No doubt Covid-19 has struck hard on the economy, leaving millions of people jobless around the world. But the pandemic is also a game-changing opportunity, a means to accelerate the transition towards a new, green bioeconomy by transforming existing production methods and by helping skilled workers move to more resilient and eco-friendly industries.
As shown by the MIT Skillscape Project skills can be transferred from one industry to another, although initially job positions may seem very different. In a new bio-based circular economy, this could mean an opportunity for millions of workers that have been laid off due to the pandemic.
According to a recently released research by the strategic consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, and led by Michael Chui, global bioeconomy is about to take off and is expected to have an impact of about 3.5 trillion euros per year over the next 10 to 20 years. Chiu’s team looked at the effect of 400 applications of biological innovations that exist today, mainly in the field of synthetic biology, “a field of science that involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities”.
Synthetic biology is a technology that drives radical changes in different industries allowing them to manufacture bio-based goods. From biochemicals or biomedical goods to agriculture. But also, in the fashion industry for example, where biotech companies are introducing innovative production methods and materials, like Lyocell, a fibre made from cellulose from wood pulp.
A bio-based circular economy is in the making with examples of bio-based products popping up everywhere, such as at MycoWorks that grows “leather” from fungi and other agricultural by-products. Or Bolt Threads that is developing ways to produce spider silk massively. This super material that occurs naturally can be processed into different formats including 3D structures. Programmable wood is another example of these innovative bio-based products that will change manufacturing and consumption as we know it today.
But there is still much to be done. Especially when it comes to policy making and investments.
To foster a circular bioeconomy that uses renewable natural capital to transform and manage our land, food, health and industrial systems it is necessary to trigger mission-oriented innovation, attract investments and rethink business models and markets.
In Europe, steps are being taken, such as the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy recently released by the European Commission. A 10-Point Action Plan to create a circular bioeconomy devoted to sustainable wellbeing, coordinated by Marc Palahí, Director of the European Forest Institute has also been delivered, as a response to “HRH The Prince of Wales’ call to invest in nature as the true engine for our economy”.
This action plan is intended to serve as the guiding document for a new Circular Bioeconomy Alliance that will be established by HRH The Prince of Wales under his Sustainable Markets Initiative, aiming to accelerate an industry-wide transition to sustainable markets and rapid decarbonisation.