BioEcoJust Open Horizon Scanning #2

Nicolas A. Balcom Raleigh & Amos T. Taylor

The Bioeconomy and Justice futures team continues its Open Horizon Scanning process with this second batch of found items. We thank readers who gave us positive feedback on the launch of this endeavor. We feel encouraged to continue this experimental series of blog posts.

The BioEcoJust project is concerned with the ethical challenges humanity will face in the development of the bioeconomy between now and the year 2125. As part of a larger multi-method research process, we are conducting an ongoing horizon scanning process to inform, develop and test our research findings as we go. On any given week, we encounter a dozen or more items relevant to our research topic. These items can be anything, ranging from academic articles to internet memes. Our project’s futures team has established a practice of documenting, sharing, and reflecting upon these horizon scanning items as we find them. From these discussions, we develop sensemaking tools which we then use to notice new items and interpret them in relation to our project.

Usually, organizations and teams do their horizon scanning privately, in many cases seeing it as a source of competitive advantage. We, however, decided to do some of our horizon scanning work openly. Our reasons are:

  • To more rapidly share our emerging insights with our research communities including our FFRC colleagues, the rest of the Academy of Finland BioFutures 2025 programme, and other futures studies scholars and practitioners;
  • To deepen our interpretations and analysis of the items by communicating about them and listening for feedback;
  • To provide an ‘in process’ view of how we are approaching our research topic;
  • And, to invite discussion about the items we present and their implications for the future of the bioeconomy.

Our goal is to share 3–5 horizon scanning items in somewhat frequent and easy-to-read blog posts. To analyse the presented items, we apply the sensemaking tools we’ve developed so far: the human-technology-nature triangle, three socio-technical domains, and our five BioWorlds (see our launch announcement for detail). To be somewhat systematic in our analysis, we will generally include the following elements about each presented item:

  • A short headline conveying the item’s essential meaning;
  • A reference and link for the item;
  • A brief description;
  • How it relates to other items we’ve encountered;
  • Meanings of the item in relation to our existing sense-making tools (e.g. BioWorlds, Human-Technology-Nature Triangle, and Three SocioTech Domains);
  • And, perhaps most important — the potential futures we see in the item.

This batch of items all share a cross-cutting theme of bioeconomy and it’s potential to address climate change. They include an interactive article conveying the ranges of impacts of global warming, the role of climate change interventions by the wealthy philanthropists, the new global land-use degradation indicator announced by UNCCD, and the launch of a scientific debate regarding how suitable wood-based sources for energy are for reducing CO2 emissions.

Horizon Scanning Items

1. The many ways 1.5C is less than 2.0C

Carbon Brief (2018) Impacts and Uncertainty of 1.5C & 2.0C. Climate Change.  (Accessed 10 October 2018).

This item caught our attention in relation to the widely covered IPCC Special Report 15 released on 8 October. It is an interactive article by Carbon Brief about the ‘impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond. Based on 70 peer-reviewed recent climate studies, it briefly sketches out temperature differences and their impacts for the future in ten categories: Oceans, Ice, Temperature, Rainfall, Drought, Storms and flooding, Crops, Nature, Economy, and Health. Rather than being a simple list, this quantified analysis is presented as ranges of possible impacts and uncertainties while conveying the complicated interrelations among the impacts. For example, depending on if we are talking about 1.5 or 2.0C global average temperature increase, the sea level will rise between 59 and 61 cm by years 2100 and 2300, and warm spell durations will range between averages of 17 to 35 days of continuously warm (hot) weather per year.

In 2015, a presentation by CICERO suggested that the IPCC scenarios of 2.0C increase were rather optimistic with one crucial factor hanging in the balance, the need for negative emissions through carbon capture. The technology and mechanisms for negative emissions are yet to be demonstrated and their viability at scale remains highly uncertain. Futurist’s ears perk up whenever uncertainty is discussed, as these are exactly the areas of the future requiring deeper exploration and bolder strategic action. This week’s IPCC report underlines the need to explore uncertainty to find solutions, to acknowledge the wide complexity of impacts, and the need for concerted and far-reaching action as soon as possible.

In this sense, this item signals a coming maturation in discussions about climate change in which frameworks like this enable discussion about the uncertainty of warmer futures by specifying the variety of combinations of possible impacts. This horizon scanning item may also signal a wider strengthening of our Bio-Equality world’s influence on how people conceive of and act toward an ideal relationships among Humans, Technology, and Nature. At the very least, it is another call for greater awareness of how bold transformative actions are needed today in order to improve the options for people living 100 to 200 years from now.

2. The downsides of “billionaire saviors”

Florida, Richard (2018) Real Change Won’t Come from Billionaire Philanthropists. 27 September 2018, City Lab.  (Accessed 17.10.2018.)

This item is an interview with author Anand Giridharadas who summarizes many key arguments he makes in his new book Winners Take All. The core of his argument is that the world’s wealthiest people are co-opting the concept of social change in their initiatives to do good. As wealthy people implement their own tools for social change, like social impact investing, change-driven invite-only events such as DAVOS, or personal ‘save-the-world’ pet projects, they simultaneously set the rules for how change should be enacted, closing out other options, and thereby reinforcing their economic power. We don’t necessarily agree or disagree with Giridharadas (we would need to read his book more closely), but we take his observation of this phenomena of what we’ll call ‘billionaire saviors’ as a starting point for exploring some fascinating future potentials.

His criticism of the present class-based influences on the future reminds us of arguments made by Moore (2016). Moore rejects the ‘it’s all of humanity’s fault’ logic of many Anthropocene scholars and instead places the blame for environmental devastation and the looming climate crisis on historical Europe-led colonialism. These past actions dehumanized many non-European people and severely devalued nature in pursuit of capital accumulation. Moore’s point emphasizes the significance of how a small group of powerful actors fundamentally perceive nature’s value.  In this light, how today’s billionaire saviors regard nature is quite important to how far we can go in righting the past wrongs of colonialism over the next 107 years.

