Driving innovation: students and sustainable business models in forest-based bioeconomy

Within the bioeconomy, many new technologies and innovations have been studied and implemented, such as for wood construction, wood-based fibres for the textile industry, well-being, and non-wood forest products. But how can we guarantee the commercialisation and the knowledge transfer of these innovations into the market?

Dedicated to empowering and supporting aspiring entrepreneurs, the NOMADI Project organises workshops for students passionate about entrepreneurship and the bioeconomy. These workshops serve as transformative catalysts, fuelling innovation and paving the way for pioneering sustainable business models.

Networking event insights

Networking event: Woman and man wearing black standing. Behind a TV with a presentation open 'Start Me Up'
Kirsi Svärd and Janne Pakarinen, Business coaches at Business Joensuu.

On 24 October 2023, students from different areas of study attended the Networking Sauna Event in Joensuu, Finland. The first workshop of a series of three events was held by the European Forest Institute (EFI), Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and the Finnish Forest Centre (Metsäkeskus).

The event aimed at introducing sustainable business models in circular forest-based bioeconomy to students to spark their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit and underline the important role education plays in fostering a greener future.

The event also counted with a presentation from Business Joensuu – an organisation that provides support and expertise for the different stages and challenges of entrepreneurship – showcasing Start Me Up, a competition that awards the best ideas for the future that can grow into sustainable business activities and Hack Me Up, a competition for students to brainstorm climate-smart solutions for companies’ sustainability challenges. Applications are open until 17 November at 15:00 EET.

Attend online or in person: dive into the circular economy

Students from any field of study are invited to attend the second workshop on 22 November at 17:00 EET online or in Joensuu. The consultancy firm Ethica will present how they have been helping organisations transition to a more sustainable circular economy in a rapidly changing market environment and showcase how to create a circular business model.

Check out the agenda and register for the event here.

The NOMADI project supports companies in the forest-based sector by seeking new solutions through the digitalisation of forest services. The project also helps to create new marketing and business concepts, supporting new bioeconomy start-ups and the scaleup of innovations – particularly ideas targeted towards remote private forest owners and forest management services and tools are welcome.

NOMADI is funded by the Regional Council of North Karelia through the European Regional Development Fund as a part of the European Union’s COVID-19 activities (REACT-EU).

Featured image: ChayTee – stock.adobe

Forest Joensuu: leading the new era

Globally unique and interconnected forest bioeconomy ecosystem, where all levels of education, world-class companies, and top-tier research converge.

Forest Joensuu is a collaborative network comprising prominent research, development, education and innovation entities in the Joensuu region, North Karelia-Finland, with the objective of enhancing both regional innovation capacity and global competitiveness.

Healthy forests provide excellent foundations for future resource-efficient forestry, where decades of expertise and material knowledge meet digitalisation. New innovations emerge by combining our expertise with other strengths of the region, such as photonics and emerging technologies.

Joensuu, the European Forest Capital, is the leading international player in the forest bioeconomy, accelerating the emergence of planet-restoring solutions that play a crucial role in combatting climate change, forest fires and loss of biodiversity.

Learn more about Forest Joensuu

Click the button below to learn more about our work and activities.

Featured image: courtesy of Forest Joensuu

Be a beta tester for the Bioeconomy Solutions Platform

What’s the Forest Bioeconomy in Action Platform?

The Bioregions Facility invites beta testers to explore the pilot version of the Forest Bioeconomy in Action Platform—a community to discover solutions, learn from knowledge, and keep track of news related to carbon farming.

Innovative solutions are crucial to the development of the bioeconomy, and the platform can contribute to it. Initially, the solutions are focused on carbon farming, but the goal is to expand it to various forest bioeconomy topics.

The Facility is working with Ubuntoo, an environmental solutions platform provider, to search for relevant solutions. The platform is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and human curation, but users can also recommend solutions from other sources.

Solutions platform

The platform has about 100 solutions waiting to be explored, commented and shared. Users can filter the solutions based on “location,” “stage of development,” “seeking opportunity,” “solution theme,” and “organisation type.”

They can read an overview of the solution, check the organisation’s key contact, leave comments, and upvote or downvote the solution.

A special feature is creating a collection with chosen solutions, like a Spotify playlist but for project solutions. This collection has a unique link, and users can share the page with others.

Different knowledge products can be found in the “Learn” section, e.g., EFI publications, peer-review papers and other materials. The “News” and “Events” sections are useful for staying updated with the latest news and upcoming events.

