Finnish Bioeconomy in 2050 – Visions of Future Environmental Professionals
Finland and the European Union, among others, are promoting bioeconomy as a new form of economy. According to the EU, the bioeconomy comprises those parts of the economy that produce renewable biological resources, such as crops, forests, fish, animals and micro-organisms, or use them to produce food, materials and energy. In order for transition to have public legitimacy and engagement, it is important to understand different stakeholders’ views of bioeconomy. Therefore in this article we focus on future environmental professionals’ views of bioeconomy and compare them to the official definitions. We collected essays about Finnish bioeconomy in 2050 among 47 future environmental professionals who were currently studying at universities in the Helsinki region. The one-page essays were written in the spring 2017. Their content was analysed through nine themes (energy, housing, transport, food, other consumption, individuals, society, drivers, and definition of bioeconomy). Respondents’ views were reduced to three-four alternative future images per each theme and then combined into overall future images. According to the results, respondents’ visions were much more versatile and varied than the images portrayed by the Finnish and EU policies. The visions included dystopic images as well as critical views regarding the consumption-based lifestyles of today. The visions included changes to everyday life and practices, as well as to prevailing values and attitudes. For example, dietary changes such as increased vegetarianism and reduced consumption of meat and dairy products were very common. On the other hand, local food production and self-sufficiency were preferred by many respondents. In addition, the new technologies and materials envisioned were not only bio-based. Instead, solar and wind power emerged as particularly important energy forms. Even nuclear power was mentioned, which demonstrates how the focus of these visions was often carbon-neutrality rather than renewability or biological resources. Altogether these visions demonstrate that even among future environmental professionals the concept of bioeconomy is far from clear. It can be hypothesized that the term is even less known among the Finnish people at large. It is also likely that current research and promotion activities do not take into account the various societal and everyday dimensions of bioeconomy, if they only focus on the technological and economic aspects of the transform. We conclude that the aim to transform the Finnish society towards bioeconomy should be discussed more widely, and its definition, legitimacy, and societal impacts should be studied further.