Both Giridharadas and Moore are part of a growing list of authors who either call for or predict the need for a new economic system in order to avoid the worst possible outcomes of the global warming crisis. These criticisms link to a sensemaking tool our Bioecojust team is developing regarding the future evolution of the global economy. In our opinion, the often taken-for-granted assumption that the current economic order will continue indefinitely is highly questionable. The overall economic order has changed so profoundly and so many times over the last 100 years that it is highly unlikely it won’t continue to change over the next 100 years. Yet, how can we imagine beyond what we already know? What new forms of ‘valuation of value’ can we expect in the future? (e.g. see 99 These on the Revaluation of Value ) How frequently can we expect the overall economic order change over the next 107 years, due to what factors, and what forms will it take?

This horizon scanning item helps shed some light on these questions by naming a powerful mechanism shaping the present–that wealthy people apply their economic influence to produce change while perpetuating economic structures and systems that continue the destructive status quo. This phenomena of Billionaire Saviors intervening to make change cuts across all five of our BioWorlds as many actors in those worlds already are, or will soon be, mobilized by these types of funders. This phenomena is also present in the three socio-technological domains we are investigating–forests, soil, and algae–as private wealthy individuals play key roles in the development of all three domains. Billionaire Savior initiatives take the form of betting on single solutions to complex and nuanced problems. The motivations of these billionaire saviors are deeply linked with the human, nature, technology triangle as their expectations for how these relationships ‘should be’ profoundly structures the designs of their interventions. Even if these Billionaire Saviors can exert extraordinary influence on societal developments more rapidly than other types of actors, what happens when they are wrong? What other forms of change are overlooked? On a 107-year timeline, will their presence and influence increase or decrease? We note that the actions of Billionaire Saviors must be carefully watched in regards to the development of the Bioeconomy. We also note that doing something is better than doing nothing, even while we wonder what other forms of action could have a greater and longer lasting impact.

 3. Coming Soon: A global Land Degradation Indicator

UNCCD (2018) SDG Indicator 15.3.1. UN Sustainable Development Goal 15.3 Knowledge Hub. (Accessed 10 October 2018.)

UN Sustainable Development Goal 15.3 aims to ‘combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil–including land affected by desertification, drought and floods– and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world’ by 2030. The custodian agency of SDG Goal 15.3 is UNCCD and they are maintaining a knowledge hub to track its progress. An infographic on the hub’s homepage shows how SDG 15.3 is linked to several other SDGs, including safe water, ending extreme poverty, ending hunger, and conserving ecosystems. This horizon scanning item includes both the Knowledge Hub and the Land Degradation Indicator 15.3.1 announced on it. This new indicator is good news for our project because Land Degradation due to human pressure and climate change is one of nine key influences on the year 2125 we’ve identified. Land degradation is a cross-cutting theme in our BioWorlds as well, especially BioUtility and BioRecovery which are at odds with each other in regards to land use. However, to date, there are many differing scientific approaches to assessing of how much of Earth’s land is degraded. So far, to understand the current status of this factor, we have been relying on the IPBES (2018) land degradation forecasts for 2050 and Gibbs and Salman’s (2015) harmonization of four land degradation measurement approaches. In the future, we look forward to having a standardized way to track land degradation. UNCCD plans to first publish Indicator 15.3.1 in February 2019 based on data gathered in 2018. After this, the indicator will be updated every four years. For key players in the bioeconomy (policymakers, business leaders, researchers, startups, etc.) this indicator will serve as a valuable metric by which to determine positive or negative impacts of their actions. For example, the key actors in our BioRecovery world, which features innovators deploying advanced technologies such as space-based monitoring, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and drones to rapidly restore critical ecosystems, could use this indicator to target their interventions, measure their successes, and communicate scientifically about their contributions.

4. Are biofuels renewable?

Searchinger, Timothy D., Tim Beringer, Bjart Holtsmark, Daniel M. Kammen, Eric F. Lambin, Wolfgang Lucht, Peter Raven, and Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (2018) Europe’s renewable energy directive poised to harm global forests. Nature Communications, 2018, 9 (1). (Summarized on Science Daily as “Europe’s renewable energy directive poised to harm global forests, experts argue”)

“Europe’s decision to promote the use of wood as a ‘renewable fuel’ will likely greatly increase Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions” states the Science Daily article about an academic commentary that summarizes a warning by 800 scientists about counting wood-based biofuels as a renewable energy source. With the pressures of climate change comes the urgent need to find alternative greener energy and fuel solutions that can replace global dependency on fossil fuels. The EU’s renewable energy directive has opted to identify wood and thus the forest sector as an attractive candidate. However wood as an inherent natural green solution is problematic when it comes to being utilised directly as a source of fuel because, as it is suggested in this item, it can produce more carbon emissions than fossil fuels, depending on the calculation methods and use of carbon offsets. Rather than focusing wood use on other areas like construction or new materials derived from cellulose, wood for fuel would push EU energy emissions over the limit, the scientists argue. This strategy also gives the green light globally for forests as a source of fuel, potentially resulting in dense precious forest areas of Brazil, for example, being cut at a large scale exclusively for biofuel. A potential impact is that using wood as fuel could become more profitable than applying it to other crucial innovative applications such as textiles, construction, chemicals, and medicines. Burning wood, or transforming it directly to fuel then, in this light, seems to be a primitive way to gain value from nature. It exemplifies the approach of some of the actors in our BioUtility world to maximise efficiency and replace fossil fuels with bio-based sources. An opposite value would be to see this precious forest resource as a valuable form of captured carbon and habitat for biodiversity, which is more in line with the values and motives of our Biorecovery and Bioequality worlds. However this commentary focuses the debate on an energy perspective that does not include other bioeconomy concepts, where convergences of added-value products cascade, and any energy is collected only after high value materials are extracted. The authors seem to overlook the emerging new conceptualization of bioeconomy as ‘circular bioeconomy’ which is emphasized in the new EU Bioeconomy Strategy, (EC 2018).

This academic commentary, in our view, represents a central debate that could continue over the coming decades. Furthermore, the industrial interests of various nations come into play–if forestry is your nation’s largest industry the issue may be seen one way whereas if you nation’s largest industry is oil, the issue may be seen another. The debate is driven by anticipatory assumptions about winners and losers: When wood is seen as a key renewable energy source who wins? Who loses? And what are the unintended consequences? This debate may continue as a permanent, recurring feature of the bioeconomy. As an ‘unfurled dialectic’ – two opposing futures perpetually locked in conflict [1] (see Ahlqvist & Rhisart 2015) – it could define the direction and characteristics of the future bioeconomy for years to come. The key will be to see what is outside its framing to identify alternative configurations.

