More than 40 decision-makers from across Europe gathered in Finland on November for a cross-sectoral forum on renewable resources and sustainability.

Most of them represented the forest sector, but some represented other sectors such as energy, the environment, construction and rural development. The forum was interactive and output-oriented, applying working methods developed within the Finnish Forest Academy cross-sectoral communication concept.

Although the forum was initiated and organised by the Finnish forest sector, its focus was significantly wider: the aim was to strengthen the understanding of the potential of renewable natural resources in Europe. It discussed how the sustainable use of renewables can contribute to competitiveness, sustainability and well-being in Europe, what challenges exist, and how to overcome them. It also examined the role of forests and wood as a renewable resource in Europe.

The foundation for the forum was laid in the opening session: “Renewable resources will not be able to replace petrochemistry in the foreseeable future,” said Dr Peter Botschek, director at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic).”However, we need to reduce our fossil resources consumption and find long-term solutions of substitution. We also need to manage this transition in a way that protects our economies’ competitiveness and employment,” he said.

The chair of the forum, Sirkka Hautojärvi, permanent secretary of Finland’s Ministry of the Environment, outlined that renewable natural resources will have a significant role in this transition. “We also have to get more out of less,” she pointed out. Her view was supported by state secretary Pekka Pesonen from Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, who called for Europe to continue as an active pioneer, both in increasing eco-efficiency and in shifting the focus from non-renewable resources to renewable ones.

The keynote speakers gave a clear message about the direction and final destination of sustainable natural resource policies. However, it was noted that, even with the final destination in mind, we still face the challenge of finding the right path.

During the seminar, it was acknowledged that the final destination is best reached through cross-sectoral dialogue. In this dialogue, we need to admit that renewability is only one argument among others. Renewable resources sectors will only prosper if the “renewability” argument is backed by others – for example, the availability of raw materials, efficiency in material and energy use and favourable economic, social and environmental impacts. It will be challenging but, according to the seminar participants, we have the necessary tools. We just need to learn how to use them.

Leading the way

Global discussion on natural resources is accelerating. In order for Europe to be proactive and influential in forthcoming global natural resource debates, we need to strengthen our own information base and awareness on all natural resources, and develop ways to improve the availability of global natural resource information.

Awareness and communication are prerequisites for action at all levels – and is as necessary as policy co-ordination and research.

Even though the forum recognised serious gaps in natural resources information at both European and global levels, this is not only a statistical exercise: it is a cross-sectoral communication process. The seminar participants even suggested in their group work that strengthening international cross-sectoral decision-maker dialogue on natural resources is an even more urgent need than policy co-ordination or research inputs in this area; awareness and communication are prerequisites for action on all other levels as well.

For more information on the forum and results, visit