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Bio-based economy challenges the centralised social model – sustainable future is created through local solutions

In the future, our well-being will be based on the sustainable and wide-ranging use of renewable natural resources – food, energy and nutrients will be produced locally. There will be a demand for sustainable local bioeconomic solutions designed to improve energy and nutrient self-sufficiency.


Bio-economy is here to stay. In the future, our well-being will be based on the sustainable and wide-ranging use of renewable natural resources – food, energy and nutrients will be produced locally. There will be a demand for sustainable local bio-economic solutions designed to improve energy and nutrient self-sufficiency. The transition from industrial production thinking to the smart management of natural resources will be an opportunity for Finland as a whole.
The future bio-economy will be glocal, that is, both global and local. In the local bioeconomy, part of the production – such as food and energy – will be carried out locally, close to the raw materials and the customers. This will minimize the need for transportation and promote efficient recycling of products. The waste left over from one process will provide raw material for another.

This vision of future bio-economy is based on a report published by Sitra’s Landmarks Programme. The report Distributed Bio-Based Economy – Driving Sustainable Growth, the report describes the structures of bio-based economy in society in 2050. The report was drafted by Gaia Consulting Ltd.

Although local production will be able to satisfy basic needs, special products and services will continue to be traded in the global market, as will the transformational and duplicable concepts of success in bio-economy. Local production will interconnect with the global system through smart energy networks or similar systems.
– Global and local, or centralised and decentralised – instead of being opposites, these are dimensions which complement each other. The challenge for the decision-makers will be to find an optimal combination of global and local activities, says Eeva Hellström, Director of the Landmarks Programme.  

Water and nutrients are more important than biomass

Bio-economy is a sector with considerable future potential. The challenge is that it is still seen as a narrow business sector based on bio-technology or the production and refinement of biomass. For example, the business opportunities offered by a material cycle based on biomass are yet to be explored.

The importance of the local material cycle is supported by the results of an online survey targeted to international bio-economy specialists, carried out by Sitra in the summer of 2011. According to the respondents, the central element of bio-economy is not biomass but a sustainable water and nutrient cycle.

However, seizing the opportunities offered by a sustainable material cycle requires changes to society as a whole, and a new understanding of how centralised and decentralised systems can complement each other.

– Bio-economy is much more than just bioenergy, biomass refining and biotechnology. It can be seen as a new way of thinking and acting. The change affects our social system as a whole, Hellström explains.
Bio-based economy as a social model

The results of the online survey indicate that while the business potential of bioeconomy is already apparent, the importance of bioeconomy as a social strategy, a new kind of economic and social structure, is not yet widely recognized.

As a social strategy the bio-based economy could be a key in the fight against the challenges our society is facing, such as climate change and the depletion of natural resources. The bio-based economy offers ways to meet these challenges by decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and by strengthening the ability of society to respond to sudden global changes.

The bio-based economy will not develop into a national strength by itself. If we are to achieve the vision of bio-economy, we need innovative structures and infrastructure as well as new patterns of consumption. The actors in the sector will also need a mutual understanding of the future vision.

– A key challenge for the development of bio-based economy is the increasing competition for raw materials, which creates internal tensions in the sector and complicates its development as a whole. Future winning concepts will spring from open-minded collaboration and bold experiments, says Eeva Hellström.

Summary of the results of the international online survey Challenges for the Future Bio-Economy – Results of an international web-survey »

Presentation of Eeva Hellström at Koli Forum September 15, 2011: Towards a Glocal Bio-Society » 

Distributed Bio-Based Economy – Driving Sustainable Growth» 
Publication information

Distributed Bio-Based Economy – Driving Sustainable
Päivi Luoma, Juha Vanhanen, Paula Tommila
Helsinki: Sitra, 2011
23 p.
ISBN 978-951-563-791-8 (URL:   

Further information

Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund´s Landmarks Programme (2010–2014) identifies future needs and seeks new ways for the countryside to respond to challenges related to climate change and the new faster-paced, mobile way of life. The Programme accelerates profitable business based on local solutions of the green economy.