This concludes our 2nd installment of the BioEcoJust Open Horizon Scan. We welcome your feedback, either via comments (below) or as an email to nabara (a)

Nicolas A. Balcom Raleigh
MA, Project Researcher 

Amos T. Taylor
MA, Project Researcher

[1] Technically, Ahlqvist and Rhisiart call this locked opposition variety of futures dialectic a ‘Parallax Gap.’

Launch of BioEcoJust Open Horizon Scanning

Nicolas A. Balcom Raleigh & Amos T. Taylor

A key part of any high-quality futures research project is active horizon scanning. In our work for the BioEcoJust project, we have made it part of our research design to continually seek, analyze and share new information regarding our focal topic − the bioeconomy. Up until this point, we have only shared our horizon scanning items and future insights within our small futures team. One could argue that doing so is wise in the competitive world of research − moats not bridges. We however believe that being open with our horizon scanning outcomes will contribute to our project’s societal impact while also doing important sharing work within the research community of the larger Academy of Finland BioFutures 2025 programme.

Earlier this week, we decided we would pilot a more open horizon scanning process. This is the first installment. Our goal is to share the top three to five most interesting items we find every week on the FFRC blog. Because establishing an active new communication channel would cost us a lot of valuable research time, we see this strategy as a win-win for our project and for the FFRC community. Our research efforts win because we will be forced to further synthesize our analysis of our items found through horizon scanning. And society wins because what we share could lead to new and productive actions, perspectives, and insights. Furthermore, we invite readers to share any items you find that you think our project will find useful.

Because you are joining us midway in our horizon scanning journey, you will probably need a brief introduction to the sensemaking tools we’ve created so far. There are three main tools:

  • The human-technology-nature triangle. We find the longstanding and dynamic relationships among humans, technology, and nature are useful for making sense of the motivations behind various bioeconomy activities.
  • Three Socio-Technological Domains. We’ve identified three indicative socio-technological domains: forestry, soil, and algae. These do not comprehensively capture all activity in innovative activity in the bioeconomy, but do convey some of the variation and depth of this activity. Forestry refers to all efforts to better manage and generate more value from forests. Soil refers to all efforts to leverage soil’s capacities to capture carbon as a way to address climate change (e.g. regenerative agriculture). Algae refers to many efforts surrounding the use simple living systems to produce chemicals, foods, fuels, and materials for human consumption.
  • Five BioWorlds. Building on the Scenarios as Worldmaking (see Balcom Raleigh et al. 2018), we have identified five worlds or worldview archetypes that various actors in the bioeconomy occupy. Each BioWorld has different characterizations of the human-technology-nature These BioWorlds are Bio-Utilisation, Bio-Mimicry, Bio-Upgrade, Bio-Recovery and Bio-Equality. The first two are hopefully self-evident. Bio-Upgrade refers to actors and activities engaging in upgrading lifeforms. Bio-Recovery refers to applying radical technology to restoring degraded or destroyed ecosystems. Bio-Equality refers to actors advocating for equal status for all living beings.

These and other emerging sensemaking tools produced from our past horizon scanning efforts feed into the present and future horizons scanning work we are doing. On one level, they serve as attractors for information − for example, we may see a headline and think, “this could be useful because it could be part of BioMimicry world.” On another level, they can be applied while interpreting an item for its future potentials. While discussing the launch of this open horizon scanning series of blog posts, we decided we’d start by losely applying the following framework to produce brief ‘first takes’ about what we’re seeing in what we share with our readers. For each item we share, we will generally include the following elements:

  1. The found horizon scanning item, a brief description, and a short header capturing its essence.
  2. How the item relates to other items we’ve encountered;
  3. How it relates to our existing sense-making tools (e.g. BioWorlds, Human-Technology-Nature Triangle, Three Tech Domains)
  4. Potential futures we interpret from the item.

Before we present our first five items, we ought to mention that our project is concerned with the year 2125. If you find it tough to imagine, think of the great-grandchildren of today’s three-year old children. These descendents will be in their 20s and 30s in 100-some years. Close your eyes and let that sink in for a minute before you continue.

Now, without further ado, here is this week’s top five BioEcoJust horizon scanning items:

1. Milk from Bioreactors

Orispää, Oili (2018) Maitoa ilman lehmää ja munia ilman kanaa – suomalaiset keksivät, miten maailman kasvavaa väestöä ruokitaan. 19.9.2018, accessed 20.9.2018.

This news item is about the work of researcher Lauri Reuter at VTT who has successfully produced milk proteins via bioreactors and microbes. This is an example for the Bio-Upgrade world and also linked to to the concept of bio-based production, in this case, of food. It is similar to the YCombinator story we saw earlier about the rising startup theme of cellular agriculture and the DARPA-funded 10 thousand molecules research project which aims to find a way to make 10 thousand useful chemicals via bio-based means.

2. DNA for Data Storage

Hyde, Embriette (2018) From magnetic tape to the “DNA hard drive:” entering the next frontier with DNA data storage. SynBioBeta 16.9.2018, accessed 17.9.2018.

This is a fascinating example of BioMimicry world (plus some parts of BioUpgrade, although they the purpose of this technology is not improve existing lifeforms but rather to create a data storage technology using a one of life’s core concepts − DNA. One of the entrepreneurs interviewed claims there could be a commercially available DNA storage product in 10 years.

3. Inequality and the biosphere

Hamann, Maike – Kevin Berry – Tomas Chaigneau – Tracie Curry – Robert Heilmayr –  Patrik J.G. Henriksson – Jonas Hentati-Sundberg – Amir Jina – Emilie Lindkvist – Yolanda Lopez-Maldonado – Emmi Nieminen – Mat´ıas Piaggio – Jiangxiao Qiu – Juan C. Rocha – Caroline Schill – Alon Shepon – Andrew R. Tilman – Inge van den Bijgaart – Tong Wu (2018) Inequality and the Biosphere. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 43.

