In early 2023, I was privileged to be part of the jury of the Uusi Puu and Wood U Innovate innovation competitions. It was enjoyable to work on such an important matter. The promotion of research, development and innovation (RDI) is generally highly valued in Finland and it enjoys wide societal acceptance. In practice, everyone supports innovation – who would not want to experience a better future?

Innovation activities are particularly important to the forest industry. We do not only seek a competitive advantage over other operators but also address global challenges.

For example, the carbon handprint of the Finnish export industry, i.e. emission reductions achieved through the export of clean solutions, is already enormous. The exports-generated emission reductions far exceed the national emissions produced in Finland. The handprint is created by the exports of different industries, but in particular the forest industry and chemical industry, which make up over 50% of Finland’s exports.

New material and product solutions can be used to replace fossil-based or other products that have a negative impact on the environment. Inventions related to the processing and protection of wood, on the other hand, promote the long-term use of wood and, therefore, its long-term carbon sequestration, in activities such as construction.

International patent statistics show that Finland is among the top three countries in the world in terms of technologies related to folding carton, moulded fibre (e.g. egg or fast-food cartons), cup board (e.g. coffee cups), stickers and labels. Examined by the strength of the patent portfolio, Finland ranked first in the world in patents related to microfibrillated and nanofibrillated cellulose, wastewater and sludge treatment and the recovery of lignin from black liquor.

Inventions and patents related to wood processing have a major impact on the competitiveness and opportunities of the Finnish forest industry on the international market. Patents also reflect the industry’s work to promote sustainable development and sustainability in general.

Finland has already taken – or is about to take – many steps in the right direction, but we have yet to cross the finish line in terms of RDI activities. For example, a great deal of work is still needed in the area of developing new business concepts. Customers and consumers want to make successful decisions. How can we help them make smart choices and support their goals?

For the forest industry, it is particularly important that the Finnish innovation system is developed so that it better supports business-driven RDI activities. New legislation concerning RDI funding and an RDI tax deduction policy supporting, in particular, the development of small and medium-sized enterprises were adopted early this year. Both were great leaps forward.

In addition to legislative reforms and new investment efforts, I would like to highlight the general atmosphere and empowerment among all of us business-employed Finns: how can we make our operations smarter? You do not need a PHD or research training to work in RDI. Working in RDI is above all a matter of attitude.

The forest industry tackles global challenges, while also playing a key role in supporting Finland’s bioeconomy. Examined by industry, our share of the value added of bioeconomy is significant, nearly 40%. Our share of exports is over 70%.

Finland has understood the importance of bioeconomy well. Our bioeconomy strategy and the upcoming RDI road map of bioeconomy will guide us on our path towards more ambitious goals. EU regulation, on the other hand, is a source of concern. The EU has yet to fully understand bioeconomy or its significance to a successful industrial policy. This requires a great deal of advocacy work from us and other operators in the field.

According to analysts, the international market for forest industry products will grow annually by nearly two percent over the next ten years. Finnish organisations are well aware of this possibility. Let us hope that the European Union will also soon wake up to this situation.

The world is rapidly evolving in a direction that favours recyclable, renewable and biodegradable materials over fossil materials. Believe me – wood will drive us even further in the future.