Explore the solutions

Here’s a preview of two solutions:

Solution: SustainCERT

Overview: SustainCERT is a climate impact verifier that offers efficient and scalable certification through its technology-driven platform. A recognised authority for the Gold Standard for Global Goals, SustainCERT ensures that certified climate actions align with sustainable development goals.

SustainCERT overview on the solutions platform.

Solution: Zerticarbon app

Overview: Zerticarbon, a company that offers certified carbon sink solutions using blockchain technology, is dedicated to advancing climate-smart forestry solutions, connecting forest owners with companies interested in neutralising carbon emissions. The solution has recently won the Bioregions’ Open Innovation Challenge.

Zerticarbon app overview on the solutions platform.

Become a beta tester

Are you interested in becoming a beta tester? Fill out the request form now. Selected candidates will receive an email from the Bioregions Facility to register for the platform.

As a beta tester for the Forest Bioeconomy in Action Platform, you have direct access to the latest solutions applicable to the European market. Join the movement and help us make a difference in the bioeconomy.

Do you have any questions or suggestions? Email us at efibioregions@efi.int

Here’s what you can do on the solutions platform:

Create your account

Once you receive an email with a link to access the platform:

  • Click the “Click here to register to the platform” button in the registration email. This will take you to the page to create your login credentials.
  • Follow the instructions, fill in your email address and create your password.

Log in to the platform

Log into your account using the email address and password you used to create your account.

If you missed the initial invite or it has expired, simply visit Forest Bioeconomy in Action and click “forgot password” to create a new password and log in.

In your profile

On the platform, click the triple bar icon at the upper right corner of the menu:

  • Update your name or picture in “My Profile.”
  • Check other greenhouses and collections in “My Greenhouses.”
  • Click “Take the Tour” to learn more about the platform.
  • You can also “Change Password” or “Invite a Member.”

Discover solutions

In the navigation bar, click Discover:

  • Search solutions by clicking on the button “All Filters” or
  • Use the search bar using keywords, topics, or specific names.
  • Change the view to “Map” or “Grid.”

Inside a solution:

  • Read the overview and leave comments.
  • Upvote or downvote solutions.
  • Check key contacts and visit the original website.

Create a new collection:

  • Inside each solution, you can see the “+Collection” button at the bottom of the filter section.
  • Click “+Collection.”
  • Add selected solution to a collection, or
  • Create a new collection.

Learn

In the navigation bar, click Learn → Knowledge, Events, News to browse and search for other knowledge products, latest news and upcoming events.

Connect

In the navigation bar, click Connect → Members to see other members or (You can tag other members in the comment section when reading a solution.) → Forum to start a discussion with other members.

Recommend+

In the navigation bar, click Recommend+ to suggest a new solution. Our team will review the information provided and add it to the website if it fits our requirements.

Feedback

After using the platform, we will send a Feedback form requesting users to share their thoughts and help us improve the platform.

Questions

Do you have any questions or suggestions? Email us at bioregions@efi.int

See you on the platform!

Woodworking industries in European regions: LIGNA 23 workshop insights

On 18 May 2023, the Bioregions Facility hosted a workshop called Woodworking Industries in European Regions: Current Situation, Development Pathways and Investment Trends at LIGNA 2023 in Hanover, Germany.

Oskar Azkarate, Baskegur, at LIGNA 2023.

The General Director of Baskegur, Oskar Azkarate, emphasised the significance of a regional bioeconomy strategy, such as the Strategic Plan for Timber in the Basque Country (PEMA in Spanish) and Basque Circular Forest-based Bioeconomy Strategy. These initiatives aim to establish a comprehensive framework for advancing forestry in the region. To illustrate, the Basque Country Forest Bioeconomy Profile developed by the Bioregions Facility provides an overview of the regional bioeconomy innovation ecosystem in the Basque Country.

Next, Martin Schwarz from Wald und Holz in North Rhine-Westphalia shared his insights. In a region with a population of approximately 18 million, wood serves as the primary construction material. With the growing need for housing and apartments in urban areas, there has been a rising demand for wooden materials in urban construction, building modernisation, refurbishment and social housing projects. The legislation now permits wooden multi-storey buildings of up to eight stories, essential for promoting sustainable development in the construction sector and reducing carbon footprint.

Developing a bioeconomy strategy and the support provided by municipalities in utilising wood is essential for the forestry sector. However, the question arises: how can we give timber a higher value? Inazio Martinez, a researcher at EFI and coordinator of the Bioregions Facility, asked Manuel García Barbero, an architect and Wood Construction Manager at CESEFOR, regarding Castilla y Léon’s approach to increasing the value of its timber.