Amos noticed this item late in the week. It is an academic article that defines inequality in terms of society and the biosphere, then digs into the interactions among these concepts. We find it highly valuable to our development of the BioEquality world as it discusses interactions among human society and the natural living world. As an aside, the authors “define the biosphere broadly as the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships in the thin layer of life between the Earth’s crust and outer space” − which really puts things in perspective.

4. Other Species recruited to help humans sense impacts of the melting ice sheets

Culliford, Elizabeth – Jackson, Lucas (2018) Harsh climate: The struggle to track global sea level rise. Reuters Graphics 20.9.2018, accessed 21.9.2018.

This item describes some of the key technologies being used to track impacts of global warming on Greenland’s ice and glaciers through NASA’s OMG program. Biomimicry world partially appears in the form of the sensor strategy used by the research team–human made robots are not nearly as agile swimmers as seals, halibut, or small ’unicorn’ whales. Biorecovery world partly appears as the recently launched space-based monitoring satellite that will provide highly precise data about the Earth’s two ice sheets. The future potentials here include humans increasing their use of other species to monitor planetary systems and future high resolution datasets for verifying and modeling climate change and rising sea level.

5. Large-Scale Walls vs. Large-Scale Complexity

Wolovick, M. J. and Moore, J. C. (2018) Stopping the flood: could we use targeted geoengineering to mitigate sea level rise? The Cryosphere, Vol. 12, 2955−2967.

Geo-engineering offers solutions to climate change at giant scales intended to tackle global problems at their natural and geological source. In a recent proposition to avert the impending Antarctic glacial collapse that has been noted to be the largest contributor to future sea level rise, scientists Wolovick & Moore (2018) suggest innovations to mitigate the degradation and melting of the Thwarties Glacier in West Antarctica, echoing the idea presented in this post on WEForum. This we might understand as a contingency plan to slow the melting ice contributing to sea rise that threatens human habitat along coastal areas of the globe. It could be seen as linked to the BioRecovery world as human technology is applied to preserve an ecosystem, but it is perhaps more a part of the BioUtility world as humans intervene on natural processes to meet its own agenda − human habitat preservation. In practice, the proposal is an innovative way to stop the ice shelf from breaking away by artificially cooling and anchoring its edges. As an example of radical innovation to mitigate disasters, it signals new forms of resilient engineering that are evocative of coming times. There are ethical questions however, can engineering at such a scale work? At what cost? In the coming future will these projects become commonplace to avert the multitude of threats due to climate change? As China instructs its armies to plant trees at a gigantic scale to improve air quality, and engineers in Norway attempt to capture carbon from the air and store it in caves underground are we moving to a new level of scaled up innovation for planetary protection? This item also reminds us of other ‘walls’ in popular discourse: the walls built to block human migration flows. As Sassen (2018) argues, human migration is fundamentally caused by loss of habitat. Going to the symbolic level, a simple human technology − walls − are being proposed as safeguards against changes wrought by deep changes in the behavior of complex Earth systems. This observation begs the question: Are there alternative metaphors to walls that can serve us better in addressing these multifaceted challenges?

That’s our list for this week. We hope it gave you a taste of our thinking here in the BioEcoJust futures team. We welcome your feedback − particularly about how the above items remind you of items you’ve seen or if you see additional future potentials in the horizon scanning items. Please send your remarks to nabara (a) and Nick will pass them on to our team.

Nicolas A. Balcom Raleigh
MA, Project Researcher 

Amos T. Taylor
MA, Project Researcher


Article picture:

Bridging Industry 4.0 and Circular Economy: A new research agenda for Finland?

Mikkel Stein Knudsen and Jari Kaivo-oja:

Emerging academic research concerns how the principles, practices, and enabling technologies of Industry 4.0 might unlock the potentials of Circular Economy (CE) and sustainable manufacturing (Jabbour et al., 2018; Stock et al., 2018). Digitalisation (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2016;  Antikainen et al., 2018) and the use of Big Data (Hazen et al., 2016; Nobre & Tavares, 2017; Jabbour et al., 2017) are seen as key enablers for increased sustainability and for the implementation of a circular economy. Technology is also a necessary enabler of a move towards Product-Service Systems (Tukker, 2015; Antikainen et al., 2018). As Moreno & Charnley (2016) notes the fundamental drivers behind Circular Economy and Industry 4.0 overlap. It is an obvious fact that the combination of Circular Economy and Industry 4.0 leads us towards the Green Economy vision.

However, research output integrating the two important fields is still very scarce and plenty of unexplored research areas remain. Tseng et al. (2018)  deliver a telling example of the hitherto missing research: While separate queries in Scopus using “Industry 4.0” and “Circular Economy” yields 4060 and 2452 results respectively, a combined search using both “Industry 4.0” and “Circular Economy” as keywords provide only three results (all published in 2017). Combined searches for “Circular Economy” and ´digit*´ (i.e. digital, digitalisation etc.) provide similarly limited results (Antikainen et al., 2018). Stock et al. (2018) make the point even broader, as they conclude, there are rarely any sustainability assessments for Industry 4.0 available”. All transition paths are not automatically leading us to sustainable development and greener infrastructures, which typically mean sustainable land use, widely adopted green consumption lifestyles and broad industrial use of nature saving technologies.

If we – ‘we’ as researchers, as Finland, as the international society – should harness the potential synergies of these two emerging business systems, and strive for a transition to a greener economy, there is therefore plenty of work ahead. It seems likely though that solving this integration puzzle, however, will also bring major (business) opportunities and a competitive advantage for the future.

Industry 4.0 and a new sustainability optimism?

Stock et al. (2018) note that most literature linking sustainability and Industry 4.0 do so with a basic tenor of optimism. Opportunities for increased sustainability by using novel technological opportunities in combinations with new business models take centre stage. Improved traceability of smart products through the entire supply chain and during the products’ use phase allow manufacturers continuously to optimize the performance of both product and production, which may deliver a more efficient use of resources. For industrial practitioners sustainability, environmental, and social opportunities is also a noted driver for implementation of Industry 4.0 (Müller et al., 2018). Highlighting what is at stake for a green economy transition, Erol (2016) even asks thought-provokingly if Industry 4.0 is the very last chance for a truly sustainable production?

Notably, the United Nations also talks of ‘Big Data for Sustainable Development’, and how “new sources of data, new technologies, and new analytical approaches, if applied responsively, can enable more agile, efficient and evidence-based decision-making and can better measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a way that is both inclusive and fair”.

