A total of 1,700 people gathered at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki to participate in the first World Circular Economy Forum where the Koli Forum Association was one of the co-organizers together with the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and its partners. The session organized by Koli Forum drew the attention of the global audience to the Nordic views regarding forest-based bioeconomy as well as its role in advancing the circular economy. During the presentations and panel discussion at the Koli Forum session, it was pointed out that on the European political scene, there is an obvious lack of understanding of the important role of forests and forest-based bioeconomy in climate change mitigation. This was considered as a major common challenge that needs to be addressed and acted upon.
Session key notes – governmental, research and business insights
In his opening speech Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen highlighted the opportunities available for increased use of European forests on sustainable basis while mitigating the climate change at the same time. He underlined that these targets are not to be seen opposite to each other. The goal of Finland’s bioeconomy is to create new economic growth and jobs through bio-based products and services while securing ecosystem services. Minister Tiilikainen referred to the diverse role of forests in the field of bioeconomy and said that Finland wants to take good care of the forest resources in order to be able to substitute fossil raw materials in products and energy with forest-based biomass.
Ms. Ma Rong from the National Development and Reform Commission of the P.R. of China emphasized in her message the role of international cooperation and the need to strengthen joint efforts in areas such as the circular economy, efficient resource utilization and sustainable development. The Chinese government is presently in the process of establishing new bilateral cooperation mechanisms with EU member states.
Dr. Marc Palahi from the European Forest Institute was calling for a new paradigm where the bioeconomy becomes the prosperity engine for sustainable development. He pointed out the great potentials that the forest-based bioeconomy offers in catalyzing such transformation towards circular economy. Increasing use of wood in the building sector is a concrete example of such potential.
In addition to wood use in building construction, Ms. Kati ter Horst from Stora Enso illustrated in her presentation today’s applications and future possibilities to substitute fossil-based products e.g. with the use of micro-fibrillated cellulose. She explained how dissolving pulps are increasingly used in textiles and how fibre-based packaging is gaining new markets in applications previously dominated by plastics.
Panel’s views on the relationship between bio and circular economy
Ms. ter Horst considered the bioeconomy to be an essential part of the circular economy and that these two are complimentary to each other. She also reminded the audience that the forest industry is in fact very circular; i.e. an integrated paper mill is a circular economy in itself with energy self-sufficiency and beyond, all the side streams being used for manufacturing new products and practically nothing going to waste.
Mr. Kai Merivuori from the Finnish Sawmills’ Association drew attention to the global differences in the distribution of resources and how the key challenge at the end of the day is the scarcity of resources. Therefore, resource efficiency is at stake here and global rules that can be followed are needed. He stressed the fact that for the Finnish sawmills the high efficiency in raw material use is today crucial for the industry’s competitiveness.
When talking about the role of forests in the national and international climate policies Mr. Henrik Ehrnrooth from Pöyry considered that on a global scale reforestation is a much better and cheaper solution compared to technical carbon storage and capture. Dr. Palahi went on to say that the best approach to properly include forests in these policies would be to establish an agreement on global carbon price. Ms. Erika Mink from Tetra Pak pointed out the consumers’ increasing interest towards sustainability and the origin of raw materials. She called for internationally harmonized standards regarding sustainability-related measures.
The panelists agreed that the forest industry has previously not been particularly R&D oriented but that this will have to change in the future. Regarding the future research needs it was considered that more focus is needed particularly in the field of material sciences where the role of biomaterials has so far been very limited. The combination of biomaterials with other materials represents a potentially huge research field which will open up an entirely new world of opportunities for forest-based products. Better understanding related to land use options both in agriculture and in forestry was called for as well as the need to study the impacts of climate change on forests, in particular regarding their importance for the water cycle. All panelists agreed that more market research is needed in order to better understand what types of products and services consumers will need in the future and how wood-based solutions can best respond to these needs.