Inazio Martinez, Bioregions Facility, and Manuel García Barbero, CESEFOR, at LIGNA 2023

“In Spain, we have forest fires, and the problem is probably the abandonment of forests. It’s been demonstrated that things that are valued are better cared for,” stated Mr Barbero. While many believe forests should be left untouched, Spain’s forests require a different perspective, as they thrive through active management. Society has adopted the notion that forests should no longer be managed. Still, this approach leads to imbalances and problems — fire plays a natural role in forests by clearing brush and eliminating dead trees, for instance.

Eduard Correal Mòdol, representing the Forest Science and Technology Centre of Catalonia, concluded the discussion by presenting how forests have been managed in Catalonia, which bears similarities to those of Castilla y León. With over 60% of the region’s land covered by forests, Catalonia faces an increasing threat from wildfires as climate change advances in Spain. It is imperative to manage forests and fires effectively while educating the public about their natural occurrence.

Participating in LIGNA has been invaluable in acquiring knowledge about sustainable wood processing practices and discovering how they can be incorporated into our work at the Bioregions Facility.

Images: Rodrigo Mendes

Seeing the wood in the forests

Humanity is becoming too big for our planet. After relying on a fossil-based economy for 200 years, we are threatening to reach a tipping point, crossing the resilience boundaries of our world. Using the words of Greta Thunberg – how dare you continue like this! – it is time for transformational action.

Partnerships for Regional Innovation: first pilot plenary meeting

The Partnerships for Regional Innovation – PRI Pilot Action held its first pilot plenary meeting on 7 July 2022. The initiative was launched in June jointly by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions. The first plenary meeting was an interactive event to generate discussions, dialogue, and co-creation among all PRI Pilot participants. It presented the policy context around PRI, the PRI Playbook and a proposal for a PRI Pilot roadmap, outlining the organization of pilot activities

Bioregions Facility has been selected to participate in the pilot project as a group of regions, consisting of its current regional members: Basque Country; North Rhine-Westphalia; and North Karelia. Representatives of the Facility joined the event, together with more than 150 participants.

The online event, started with the presentation of the New Innovation Agenda for Europe and PRI, highlighting the need of a holistic approach, investment, diffusion, circular economy, and innovation to tackle global challenges such as climate change. The work that PRI does at a regional level was also emphasized, including establishing networks, creating cooperation and consortia in regions working in the same value chain.

A call was made to select a contact person representing each region with an academic or scientific background to act as a scientific track and maintain constant interaction with the directive.

The PRI Playbook

During the event, the PRI Playbook was presented as a guidance document, containing a range of tools and mechanisms to coordinate and enable the exploration of broad-ranging policy mixes for system-level innovation. The playbook will act as an empowering tool for policymakers and should be adapted to European realities, as it will be co-created via joint work and with feedback from the regions.

It contains a Toolbox that gathers 68 tools for diagnosis, policy design and implementation; and three building blocks as an initial approach to be co-developed through the pilot: Open Discovery Process, Policy and Action Mix and the Strategic Policy framework. Three working groups will be working around each building block.

The event ended with a discussion and feedback from pilot participants from the different participant regions, and final remarks from the EU committee.

Michal Miedzinski, economic and policy researcher at JRC said: “This is a collective effort from the bottom, with the best minds we can gather and do a collation of the willing, these are all the ingredients we need to move forward“.

Thomas Wobben, Director at Committee of the Regions gave a strong final message: “We really hope that this collaboration is building on trust, that we are able to have a frank exchange, and that we can help each other”

Background

The Partnerships are rooted in the upcoming Innovation Agenda for Europe to help integrate initiatives and investment at EU and national levels. It is an effort directly targeted to improve Innovation ecosystems as one essential area to boost Europe’s innovation performance. The key objective is to strengthen interconnection of regional and local innovation ecosystems for a green and digital Europe and to improve resilience of European sustainable value chains and deep-tech sectors.