Source: United Nations

While this ‘optimistic’ strand of research is obviously both highly relevant and highly inspiring, increased technology uptake could also happen unsustainably. Rise of enabling technologies behind Industry 4.0 is mirrored by rising demands for scarce resources such as (certain) metals and also highly dependent on increasing consumption of energy.  We can probably sum things up this way, “Industry 4.0 and its related technologies may facilitate more sustainable production, but sustainability is not an endogenous feature of Industry 4.0.”

Industry 4.0 and its related technologies may facilitate more sustainable production, but sustainability is not an endogenous feature of Industry 4.0.

Dual challenges: A sustainable Industry 4.0 and Industry 4.0 for sustainability

In the context of sustainability, new technologies might indeed come Janus-faced. Additive manufacturing and 3D printing disrupts supply chains and reduces the need for large inventories, such as in the aero-industry (cf. Khajarvi et al., 2014). Instead, parts are manufactured (printed) at the time of actual demand, increasing efficiency and reducing waste. On the other hand, beyond specific supply chains, when every part and product can be produced anywhere and at any given time, it takes little fantasy to imagine marked reductions of product lifecycles and overall increases in consumption. Additive manufacturing is therefore not a guarantee for more sustainable production and consumption (cf. review by Kellens et al., 2017 & Holmström & Gutowski, 2017).  On average, production processes using additive manufacturing even results in a higher environmental impact than conventional production processes, although this could be compensated by functional improvements during the use stage of AM manufactured parts (Kellens et al., 2017). In her highly cited literature review, Aalto University’s Cindy Kohtala (2015) concluded “Distributed production holds promise of greater environmental sustainability, but it is not a given that it will be a new, clearly cleaner production paradigm.”

Figure 1. Environmental threats and benefits of distributed production (e.g. decentralized 3D-printing). Source: Kohtala, 2015.

Interconnectivity and continuous massive amounts of data also come with an environmental price: In Denmark for example, the government expects that international data centres will take up 20% of the current national electricity consumption by 2030. The global electricity consumption for mining cryptocurrency using Blockchain-technology already today exceeds the current national electricity consumption of Finland significantly, according to consumption estimates in a recent issue of The Economist (2018).

The challenge then is (simultaneously!) to build a sustainable Industry 4.0 and to use Industry 4.0 to build sustainability. In other words, society must: (1) Ensure to the widest extent possible sustainability and circular economy as a feature in the ecosystem of Industry 4.0-enabling technologies, (2) Explore and exploit the enabling potential of Industry 4.0 for building more sustainable business models and production systems. These challenges are illustrated in figure 2.

Figure 2. Circular Economy for Industry 4.0 and Industry 4.0 for Circular Economy.

A new research agenda for Finland?

Finland is well poised to be an international leader in the bridging of Industry 4.0 and Circular Economy. Finland is already among the global drivers of Circular Economy. It is a stated objective of the current government to make Finland a “forerunner in the circular economy by 2025”. In addition, Finland is one of the most digitalised countries of the world, and a world-leader in many areas related to Industry 4.0. Our current project – Manufacturing 4.0 – aims at translating this into a success story for the general manufacturing industry of Finland.

It would seem natural then that Finland should also take the lead in bridging Industry 4.0 with Circular Economy. This could secure long-term competitive advantages for Finnish industry and simultaneously improve the local and global environment.

This new research agenda of bridging Industry 4.0 with Circular Economy would not start from scratch, but as the recent literature shows, there are still many research areas to explore. For us, a new research agenda could for example further address some of these key questions:

The countries, which are able to integrate Industry 4.0 approach to the principles of the Circular Economy, are the probably forerunners of Industry 4.0 revolution. However, as we can see above, the list of challenges in Industry 4.0 transformation is not short.  We know also that many economic activities in many countries are stuck in Industry 1.0-3.0 phases. This means that the Industry 4.0 approach with the Circular Economy approach does not solve all the sustainability problems of globalized world economy. However, remaining to Industry 1.0-3.0 models can also be a highly risky “project” for the long-run sustainability of world economy. Greener economic structures can be developed with Industry 4.0 technologies. We know that Industry 1.0-3.0 stages of development have not yet led us to needed sustainability levels, because climate change and other environmental problems are still far from solved.

In Fig 3 we present a scenario roadmap of Industry 4.0 and circular economy development. This scenario roadmap shows that in the process of Industry 4.0 development, it is not enough to change Industry 4.0 structures to meet the deep requirements of circular economy.

Figure 3. Scenario roadmap of Industry 4.0 and the Circular Economy.

Previous old phases of Industry 1.0, Industry 2.0 and Industry 3.0 require attention concerning the adoption of environmental principles of the Circular Economy. We underline that preconditions of Industry 1.0-3.0 are really pre-conditions for Industry 4.0, but also that the simultaneous transformation towards Industry 4.0 and Circular Economy requires both attention and multiple testing phases. From this perspective we can say: “Let´s try it – let´s pilot it”.


Mikkel Stein Knudsen
Project Researcher, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

Jari Kaivo-oja
Research Director, Adjunct Professor, Dr, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

Note: Authors thank for Try Out! and Manufacturing 4.0 projects for financial support.




Miltä tulevaisuudet tuntuvat? Ajatuksia tulevaisuudentutkimuksen estetiikasta

Matti Minkkinen

Luin hiljattain Esther Eidinow’n ja Rafael Ramirezin artikkelin tarinankerronnan estetiikasta ja tulevaisuuskuvien uskottavuudesta.[1] Artikkeli sai minut pohtimaan estetiikan merkitystä tulevaisuudentutkimuksessa yleisemmin. Kansainväliseen maisteriohjelmaamme kuuluu kurssi tulevaisuudentutkimuksen etiikasta, ja etiikan tärkeydestä on tällä alalla laaja yhteisymmärrys. Entä estetiikka?

