The biobased society

The biobased society is both inspiring and problematic, inasmuch as it touches many economic, social and political areas. It is about scientific research and tropical rainforest conservation, about the future of big companies and a better income to the farmer (in Europe and in the Third World), about new global trade patterns and better sustainability criteria, about new waste legislation and new quality criteria for sowing seed. All these areas will have to develop more or less simultaneously in order for the biobased economy to be a success. The saying goes: the biobased economy will not be a success until agro, paper and pulp, chemistry, and logistics, fully cooperate. Such a cooperation would indeed solve many problems of present-day society.

Such a change is a ‘transition’ or a ‘systems innovation’. Clearly, innovation is in the heart of the biobased society. The biobased economy derives from the giant steps made in chemistry. But on top of innovation in separate technologies, there is a comprehensive change of technology and social relations. That testifies to broadening up of the biobased economy to the biobased society: an innovation of the social system as such. Such a transition or systems innovation cannot be managed; impossible for parties, powerful as they may be, to align and guide such an innovation process. Each and every social player will have to keep the eyes wide open for new opportunities in innovations, even and precisely if these do not match with old experiences and customs. Arties will have to scrutinise new technological opportunities, and be aware of possible pitfalls. Merely the idea of a circular economy and the perception of waste as a resource will change society.

Opportunities and risks
Transitions carry opportunities for innovative players and risks for incumbent parties which do not change course in time. Each innovation wave has a window of opportunity for SME’s. In the first stages of the wave, profit may not seem to be sufficient for the big corporations. Knowledge intensive SME’s often are the breeding ground for new technologies and new products. Later, big corporations adopt those technologies in their new production lines.

The biobased society will be different from ours. But it is hard to predict, exactly in what way. We maintain, however, that the future industry will be more sustainable, smaller in size, and better integrated with agriculture. Local initiatives will flourish. Small industrial installations may be constructed adjacent to farms or to farm cooperatives, comparable to present-day biogas reactors. And probably, this will stimulate rural development.

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