Extra Boost to the Green Economy in Municipalities – Webinar in Finnish Lapland 28.4.2020

COVID-19 shakes the economy with a hard grip. Some companies have completely fallen out of business and practically all sectors have somehow had to adopt to the new situation. Also in the project world COVID-19 has changed the work plans for this spring, but in knowledge intensive work many things can be transferred to virtual implementation, which gives us possibilities to operate also in current conditions. We changed our GRUDE project green economy workshop to be carried out digitally when it became clear that physical events would not be possible to organise in the spring. Our goals of disseminating information about the opportunities of the green economy and providing the project with information about the bottlenecks in the development of green economy can also be achieved through online implementation.

Project manager Reeta Sipola opened the webinar with a short introduction about the concept of green economy and the goals of the GRUDE project. Between the expert speeches the chair of the webinar, Maarit Timonen, asked interactive online questions from the audience with an online tool Mentimeter.

Figure 1. Word cloud on the Mentimeter question “What do you think the green economy means?”

Increased awareness of the green economy

Keynote speaker Kari Herlevi, the leader of Sitra´s Circular Economy focus area, told about the Green Economy both as a national and global phenomenon in Finland. Having the event online gave us an excellent opportunity to invite such a nationwide expert to our webinar.

Figure 2. Attitudes and lack of knowledge are the main obstacles for green growth

Herlevi spoke about Finland´s national circular economy targets and emphasized that much work still needs to be done to keep the materials in circulation and to reduce emissions. The audience was asked about the obstacles to the realization of green growth. Lack of information was highlighted in the responses. Kari Herlevi replied that he believes there is sufficiently information available, but correct and up-to-date information does not necessarily reach the person who needs it.

Our second expert speaker was Kari Manninen, an energy expert from the municipality of Ii. Kari presented a Northern Finnish example of succesful energy solutions made in the municipality of Ii. For the participants it was easy to identify with the circumstances of Ii as it is similar to many Lappish areas based on its geographical location and population density. The audience was asked what prevents from copying the operating model from Ii to other municipalities, and the significance of attitudes was higlighted in the responses. Kari Manninen replied that courage and inclusion in decision-making and activities have played a key role in promoting green economy models.

Figure 3. Attitudes and lack of resources emerged as main obstacles for copying the Ii model to other municipalities.

Specialist Reseacher Juha Laitila from the Natural Resouces Center in Joensuu told the audience about the importance of purchasing and using forest energy for energy production and employment. He emphasized the importance of cost factors in increasing the use of forest energy. The audience was asked about factors preventing the development of forest energy use in Lapland. The chair raised the question of what should be done for forest energy support system in order to intensify the use of forest energy. Juha Laitila replied that better predictability of the support system would stabilize the operation of forest energy supply chains and hence increase and intensify the use of forest energy.

Figure 4. According to the audience responses, support schemes are the biggest obstacle for increasing the use of forest energy.

Development Director of Sodankylä, Jukka Lokka, presented Sodankylä´s model in increasing the use of local food in public kitchens. Jukka presented an operating model developed and launched through project activities in Sodankylä for central kitchen food service production. It utilizes local raw materials in the central kitchen when possible. The public was asked about the obstacles to reproduce Sodankylä´s operating model in other municipalities and the means of influencing the state of mind in the municipalities emerged as the main issue. Jukka commented that increasing information and presenting arguments based on cost accounting are the key to influencing in decision-making. The total costs of food services do not even necessarily increase when local raw materials are being used.

Figure 5. State of will is seen as the biggest obstacle for reproducing Sodankylä´s operating model for central kitchen food service production to other municipalities.

Collecting good practices

For GRUDE, the implementation of webinar workshop was succesful: the participants were satisfied and estimated that their knowledge of the green economy had increased. Each of the experts could have given a whole day event on their topics, but the goals of this event were to open up prospects for the potential of the green economy and to create a positive attitude with compact presentations. GRUDE also received good comments on the bottlenecks we must open up as well as suggestions for future event themes for further planning. This time, our webinar served as an introduction to the green economy and was primarily aimed at arousing interest and laying the groundwork for future networking.

Figure 6. The participants commented on the increase of knowledge of green growth and green economy.

Realistically, we reached more participants with the online implementation than we would have gotten to join a physical workshop event. In particular, online participation enabled the involvement of our key target group, the busy public sector representatives. A couple of hours online is easier to fit on the calendar than to book the whole day with travelling. The event was also recorded and the links and materials were provided to those who registered, so it is possible to learn more about the good practices presented later.