Eidinow ja Ramirez esittävät, että tarinan estetiikka, eli se miten kauniilta, sopivalta, elegantilta (tai vaihtoehtoisesti rumalta) tarina tuntuu, on ratkaisevassa roolissa tarinan uskottavuuden luomisessa. Paino on sanalla tuntuu: estetiikassa on kyse enemmän subjektiivisesta kokemuksesta kuin järkeilystä. Uskottavuus puolestaan luo tarinalle vaikuttavuutta, kun toimijat vakuuttuvat ja alkavat toimia tietyn tulevaisuuskuvan eteen (tai sitä vastaan). Uskottavuus (plausibility) on tärkeä erottaa todennäköisyydestä (probability) ja mahdollisuudesta (possibility). Uskottavuuden luomisessa on kyse sosiaalisesta prosessista, jossa pyrimme vakuuttamaan muut tulevaisuuskuvan uskottavuudesta ja toivottavasti annamme vastavuoroisesti muille mahdollisuuden vakuuttaa meidät. Todennäköisyys ja mahdollisuus ovat pidemmälle meneviä väitteitä siitä, mitä oikeasti voisi tapahtua riippumatta ihmisten uskomuksista.[2] Eidinow’n ja Ramirezin tulevaisuuden estetiikan ‘kaava’ menee suurin piirtein näin: tarinan estetiikka → uskottavuus → vaikuttavuus. Looginen johtopäätös on, että kiinnittämällä huomiota tarinan esteettisiin ominaisuuksiin sille saadaan lisää vaikuttavuutta ja näin voidaan edistää tärkeiksi koettuja asioita.

Sivuhuomiona tässä voidaan huomata selvä ero etiikkaan. Siinä missä esteettisyys koskee tarinan ominaisuuksia ja kokemista, eettinen pohdinta kyseenalaistaa tarkoitusperät, joita tarinalla ajetaan ja tarinan käyttämisen vaikuttamisen keinona. Turun yliopiston yleisen kirjallisuustieteen professori Hanna Meretoja esittää, että kertomukset muokkaavat mahdollisen tajuamme ja voivat olla vaarallisiakin.[3] Etiikka voi usein pikemminkin haastaa tarinoiden esteettisyyttä kuin edistää sitä. Kuten filosofi Sami Pihlström totesi hiljattain Helsingin Sanomille, “moraali ei ole sellainen kiva juttu, josta tulee hyvä olo.”[4]

Tarinoille ja esteettisille mieltymyksille ominaista on, että ne yhdistävät ihmisiä ja ovat jaettuja tietyn kulttuuripiirin sisällä.[5] Kärjistäen useat suomalaiset pitävät muumimukeista ja tietynlaisista tulevaisuuskuvista. Toisaalta esteettiset käsitykset myös muuttuvat ajan myötä ja lienevät kytköksissä yhteiskunnan materiaalisiin tekijöihin kuten elintasoon ja väestöntiheyteen. Jos tilaa yksilöille ei ole, sitä ei välttämättä myöskään kaivata. Saksalainen sosiologi Georg Simmel kirjoitti vuonna 1896 “sosiologisesta estetiikasta”, jonka mukaan yhteiskunnissa on tiettyjä jaettuja esteettisiä käsityksiä esimerkiksi yksilön roolista suhteessa yhteiskuntaan.[6] Saksassa ainakin tuolloin yhteiskunnan sopusointu oli arvossaan, kun taas Britanniassa eksentrisillä yksilöillä eli yhteiskunnasta törröttävillä erikoisilla yksityiskohdilla oli enemmän tilaa.

Tulevaisuudentutkimusta ja ennakointia tekevien tulisi kiinnittää huomiota etenkin kolmeen asiaan tulevaisuuskuvien ja skenaarioiden estetiikassa. Ensinnäkin miten pystymme esittämään sellaisia tulevaisuuskuvia, jotka osuvat kohdeyleisön esteettisiin tuntemuksiin ja todella vaikuttavat heidän ajatteluunsa ja toimintaansa? Toisekseen mikä rooli on tarkoituksellisesti rumilla, epäesteettisillä ja häiritsevillä tulevaisuuskuvilla, jotka aiheuttavat epämiellyttäviä tuntemuksia, ja miten tällaisia tulevaisuuskuvia voidaan esittää aiheuttamatta välitöntä hylkimisreaktiota? Kolmas asia on estetiikan ja etiikan suhde. Millä edellytyksillä voimme käyttää tulevaisuustarinoita vaikuttamisen keinona eettisesti hyväksyttävästi?

Matti Minkkinen
FM, projektitutkija
Tulevaisuuden tutkimuskeskus, Turun yliopisto

– – – –

[1] Eidinow, E., & Ramirez, R. (2016). The aesthetics of story-telling as a technology of the plausible. Futures, 84, 43–49.

[2] van der Helm, R. (2006). Towards a clarification of probability, possibility and plausibility: how semantics could help futures practice to improve. Foresight, 8(3), 17–27.



[5] Eidinow & Ramirez.

[6] Georg Simmel on-line & de la Fuente, E. (2008). The Art of Social Forms and the Social Forms of Art: The Sociology-Aesthetics Nexus in Georg Simmel’s Thought. Sociological Theory, 26(4), 344–362.




Are we in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution? New Industry 4.0 insights from future technology analysis professionals

Mikkel Stein Knudsen and Jari Kaivo-oja:

The recent July 2018-issue of the highly influential futures studies journal Technological Forecasting & Social Change contained a special section dedicated to Industry 4.0. The issue is relevant to an increased understanding of the current trends and transformations of the manufacturing sector. Finland Futures Research Centre works with this theme in the project Manufacturing 4.0 supported by Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council. Discussion about Industry 4.0 is part of larger technological transformation process (Kaivo-oja et al. 2017). “Industry 4.0” was first coined at the Hannover Fair in 2011, seven years ago. All over the world, the term “Industry 4.0” has drawn great public attention from practitioners, academics, government officials and politicians. Some scientist as Reischauer (2018) see Industry 4.0 as policy-driven discourse to institutionalise particular innovation systems in manufacturing.

For use in the MFG4.0-project, and due to its general relevance, this blog post contains a summarizing review of the TFSC-special issue combined with other recent research on Industry 4.0. We hope this blog will be informative both to those already working with these themes and to those curious about the field. Awareness about Industry 4.0-strategy is an important development driver for both progressive SMEs and large corporations. Discussion in the TFSC Special Issues of Industry 4.0 underlines the idea that Industry 4.0 challenges do not hit only large corporations, and that the role of progressive SMEs and start-ups needs more scientific attention in the global Industry 4.0-process. Orchestration of innovation eco-systems requires broad networks and new dynamic capabilities in organizations.

