“The connection between humans and nature lies at the heart of the bioeconomy,” says Professor Eeva Furman.
Professor Eeva Furman, Director of the Environmental Policy Centre at the Finnish Environment Institute, strives to develop ways to best promote sustainability and biodiversity. Furman also serves as chair of the Finnish Expert Panel for Sustainable Development. In addition to sustainability, Furman’s work focuses on ways of using bioeconomy to solve major issues facing humanity, such as mitigating climate change and the decline in biodiversity.
Bioeconomy is a concept that frequently comes up in reports on the future of Finland and in comments from authorities and policymakers. It refers to industrial production that is based on renewable natural raw materials and utilises technologies related to them. Overall, the goal of bioeconomy is to reduce fossil-based emissions and the consumption of non-renewable natural resources.
To a consumer unfamiliar with the topic, the diverse opportunities provided by bioeconomy may seem quite complex. However, products that make our daily lives easier, such as toilet paper and paper towels, are among the most typical products of bioeconomy.
Metsä Tissue’s tissue papers, such as Lambi products, are good examples of this. Tissue papers are produced from both fresh fibre, based on pulpwood that is generated as a by-product of log wood production, and from recycled fibre. It may be surprising to hear that the use of fresh fibre saves energy and water while generating less waste than the use of recycled fibre.
According to Furman, the idea behind bioeconomy is that humans and nature are interconnected and interdependent. Through bioeconomy we should be able to reduce the consumption of fossil-based natural resources and curb climate change, while safeguarding biodiversity. To reach these goals, the focus must be on more sustainable ways to make essential products.
“Bioeconomy aims to find a balance in which the wellbeing of nature also helps to ensure the wellbeing of humans. Bioeconomy seeks solutions that originate in natural systems and build the economy based on a sustainable connection between humans and nature,” says Furman.
The use of sustainable raw material is based on efficiency
Ultimately sustainable recycling and the use of raw materials is efficient. This means that we try to move away from non-renewable raw materials and instead use renewable natural raw materials as efficiently as possible, ensuring that their volume can continue to increase. According to Furman, this is precisely the aim of corporate symbioses that follow circular economy and in which production processes are designed to be as sustainable as possible. In other words, circular economy is much more than just the recycling of raw materials. Essentially, it is important to optimise the use of raw material as well as any harm caused by the processes, including emissions from energy consumption and threats to biodiversity.
“However, well-organised recycling does not mean we can consume limitlessly – by generating more and more waste,” says Furman.
She believes that consumers want to know what raw material their daily products, such as toilet paper and paper towels, are made of. Products made of renewable materials, following the principles of sustainability, as well as the quality of products are important factors when deciding what to add to the shopping trolley.
According to Furman, it is the overall sustainability of products and services that counts the most.
“The strength of companies lies in how they use research-based solutions in their production and how transparently they describe the production of their products to consumers, from raw material sourcing to production. The consumer can then make their own informed choice. We are all in the same boat and are building a sustainable future together for all of us, especially for those who continue here after us. We don’t want to leave the problems we created for them to solve, do we?”
As part of Metsä Group, Metsä Tissue has the raw material chain in its own hands. This makes the company unique among European tissue paper suppliers. For example, 100 per cent of the wood used by Metsä Group is traceable, and nearly 90 per cent of it comes from certified sources. The company knows the origin of its wood and ensures that the wood is legal, in addition to ensuring the sustainability and acceptability of the supply chain.
Wood is a source of solutions
Furman considers wood to be one of the most important renewable raw materials for the Finnish bioeconomy. Despite being seemingly plain and simple, wood can serve as a plentiful source of innovation and future solutions. Tissue paper is one of the most familiar and important wood-based everyday products and there are also many other uses for wood. Wood products used in construction, paperboard packages and the new wood-based textile fibres currently under development are some examples of wood-based products of bioeconomy. All of these examples provide opportunities for replacing fossil-based materials.
“Instead of concrete, we can build our houses of wood. Clothes with fibres containing plastic and other oil-based substances could instead be made of bioeconomy-based fibres, such as wood.”
When using renewable raw material, we must ensure that the growth of trees exceeds the volume of felling so that our forest assets continue to grow. To safeguard biodiversity, we need protection as well as ongoing and continuously developing measures in commercial forests. Harvesting must support the protection of forest nature and climate actions, and the use of wood raw material must also be developed in an increasingly efficient direction to satisfy new needs.
At Metsä Group, every part of the tree is used as efficiently as possible, and nothing goes to waste. As the user of this raw material, it is the company’s obligation to take sustainability into account in everything it does, and it is something that customers expect as well. Resource efficiency is at the core of Metsä Group’s strategy.
From the perspective of sustainability, Furman emphasises the importance of developing solutions to big questions, such as how we move, live, eat, consume in our daily lives, work and spend our free time more sustainably.
“When evaluating the foundations of bioeconomy, we must primarily consider the overall benefits. The wellbeing of humans and the way in which our environment can satisfy our diverse needs must be placed at the centre of this evaluation. Natural systems form the basis for our wellbeing.”
Not giving up but receiving
A sustainable lifestyle is an important goal, but adopting more sustainable consumer habits may seem very complicated at times.
Furman has words of encouragement - change can be positive in many ways.
“We should let go of the idea of having to give up things and focus on what we receive instead.”
Furman believes it is important for consumers to understand that the direction of global development means that human action causes increasingly severe problems to our planet. This also erodes our own wellbeing, since we humans are part of the planet just like any other species.
According to Furman, everyone must take part in this joint effort so that we can break this vicious circle and turn it around. In addition to acting as individual consumers, Furman says we need shared commitment on a wide front.
“We need investments in research and technological development. Companies and the scientific community must encourage one another. In turn, the government and municipalities must inspire and show direction by ensuring adequate financial incentives and subsidies as well as the necessary legislation to steer companies and their operations in a more sustainable direction. After all, Finland is for those who live here, and everyone plays an important role in creating paths together towards greater sustainability.”
Climate change or the decline in biodiversity are difficult to solve all at once.
“By changing the activities that give rise to these problems, we can quickly achieve positive results, which will effectively contribute to solving the ecological crisis. Instead of big words or empty speech, concrete action is the solution,” says Furman.
This also applies to individual consumers. Different products have different impacts on the natural systems of our planet and on the wellbeing of people. This makes every purchase significant. At the store, this can mean choosing a tissue paper product that has been produced sustainably: locally and from renewable raw materials.
Ultimately, it is a question of the kind of people we want to be.
“It’s not just about the sustainability of our own country, but about taking care of the future of our planet. Do we want to ensure the wellbeing of our children and our grandchildren? Sometimes we need to be reminded that our own actions always affect future generations.”