Independence from time and place is the strength of webinar events. Transferring events to a remote implementation is a small practical example of green economy. Expert speakers and participants reduce the environmental impacts of the event by giving up the non-essential travelling. Online implementation also makes it possible to bring nationwide expert speakers cost-effectively to an event they would not otherwise be able to attend.

Korona is undoubtedly a major blow to the economy and well-being of people. It has hit different sectors very unequally, regardless of how responsibly the companies have acted. However, as the pressure to the environment has been significantly reduced due to economic crisis, nature has shown signs of recovery. We have read in the news, for example, about the improvement of air quality in Asian cities and that the Himalayan mountains are visible again in India.

In order to learn something from this global state of emergy we should consider which things we want to go back to and what things we could continue to do differently also in the future. It is precisely this search for a balance between the economy, well-being and nature that is at stake in the green economy.

Writers: Project planner Kalle Santala and project manager Reeta Sipola, Future Bioeconomy Expertise group, lapland University of Applied Sciences.

References:

Santala, K. & Sipola, R. 2020. Verkkotyöpajassa vara parempi. Lumen Lapin ammattikorkeakoulun verkkolehti 2/2020.

Korona ilmastovaikutuksista hurja arvio: Vähentää päästöjä enemmän kuin toinen maailmansota, mutta sekään ei riitä pysäyttämään ilmastonmuutosta. Yle uutiset 18.4.2020.

Päästöt laskevat nyt rytinällä, mutta onko koronavirus hyvä uutinen ilmastonmuutoksen kannalta? Päinvastoin, sanoo tutkija: “Tämä on pelottava oppitunti” Yle uutiset 29.3.2020.

Sourcing energy wood from forests and recycling it back

Forest felling volumes and the use of wood in energy generation have recently attracted attention at the national level. Besides various carbon sink estimates, it is known that seedling stands and young forests are suffering from lack of tending. In addition, in the large population centres of the south of Finland, subtitutes are being sought for coal and other fossil fuels, forest industries are worried about pulpwood ending up in district heating boilers, and peat should be replaced by another domestic source of fuel.

At a regional level, the types of wood fuels used in heat and power plants depend on the economic cycle and structure of forests. The consumption of wood fuels follows the fluctuations in the outdoor temperature and rainfall in the peat production season. In an economic downturn, the need for wood harvested by means of thinning increases in energy generation as the by-products flow from the wood processing industry wanes and logging residues from regeneration felling are not available before.

Thinning improves the value of the growing stock and its durability against pests and diseases. Remote sensing methods can be used to locate untended stands, and absent forest owners can be activated and informed by various means. The main problem with the utilisation of untended stands is that small-diameter trees are expensive to harvest for energy use and, on the other hand, not all forest owners can afford to tend their sprawling stands into production condition.

Until now, the equation has appeared difficult to solve, but a wood harvesting innovation that works on a continuous basis can provide a solution to the problem of untended young stands, as at least part of the costs can be covered by revenue from energy wood sales. It is estimated that the machine is most effective in the tending of dense 5-8-metre seedling stands and young forests. Maximum productivity is achieved when stems to be removed can be harvested at their full length without having to cut them into shorter pieces.

In addition to security of supply, timeliness is emphasized in the sourcing of energy wood and the related supply chain. Energy wood stocks must be produced into chips at the right time to ensure the required chip quality, and the chips must be delivered to the application sites on-demand. In addition, storage sites must be accessible by road. Capital is tied up in stocks, and this, along with quality, sets out its own requirements for the rate of turnover of stocks, not to mention that the energy wood piles drying out at the mercy of the elements are at the same time being eaten away by storage rot.

Another challenge in the chip production process is caused by the uneven workload distribution. During frosty winter months, machinery and transport vehicles are constantly in a rush, while the problem during the summer months is a lack of work. The seasonal variation could be evened out by storing chips in stacks; however, this increases the self-ignition, as well as CO2 emissions and storage losses. Competition in the fuel market is fierce and it is not worth transporting chips over long distances. Compared to industrial timber, the transport distances for energy wood are clearly shorter and the aim is always to source wood from surrounding areas.

The by-product of the use of wood in energy generation is wood ash, which can be used to improve tree growth and carbon sequestration in peatlands. The use of ash as fertilizer reduces the amount of ash in landfill sites and thus contributes to the goals of circular economy. Ash fertilisation is specially used to compensate for the lack of phosphorus, potassium and trace elements in drained of forested peatlands. The positive impact of ash on tree growth starts to show more slowly than that of artificial fertilisers, but ash can produce additional growth for up to thirty years. The annual increase in growth in well-tended forests is estimated to be between 2 ad 4 cubic metres per hectare per year.

Author: Juha Laitila, Natural Resources Institute Finland