|The main objectives of the BLOOM project are to raise awareness on the bioeconomy and to establish open and informed dialogues, co-created by European citizens, civil society, bioeconomy innovation networks, local research centres, business and industry stakeholders and various levels of government. BLOOM is creating spaces for the needed debate on preferences and values concerning the bioeconomy; for interaction and exchange of information, knowledge, meaning and aspirations, with the aim of establishing consensus on how a bioeconomy can be realized. Across Europe, five regional hubs have been established to foster public engagement in the bioeconomy and to create a space of exchange and debate. The hubs are focusing on different areas important to the regions.|
In March 2020, the team of the BLOOM project cooperated with me and gave lessons in my “Innovations in Bioeconomy” course to two different student groups. This course deals with the state of art in sustainable, circular bioeconomy, its strategies, policy targets and measures, future business opportunities and different types of innovations in bioeconomy. In this sense it was very compatible and fruitful to work together.
First, we heard about the aim of the European BLOOM project to increase public awareness on bioeconomy and to encourage dialogue between research, education, authorities and the general public. There are five regional hubs, and in the Nordic hub the focus is on forest bioeconomy and wood-based products. Then we were introduced to the great challenges we are facing in the world at this moment. Climate change, resource overuse, plastic pollution… It was a good introduction into why we should use sustainable bio-based products and how bioeconomy can be part of the solution of global problems. We should use renewable organic materials to replace fossil-based materials. Also, long-lasting products serve as carbon storage – in this sense we should circulate materials as long as possible. It is also important to notice that bio-based is not the same as sustainable. Thus, we should also emphasize that raw-materials, production processes and products are sustainable.
Today there are a lot of bio-based products in the market and new ones are on the way. We were introduced to some of them and we could also touch them in the classroom. For example, Sulapac packaging material, which is 100 % biodegradable and microplastics-free, made out of wood chips, can be used six times and can be recycled. It is used in cosmetics and food industry. We also got to know other bio-based packaging materials, textiles, bio-composites for casting material, bathroom furniture or kitchen ware. They all are wood based. It was really interesting and didactic to explore the materials with our own fingers.
The discussion about the pros and cons of bio-based products raised some questions. Are they as durable as the traditional materials? How are they recycled, how long does it take to biodegrade and what are the end products or substances from that process? For a consumer, answers are not easy to find yet. There may be prejudices towards new materials. For example, wood used in textiles – if people have no experience with the new materials, they are afraid to choose them and easily stick to traditional ones. The names of the materials do not tell about the origin of the raw material. Lyocell is one example. It is wood-based, but did you know it? A lot of work is needed in order to make new materials and products familiar to consumers. There are some general labels for sustainable biobased goods (e.g. Öko-tex, organic cotton) and producers make their own labels to promote sustainability. But are all compounds used in production mentioned and are they clearly stated in trade descriptions? Some compounds may even be company secrets. This can be very confusing for consumers. I think reliable, open information is the key to the further development of the bioeconomy.
In this moment biobased products are often more expensive than traditional ones. People that are more aware of sustainability issues want to use them and are willing to pay more for them. But I wonder if this is not a too long and slow way to make a change in consumption patterns. The change needs a critical mass. On the other hand, consumers are “the kings” who drives the markets. If consumers demand more and more sustainable options, companies and also authorities must react due to citizen will.
The discussion about the raw materials in bio-based products raised concerns with availability of biomass. Is there enough biomass in order to scale up production? Is there enough wood? Good questions. As the population increases on earth, but the fertile land is decreasing, everyone of us must change consumption patterns. With consuming less, using sustainable goods made of renewable resources and recycling resources we can make a difference. Can we save the world? I hope so.
Thanks to BLOOM we took time to think about all those aspects and questions.
Written by Jaana Auer
Jaana Auer works as a senior lecturer at the Bioeconomy Institute of JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Central Finland. She is specialized in entrepreneurship and agribusiness. Her students are studying agriculture, forestry and environmental subjects and business management in their Bachelor’s degree program.