What Finnish “sisu” can teach us about Bioeconomy

Task 3 of PerForm aims to analyze the perceptions and acceptance of urban consumers concerning the forest-based bioeconomy. Tuuli Suomala from the University of Helsinki, Finland, is currently writing her master thesis on this topic. Armed with tenacity and a positive attitude, she went to the freezing city squares of Helsinki in search of answers.

“Sisu” is a Finnish concept that does not really have an equivalent in the English language. It is associated with determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience or even hardiness. This attitude is exactly what you need if you want to conduct surveys in Finland during the cold winter days. But such tenacity is also inspiring. In fact, it might be just what we need in order to jumpstart a successful bioeconomy transition.

Tuuli Suomala is a student at the University of Helsinki, writing her thesis under the supervision of Jaana Korhonen, Arttu Malkamäki and Prof Anne Toppinen from the Forest Bioeconomy, Business and Sustainability group. Her thesis is part of PerFrom project. The main aim is to understand urban consumers’ worldviews on the forest-based bioeconomy, and to provide insights into how these worldviews affect the consumers’ perceptions (e.g. acceptance, understanding or risk) of the forest-based bioeconomy. 

Tuuli started work on her thesis in October 2018. The data collection took place between December 2018 and January 2019 in Helsinki. This part of her study proved a bit more challenging than expected. In comparison to other partner countries performing similar consumer perception studies (for example the IKEA consumer study in Uppsala), Tuuli could not convince retailers and shopping centers to allow her to conduct the survey on their premises. But this setback didn’t deter her.

A normal day of data collection

On the contrary, she went back to her supervisors, revamped her study design, and headed back to the city with a new action plan. Instead of shopping centers, she decided to collect data in the public spaces of Helsinki city center. Tulli spent hours in central pedestrian areas and squares, such as nearby Helsinki’s new central library Oodi. This allowed her to interview a broad and diverse group of respondents, people of different ages, gender and backgrounds.

You may be wondering how it feels to spend hours chasing respondents in such hostile weather conditions. Well, as Tuuli puts it:

I can tell that it can be pretty freezing! Anyway, with some Finnish “sisu” and a positive attitude I managed to collect 206 responses for the survey.

That is a pretty impressive feat of data collection. The first results are encouraging. Nearly 59% of the respondents claimed to be familiar with the forest-based bioeconomy concept. More specifically, respondents seem to be familiar with bioeconomy- related products and services such as wooden multistory buildings, and forest carbon storage. Additionally, respondents associated the forest-based bioeconomy with positive attributes such as generating new jobs and well-being.

Finland is already well on track to fully transitioning to a bioeconomy. However, more work remains to be done, particularly if the country is to achieve its ambitious growth targets by 2025. Citizens and consumers play an important role in this transition. The national bioeconomy strategy claims that the bioeconomy “(…) offers an excellent way of improving the citizens’ well-being”. Understanding how citizens themselves perceive the role and impact of bioeconomy on their well-being and behavior is therefore crucial. Besides political action, customer behavior will ultimately tip the scale in favor of a sustainable bioeconomy transition.

Tuuli’s work contributes to our understanding of whether such a societal perception- and behavioral shift is currently taking place. A willingness to change towards more sustainable production and consumption pathways has to come forth. But in order to make a more momentous transition towards bioeconomy possible we all need to become more aware of the impact our behavior has on the environment. Perhaps we all need a bit more determination, tenacity of purpose, or as Tuuli puts it, a bit more “sisu”.


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