Compared to previous Industry 1.0-3.0 revolutions Industry 4.0 revolution will include a novel and global dynamic element: The BRICS-countries will be now more active players in Industry 4.0 transformations than these countries were in previous industrial transformations. Especially the role of China in Industry 4.0-era will be a big political and economic issue (see Kaivo-oja & Lauraeus 2017a, 2017b). Industry 1.0 phase was founded on mechanisation, Industry 2.0 phase was based on electricity and Industry 3.0 phase was founded on information technology (IT) to human manufacturing. New Industry 4.0 era is expected to be founded on Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and the Internet of Things (IOT). Other key technologies are Cloud computing, Big Data analytics and Extended ICT.

The expected changes will lead to new integrated systems, where sensors, actuators, machines, robots, conveyors, etc. are connected to and exchange information automatically. Factories are expected to become conscious and intelligent enough to predict and maintain the machines and control the production process. Business models of Industry 4.0 imply complete communication network(s) between various companies, factories, suppliers, logistics, resources and customers. This kind of highly integrated and transparent industrial approach probably allows more efficient circular economy in the future (see de Sousa Jabbor 2018).

Both smart production and smart consumption are key benefits of Industry 4.0 approach. Industry 4.0 includes a new research agenda for sustainable business models, business model innovation and re-organization process of old supply chains of companies. Lean Industry 4.0 is expected to be a key challenge for SMEs and corporations. From this technology foresight analysis perspective, the reported technology roadmap in the computer and electronic product manufacturing industry is highly relevant reading for Industry 4.0 policy discussion (Lu & Weng 2018).

The difficult task of defining Industry 4.0

As noted, the term Industry 4.0 was coined in Germany by a government advisory council at the beginning of this decade. This origin does not seem disputed, but otherwise the definition of Industry 4.0 remains up for debate. It is notable, for example, that all articles in the TFSC-special section provide their own slightly different explanations of the term. One article (Sung, 2018) even argues that the inclusion of “4.0” in the umbrella-term refers to the fourth industrial upheaval post-WW2, while others follow the more widely used definition of 4.0 being the fourth industrial age after the age of steam, the age of electricity and the information age (Müller et al., 2018).

While exact definitions differ, common themes in the understanding of Industry 4.0 are easily distinguished. It revolves about new technologies, new digital possibilities, new modes of inter-connectivity etc. Jabbour et al. (2018) captures this by denoting four significant components of Industry 4.0: i. cyber-physical systems, ii. the internet of things, iii. cloud manufacturing, and iv. additive manufacturing. This is very similar to what Xu et al. (2018) recently described as enabling technologies in a comprehensive assessment of Industry 4.0: State of the art and future trends.

Figure 1: ‘Components’ and ‘enabling technologies’ in Industry 4.0.

Adding to the broader understanding of the concept of Industry 4.0, Müller et al. (2018) provide a qualitatively based examination of how key practitioners, representatives of manufacturing SMEs, perceive the term. This pragmatically highlights those elements of particular interest to manufacturing practitioners, and the empirical results reveal three main dimensions of Industry 4.0: (1) High-grade digitization of processes, most notably manufacturing processes, (2) Smart manufacturing through cyber-physical systems resulting in self-controlled production systems, (3) Inter-company connectivity between suppliers and customers within the value chain.

Figure 2: 3 dimensions of Industry 4.0 (adapted from Müller at al., 2018).

We believe these three dimensions would be interesting starting points for creating a refined Maturity Model of organizational Industry 4.0-readiness. This has already been attempted, see e.g. Schumacher et al., 2016, but a new model based on these three empirically backed dimensions might be both simpler and more precise. Müller et al. (2018) do not formalize a new maturity model in their article, but they do provide a four-stage model of manufacturing SMEs ranging from those deliberately not engaged (“we’ve always done things like this”) to full-scale adopters of Industry 4.0 (“we want to be the leader in our industry and can only achieve this through Industry 4.0”). Other identified firm categories were preliminary stage planners (“for us Industry 4.0 us imaginable in the next five to ten years”) and Industry 4.0 users (“more efficient usage of machines while achieving more with less employers”). Motivation level and strategic maturity level to be engaged in Industry 4.0 revolution vary much among German SMEs. Probably, in Finland we could get similar results.

Organizational responses to Industry 4.0

Through their qualitative interviews (with 68 high-level representatives of manufacturing SMEs) Müller et al. (2018) also importantly provides outlines for various strategies for adopting or not adopting elements of Industry 4.0 within business practices. We expect that this theme – identifying and exemplifying organizational Industry 4.0-strategies – will be a key future research topic for business, innovation and organizational research. Finally, the article illustrates dilemmas of smaller suppliers when the value chain become increasingly inter-connected. Increased transparency is not always in the interest of the minor companies, as pointed out by several informants in the study. This view is supported in a recent survey of UK-manufacturers, where, even if 80% of manufacturers believe that new digital technologies will improve the supply chain relationships up and down, several negative responses with fear of “supply chain bullying” can be found (PwC, 2018).

How Industry 4.0-developments affect supply chain relationships and especially affect suppliers might be a particularly pertinent research question in a Finnish context. Three-fourths of Finnish exports are intermediate goods (Ali-Yrkkö, 2017) – a share significantly higher than the EU-average – and changes (positive or negative) to the role of manufacturing supply companies can therefore have effects not only on the individual companies, but perhaps also on the national economy.

Linking Industry 4.0 with the sustainability agenda

Jabbour et al. (2018) examine links between Industry 4.0 and environmentally-sustainable manufacturing. Industry 4.0 and sustainability are argued to be two major trends of, and while they individually cannot be considered revolutionary, together then may “change worldwide production systems forever”. The technological possibilities of Industry 4.0 may help unlock the full potential of environmentally-sustainable manufacturing practices. Whether this will happen, the authors note, depend on eleven distinct critical success factors (CSF) further explained in the article. The CSF’s here are not studied empirically, but they provide research propositions for – as explicitly urged by the authors here – further examination in the synergies between two key societal and manufacturing megatrends. How to best harness these synergies should be of utmost importance to academics, policymakers and practitioners working with sustainable manufacturing and sustainable development, and we will likewise hope that the question of integrating sustainability-dimensions will occupy an important part of the Industry 4.0 research- and implementation agenda. This article together with the highly-cited contribution of Stock & Seliger (2016) provide important background material for this work.