Bioeconomy perceptions in North Karelia

The Bioregions Facility launched its Bioeconomy Perceptions Regional Survey in North Karelia in the period September-November 2021 in the local language, Finnish. The Survey was targeted at different groups within government and industry, to understand how they perceive the bioeconomy, its benefits, and its challenges. More specifically, the Survey aims at achieving six target outcomes: i) understand how business and policy actors perceive the bioeconomy; ii) revisit value chain priorities and related communication efforts; iii) identify barriers & supporting conditions; iv) assess “willingness to engage” with the bioeconomy; v) get insights on how to improve collaboration with government & industry and; vi) find key leverage points for bioeconomy development by identifying overlaps with other policy areas. Here we present six key highlights, one per target outcome, of the Survey in North Karelia.

  • Respondents generally perceived bioeconomy as promising, and specifically to address environmental challenges. Respondents see the contribution to energy transition, and to a low-carbon economy, as the most relevant positive impact of the bioeconomy.
  • North Karelia business and policy actors suggest that nature-based tourism, bioenergy and wood construction are the bioeconomy sectors with highest potential for growth in North Karelia.
  • Limited co-operation among different stakeholders (policy, business, etc.) is perceived as the most important barrier for bioeconomy development. Several supporting conditions were rated in between important and extremely important, namely investment in innovation, availability of scientific information, public procurement programmes and adequate regulation.
  • Both government and industry respondents indicated that their sector or department is willing to develop the bioeconomy.
  • Government and industry respondents felt very similar about who is responsible for different tasks in moving the bioeconomy in North Karelia forward. Both groups indicated that they are equally responsible for investments in research, development, and innovation and for ensuring positive environmental and social impacts. In addition, both groups emphasised that the government is more responsible in communicating and promoting the bioeconomy among the general public.
  • According to respondents, bioeconomy has strong goal alignment with environment related policy areas, especially climate change mitigation and clean energy. Other policy areas with very high overlap with bioeconomy are biodiversity conservation, circular economy, and rural development. Bioeconomy was considered to have less goal alignment with social and economic policy areas.

Bioregions Facility selected for the Pilot Action on Partnership for Regional Innovation

The European Commission announced the 63 regions, seven cities and four Member States selected in the pilot project for Partnerships for Regional Innovation (PRI), an initiative developed together with the Committee of the Regions. Participants in the pilot action are open to share good practices and to co-develop and test tools to mobilise multiple sources of funding and policies, and connect regional and national programmes to EU initiatives for the green and digital transformations. These Partnerships will feed into the new Innovation Agenda for Europe, where innovation drives the transformation for sustainability, connecting local strategies with EU-level initiatives.

The call has attracted a wide representation of the EU innovation ecosystem, ranging from Member States and a broad variety of EU regions to multi-region networks. The Bioregions Facility successfully applied as a group of regions, consisting of its current regional members: Basque Country, North Rhine-Westphalia and North Karelia. The Bioregions Facility, together with 38 other successful applicants, will now start working on activities within the framework of the Pilot Action. Inazio Martinez de Arano, coordinator of the Bioregions Facility, explained “the Pilot Action is very timely to upscale our Facility’s efforts to catalyse innovation in the forest-based bioeconomy of our member regions”.

Pilot Action launch event

The hybrid launch event of the initiative took place on 17 May 2022 in Brussels; the recording is available here. In the opening session, Commissioners Elisa Ferreira (Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms) and Mariya Gabriel (Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth), together with President of the CoR, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, highlighted the importance of the PRI to tackle the innovation divide in the EU and to allow convergent growth of European regions. The message of Mr. Tzitzikostas was strong: “Investing in innovation is not a luxury”.

During the second session, officials of several regions and cities participating in the Pilot Action expressed their commitment to and expectations of the PRI. The third session focused on the implementation priorities and challenges. Kevin Morgan, Scientific Committee Member, closed the third session with: “Top performing cities and regions will innovate anyway. Without our intervention, without our advice. The unique thing about the PRI is that it offers an opportunity for all places to innovate and …. to become the best that they can be.”

Partnerships for Regional Innovation Playbook

The main reference document underpinning the Partnerships for Regional Innovation – PRI Pilot Action is the “Partnerships for Regional Innovation Playbook“, developed by the JRC-European Commission with the support of a Scientific Committee of recognised experts and centred on a selection of practical policy tools. This initial edition showcases proven tools, inspired by leading innovation policy practice across Europe and the world. The term ‘play’ in the title emphasises the need for exploring, experimenting and learning and also for tailored approaches to the unique opportunities and challenges of each territory.

During the Pilot Action, taking place from May 2022 until June 2023, the participants will test these policy tools while co-creating operational guidance. The Playbook and Pilot Action will also promote good practices, facilitate learning through experimentation and support public administrations and the broader ecosystem.

