on experiencing Finnish lifestyle and culture. The largest number of new tourism undertakings have been established in programme services industry, which utilises companies operating at interfaces as partners and nature as their operating environment. Nature-assisted health and well-being services are also increasingly popular.