The closing conference of the NordBio programme "Minding the future - Bioeconomy in a changing Nordic reality" was held in Reykjavík on 5-6 October. Major results from the Nordbio programme include numerous new products, innovations, and entrepreneurs entering the field of bioeconomy. Equally important, strategic progress has been made that will enable the Nordic collaboration to make a greater impact on European and global policy, improve our position in the competition for European research funding, and help us gain ground in global markets.
The NordBio initiative took a holistic approach to the bioeconomy, bringing experts in education, research and innovation together with industry and policy makers in the quest to promote sustainable production and use of living natural resources.
The outcomes range from improved data on biological resources and their utilisation around the region to new education and research methods, increased resource efficiency and innovative product development. A Nordic Bioeconomy Panel will provide input for a Nordic bioeconomy strategy in 2017.
The five main NordBio projects were Biophilia, which uses creativity in education to increase interest in science, innovation and entrepreneurship; ERMOND, addressing ecosystem resilience and mitigation of natural disasters; Innovation in the Nordic bioeconomy, aimed at enhancing product development and sustainable food production; and Marina, striving to reduce emissions and promote use of alternative fuels in the marine industry. Finally, the aim of Woodbio was to optimise production and utilisation of biomass from the Nordic forestry industry.
“As a result of NordBio, we’ve seen numerous new products, innovations and entrepreneurs entering the field of bioeconomy,” says Sveinn Margeirsson, CEO of Icelandic Food and Biotech R&D company Matís. “We’ve made strategic progress that enables us to make an impact on European policy, position ourselves better in the competition for European research funding, and gain ground in global markets.”
In her talk about the social, environmental and economic potential of the bioeconomy, Lene Lange, Research Leader and Professor at Technical University of Denmark and member of the Nordic Bioeconomy Panel, urged the Nordic countries to take the lead in developing a strong and sustainable global bioeconomy. “The bioeconomy is vital because we need to do things differently,” she says.
“In order to reduce emissions, we need to replace fossil resources with renewables. Also, we must make better use of our biological resources, as we still throw away at least 40% of them. The optimistic message is that we could actually feed the growing population, soon reaching 9 billion, by unlocking the full potential of the biomass.”
Nordic co-operation aims to develop a cross-sectoral bioeconomy that strengthens regional and local economic growth and creates jobs for well-educated people in rural areas.“Sustainability is not only about natural resources and economy, it’s also about societies and local communities,” Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Dagfinn Høybråten, said in his opening statement.
“Technological development and globalisation have put pressure on local economies. In too many places we harvest the abundant resources and export them without much processing and without much value added.”
Speakers at the conference highlighted the need for clear Nordic strategies and bioeconomy policies, strong emphasis on R&D, innovation and entrepreneurship, greatly increased public and private investment, and a flexible and innovative education system. "I wonder if this bio-economic transformation can only succeed by improving scientific literacy and communication," wondered Bryan Alexander, Educator and Futurist.
“The input processes to a sustainable bioeconomy are in constant development,” says Ari Kristinn Jónsson, President of Reykjavík University. “Our education system needs to be flexible and willing to provide students with the necessary capacity for innovation. We must enable people to apply complex technical concepts like bioprocessing of cellulose in the context of a marketable product.”
According to Christine Lang, chair of the German Bioeconomy Council, clear communication is essential in order to achieve public accept of the new bioeconomy. “Bioeconomy should become an integral part of sustainability – of the Sustainable Development Goals and the circular economy,” she says.
“Also, we must make sure that we communicate with society, because without its support, the transformation toward the bioeconomy will not happen.”
Young talents within the bioeconomy field, like Haraldur Hugosson and Ásdís Ólafsdóttir, gave inspiring talks on the importance of a balanced relationship between society and the environment. "We need a generation that wants to treat the planet better, not one that has to," was the clear message from Ásdís Ólafsdóttir.
The conference featured presentations of product development based on sustainable and optimised use of biological resources. Other topics addressed included improved definitions and mapping of the Nordic bioeconomy, capacity building and innovation in education, and ecosystem resilience as a means to reduce the impact of natural disasters.