Background

The Partnerships are rooted in the upcoming Innovation Agenda for Europe to help integrate initiatives and investment at EU and national levels. It is an effort directly targeted to improve Innovation ecosystems as one essential area to boost Europe’s innovation performance. The key objective is to strengthen interconnection of regional and local innovation ecosystems for a green and digital Europe and to improve resilience of European sustainable value chains and deep-tech sectors.

War in Ukraine: impacts on forest-sector businesses in Finnish North Karelia

Authors: Jo Van Brusselen & Fredric Mosley

Published initially on Greenhub.fi

Key messages:

  • Rising energy and raw material prices raise costs and cut into profit;
  • Trade restrictions impact raw material imports and high-tech exports.

According to a survey implemented by the Bioscope project with businesses in the forest-based sector in North Karelia (Finland), 83% of respondents expects that that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will affect their businesses. At the time of publishing this blog, analysis is based on inputs received from 12 correspondents, which represents 13% of the total number of forest-based sector businesses in the region. While the sample does not allow to be conclusive, there are good indications of the key issues for businesses in the region.

Rising raw material prices (69% mentioned in of the responses), EU/Finland import restrictions (62%) and rising energy prices (54%) were considered to be the most impeding factors for wood-based bioeconomy businesses in North Karelia. As a result, businesses are in search of alternative raw material sources, intermediate products, and alternative logistics routes. Increasing product prices will impact profit margins and competitiveness of business in the region. For some businesses Russia was also an important export destination, which is now temporarily halted. Not only is the wood processing industry affected, but also forestry work at the beginning of the value chain, due to the high fuel costs and increased fertilizer prices are reducing forest improvement efforts.

How the war is expected to affect businesses in North Karelia.

Since the launch of this questionnaire in the beginning of April, restrictions have been further strengthened and while limitations on transportation made the wood trade practically impossible from Russia to Finland, now roundwood trade has been explicitly banned. As North Karelian industry relied on steady imports of roundwood, this does naturally impact the resourcing effort of affected companies.

Coal and oil, all imported from Russia, represented 6% and 22% in Finland’s total energy consumption in 2020 (Statistics Finland, 2021). Before the war, Finland also imported considerable amounts of biomass for energy production from Russia but which are now not available anymore, affecting district heating and private households. Reduced availability and rising prices affect heat and power costs, and risen fuel costs already have a large impact on overall transportation costs and profitability. North Karelia did have some dependency on biomass for energy production in district heating. Over the past few years Finland has been phasing out peat as an energy source due to environmental concerns, but domestic peat is now viewed as an alternative to Russian wood chips, at least temporarily (YLE, 2022). Overcoming  energy security risks will require a rapid implementation of clean energy strategies, and deployment of mature technologies (wind, solar, storage, heat pumps).

The Saimaa canal can officially still be used to transport goods, but in the current volatile political situation, few ship owners are taking the risk to transport goods along the route. This has a major impact on the export possibilities for companies in North Karelia. The Karjalainen newspaper in an article (2022) estimated that 10 million kilometres of additional truck transports would need to be driven due to closure of the canal. Road transportation being much more expensive than water transport, will also impact the profitability and ultimately the competitive position of producers in the region.

The rapid shifts in trade caused by the sanctions will have profound implications for Finland and Russia, and especially for regions with close links to the Russian market, such as North Karelia. It is unclear what their full effect will be, which will depend on the agility of the sector to find new sources for raw material and new markets for outputs. One thing is clear: The response to sanctions must be embedded in the transformation of energy systems – so that local business can make the leap away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy technologies.

Sources

Karjalainen, 4/9/2022. Saimaan kanavan sulkeminen iso isku Itä-Suomelle – lastien kuljettaminen rekoilla tulee hyvin kalliiksi. [The closure of the Saimaa canal is a big blow to Eastern Finland – transporting cargo by truck will be very expensive]


YLE NEWS, 22/3/2022. Minister: Finland must wean itself off dependence on Russian energy. Statistics Finland, 2021. Energy in Finland. ISBN 978–952–244–679–4

Disclaimer

This blogpost presents summary results of a survey amongst North Karelian forest-sector entrepreneurs, amended with information from various clarified sources. By no means does it represent an opinion of the authors or of the organizations to which they are affiliated.

Suggested reference: Van Brusselen, J., Mosley, F. (2022). Impacts on forest-sector businesses in Finnish North Karelia from the war in Ukraine. Blogpost on Greenhub.fi

Photo: Franz W. via Pixabay