A bioeconomy dialogue from the perspective of ecovillages

What did conference participants make of the BLOOM bioeconomy project?

The BLOOM project was presented at the yearly European Ecovillage Conference of our partner the Global Ecovillage Network GEN Europe, that took place from the 14th to 17th July in the ecovillage “Comune di Bagnaia” in Tuscany, Italy. The European Ecovillage Conference is a gathering of environmental and social activists, changemakers, representatives from ecovillages and communities, and an engaging general public, with a very diverse program including inspiring keynote speeches, a broad range of workshops, the showcasing of practical sustainable solutions, and celebrating our past achievements. This year’s conference was focussed around the topics of peace, ecology and social justice.

During the ecology day, we had the chance to present the BLOOM project in a 2-hour workshop and engage in a lively dialogue around the implementation of a sustainable circular bioeconomy with several activists, researchers and curious participants who attended our session.

The participants of the workshop were very interested to hear more about the concept of bioeconomy, the activities of the BLOOM project in the regional hubs and in the school network. Generally, the feedback was very positive and participants resonated strongly with the idea of making production processes more sustainable and reusing waste materials. In the dialogue session, they shared the following topics that they would like to be taken into account in the discussion on how a bioeconomy should be implemented:

The potential and impact of a circular bioeconomy should be assessed within a holistic perspective and framework, as for instance the definition of sustainability used in the “Map of Regeneration” of the Global Ecovillage Network GEN, which defines four areas of sustainability (ecological, economic, social and cultural) and an integral design approach; or the permaculture design principles. This would bring the benefit of being able to assess the potential and impact on many levels, and not only focusing on the reduction of CO2 emissions, which they felt was a too reductionist approach for the implementation of an idea that implies a deeper systems change and affects many levels of society (including economic systems, value chains, collaborations between stakeholders and consumer behaviour among others). In the evaluation of the impact of bioeconomy solutions, the impact on all levels should be made as transparent as possible.

In addition to focussing on a more sustainable production (e. g. using renewable biomass and waste streams in production processes instead of fossil feedstock), a deeper shift of the underlying patterns and paradigms is needed. A different kind of conversation ought to be held, that addresses the growth paradigm, (hyper)consumerism and our relationship with other living beings and the Earth (that we are currently treating as commodities). A different paradigm can reveal some of the hidden assumptions of the current way of operation that our economic and societal systems are based on and can show alternative perspectives that allow us to find new answers to the same questions. A paradigm shift towards treating Earth not as a commodity, but as a living being that needs to be respected is already happening as Rights of Nature or Rights of Mother Earth are being recognized in laws and constitutions of several nation states. Law has been seeing an evolution toward recognition of the inherent rights of Nature to exist, thrive and evolve, and this change of paradigm should also be taken into account in the discussion around the implementation of a circular bioeconomy.

Moreover, in the implementation of a sustainable bioeconomy, the five “Rs” of Circular Economy – reduce, reuse, refurbish, repair and recycle – should all be taken into account, with a special focus on the first principle of reduction. Any future sustainable economic system will have to address rampant consumerism. Existing alternative lifestyles such as the ecovillages, can be a good example to show that consuming less and having a more sufficiency-based lifestyle does not necessarily mean renouncing a good quality of life.

Participants also voiced the fear that the bioeconomy could become a form of “bio-capitalism” by greenwashing unsustainable production patterns. When we talk about a circular bioeconomy, we should address the underlying problems. For instance, the problem of packaging should be addressed and package-free solutions supported, instead of making “bio-packaging” from biobased plastics.

In the implementation of a circular bioeconomy, local and regional decentralized small-scale solutions should be supported, in order to boost local economies and avoid long distance transport. On a local level, bioeconomy has the potential to support people and especially the rural population by “taking production into their own hands”. Bioeconomy should not only focus on spreading large scale technological innovation, but also local small-scale biobased solutions. In the workshop, several small-scale biobased solutions used in local communities were discussed, including the production of biochar, the use of natural building techniques and the production of biogas from green waste and food waste, which are widely used in ecovillages.

In the view of the participants, bioeconomy bears the potential for companies to leverage their power to help change markets and consumer habits, influenced by a broader ethically grounded perspective. In doing so, they will meet the demand and collective buying power of a growing network of people interested in sustainable solutions and alternative ways of living.

You can read more about the BLOOM project on the project website.