Local authorities have practical power to develop sustainable bioeconomy in regions

Aug. 8, 2019 | Vidzeme, Latvia

The bioeconomy is becoming more and more popular across Europe and is not only seen as a solution to environmental problems but has also the potential to offer new and innovative solutions for the use of biological resources by opening an unprecedented and new economic sector. New products and services are emerging in the markets, different, hitherto seemingly incompatible industries are creating innovation, new professions and jobs. Regions have a major role to play in the bioeconomy – if urban environment is more suited to the development of different services, then regions are rich with biological resources.

Admittedly, regions are currently at a crossroads in terms of adapting to climate change, protecting biodiversity, and at the same time being able to meet the needs of both local and urban communities. Developing the bioeconomy in the region requires the involvement of a variety of players, including private-public partnerships, bringing together individual interest with specific knowledge.

The European Bioeconomy Strategy emphasizes the need to raise public awareness of the potential and opportunities of the bioeconomy and to raise awareness of the bioeconomy, which is simultaneously a prerequisite and a challenge for the bioeconomy boom in Europe. Without awareness and knowledge, it is impossible to implement a national strategy, the implementation of which is also influenced by the work of local governments.

Municipalities play a particularly important role by exemplifying and implementing motivational activities, such as creating the right conditions and environment for the development of bioeconomy areas, acting as a facilitator and bringing together different players, for example by developing binding rules and requirements for green and sustainable solutions. Likewise, processes at local level can be steered through smart, innovative and local procurement, e.g., for projects such as building construction, infrastructure development, catering, etc.

In Spring 2019, a bioeconomy forum was organized in Vidzeme, bringing together recognized foreign bioeconomy experts and practitioners from various European countries in order to raise the awareness and knowledge of local government leaders and specialists in the field of bioeconomy.

The Scandinavian countries are a striking example towards a sustainable bioeconomy. Vice President of the Municipality of Joensuu (Finland), Janna Puumalainen, also visited Cesis to tell the audience why the municipality has chosen to become a sustainable city 15 years ago and what activities are being pursued to achieve the goal. Interestingly, despite the fact that 80% of the municipality's territory is covered by forests, they have never complained of poor air quality and are called the European Capital of Forests, the municipality has set itself a truly ambitious goal of becoming CO2 neutral by 2025 in Europe, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 2017 onwards. Similar plans exist only for Copenhagen in Denmark and Linköping in Sweden.

In order to meet the goal, municipality work is not enough. It has also been integrated into development strategies by institutions and companies operating in the municipality (waste management companies, construction companies, student dormitory managers, house managers, etc.).

As the spokeswoman for the Joensuu municipality admits: “Cities and municipalities can actually do a lot because they have practical local power and taxpayers' money in their hands. By working, we can influence citizens, other stakeholders - organizations, companies. If the municipality is able to dominate the processes and exercise its influence, then practical changes can be made quite quickly. However, without the involvement of citizens, businesses and organizations, the city cannot do it alone. Explanatory work and references to benefits are therefore essential. Being green has become a brand, it is very important to the people, especially to the younger generation. ”

Joensuu municipality has chosen to carry out a wide range of activities, from networking to practical activities in everyday work. The HINKU network is seen by the Vice President of Joensuu as a great advantage, being one of the 47 municipalities in the network, it opens the possibility of exchanging knowledge, learning from one another and adopting solutions tailored to the local situation.

In Finland all summer homes and almost 80-90% of all private houses are built of wood already, but the situation is different with apartment houses and public buildings. Pummalainen emphasizes: "In the context of urbanization, the material used for construction, the types of energy and the mobility solutions are of great importance." Joensuu municipality can be proud of having the largest wooden building in Finland - the sports and event arena.The European Forest Institute and the Finnish Institute of Natural Resources, on the other hand, are housed in a building whose walls are built from centuries-old logs. Five years ago, Finland's largest wooden residential project was completed, with 96 student dormitory apartments of 4,200 square meters.

One of the essential tools in the hands of the municipality is the public procurement process. The Joensuu municipality is particularly keen to ensure that environmental criteria are included in the documents (in 2018, 90% of all purchases held environmental criteria, 46% – social and 16% – innovative criteria). With this approach, the municipality of Joensuu is the leading city in Finland and is considered to be progressive in Europe.

Another interesting example that the municipality has implemented with the approval of the Finnish Minister for the Environment has been the process of organizing an investment procurement. The municipality has valued an area it owns and announced an investment purchase, promising to sell it for $ 1.3 million to the one who will offer the most innovative approach for its future use. As Pummalainen admits, the biggest job for the municipality was to set criteria to define exactly what an innovative approach was. As a result of the procurement, the municipality will have the first large green roof, public economic solutions will be available in the area, a public sauna, a space for shared electric cars, environmental and art objects will be on display, and the building project will have its own specifics.

The city also hosts various educational workshops and lectures on sustainable meals, solar energy, future transport solutions, recognizing high quality clothing, eco cleaning, saving resources on a daily basis, and other topics, that are offered to participate to any resident of the municipality. The municipality also pays special attention to strengthening the knowledge of kids at schools and kindergartens.

You are welcome to watch a video lecture by Janna Pummalainen on best practices and examples of Joensuu Municipal Bioeconomy HERE.