Talkin’ Bout a Revolution?

Like Jabbour et al., Reischauer (2018) and Kim (2018) argue that “Industry 4.0” is not really an industrial revolution. Reischauer argues that, as much as signalling future changes, the particular discourse of “Industry 4.0” serves a policy-driven discourse to institutionalize a distinct now-almost hegemonic idea of innovation systems. Thus, the term itself was developed in the context of a “fluid entanglement of academia, business, and politics”, and the discourse further underpins this entanglement. The discourse hereby both exemplifies and underlines the further need for Triple-Helix Innovation modes (see e.g. Kaivo-oja, 2001, Santonen et al., 2011, Santonen et. al., 2014). It might be illuminating also to see our own MFG4.0 through this critical lens and to remind ourselves that the discourse is neither value- or policy-free.

Kim (2018) puts another critical spin on Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is a meso revolution needed by capitalism, because capitalism always needs ever-growing markets, and technology is just one arena for the ever-needed expansion of capitalism. Jumping from this critical view, he goes on to analyse the readiness for this particular meso revolution in South Korea, a topic also explored by Sung (2018). Perhaps surprisingly, both authors conclude that South Korea is a bad position to utilise potential opportunities provided by Industry 4.0. Finland, on the other hand, ranks second only to Singapore in a global competitiveness ranking for the fourth industrial revolution (Sung, 2018). This of course provides some ground for optimism regarding the MFG4.0-project and the general ability of Finland to capture new opportunities and benefits.

Morphological analysis for the future Industry 4.0 transformations

The Special Issue of TFSC also includes also an important methodological paper of Kwon et al. (2018). As we know the generation of new and creative ideas is vital to stimulating innovation, and morphological analysis is one appropriate innovation management method given its objective, impersonal, and systematic nature. In the Big Data-era, we can develop Industry 4.0 strategy on the basis of Big Data files, and the systematic structuring of data becomes vital for success. This methodological case study in the TFSC Special Issue focuses on Wikipedia’s case-specific characteristics using the online database for the development of morphological matrix, which incorporates the data on table of contents, hyperlinks, and categories. This provides interesting results. The feasibility is demonstrated through a case study of drone technology, and the validity and effectiveness was shown based on a comparative analysis with a conventional discussion-based approach. This methodological paper is a milestone study and requires our full scientific attention.

Japanese Industry 4.0 strategy?

Also in the Special Issue, Luo and Triulzi (2018) provide interesting insights about Japanese approach to Industry 4.0. They point out that the architecture of a firm’s network of transactions in its surrounding business ecosystem may affect its innovation performance.  A business ecosystem as a transaction network among firms has been a key issue for successful industrial cooperation in Japan.

The empirical results of Japanese study indicate that a firm’s participation in inter-firm transaction cycles, instead of sequential transactional relationships, is positively and significantly associated with its innovation performance for vertically integrated firms. Within cycles, vertically integrated firms have better innovation performances than vertically specialized firms. Vertically integrated firms that participate in cycles have the best innovation performances in the Japanese electronics sector. This empirical finding can be very relevant also for European firms and companies. The authors also underline that the organizations focusing on quality improvements and production efficiency improvements can be different organizations. Specialization in these fields may be a critical success factor in a national Industry 4.0 strategy. Only in few special cases, organizations are able to integrate these critical industrial functions in one unified organization. We can conclude that Industry 4.0 transformations need more discussions about Japanese historical Industry 1.0-4.0 know-how.

Industry 4.0 in Finland

Discussion about Industry 4.0 will surely continue. Manufacturing 4.0 consortium will contribute to this discussion in various ways and via various channels.

In April 2018, the Manufacturing 4.0 consortium provided the first ‘situation report’ for the Strategic Research Council. The report is (in Finnish).

Link to references

Mikkel Stein Knudsen
Project Researcher, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

Jari Kaivo-oja
Research Director, Adjunct Professor, Dr, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku




From schools to peer-to-peer -learning. How to live in Learning Intensive Society?

Laura Pouru & Markku Wilenius:

About 40 representatives from academia, education administration and schools gathered to a morning session on the Future of Futures Literacy in Finland organized by UNESCO, Finnish National Board of Education and Finland Futures Research Centre on June 15th, 2018. The session explored futures of learning and ways of bringing futures literacy into the curriculum of Finnish education system.

What is Futures Literacy and Futures Literacy Laboratory?

Futures literacy refers to individual’s capability to use the future in the present. This is an increasingly valuable skill for people living in our complex and dynamic world. The capacity to observe and reflect upon how oneself and others “use the future” in the present can unlock great potentials for individuals, organizations, and society.

Futures literacy laboratory (FLL) is a learning experiment that aims at making participants more aware of their own anticipatory assumptions and their ways of using the future. Therefore the main goal is not to produce new knowledge to decision-making, but to inspire participants to become more conscious about the future. However, as the participants are guided through the Lab and offered kind of ‘sandbox’ where to play with new framings and anticipatory assumptions about the future, interesting new ideas are often produced as a by-product. In this blog post we are introducing some of the interesting themes that were brought up at the FLL sandbox, where the play material consisted of futures of futures literacy and learning in Finland.

Peer-to-peer learning in local communities

Firstly, the importance of local communities was strongly brought up in the discussions. Local communities were seen as the core unit where people live, communicate and learn. What are these communities and how are they formed, was a question raised during the lab. Are they “bubbles” of like-minded people or more heterogeneous fractals? Inhabitants of these local communities have well-being in physical, emotional and spiritual sense as their life’s core value. This means that, for example, “work is organized for life” instead of “life being organized for work”.

The local communities were also seen as the core setting where learning takes place, not anymore so much in schools but more in peer-to-peer networks. People can learn, for example, in heterarchical mentor-mentor –relationships, where both parties learn equally from each other instead of more traditional mentor-actor or master-apprentice relationships.

It was also noted that this kind of learning intensive society requires new kind of agency from the learners; everyone is responsible for their own learning and individual development. The question “Who owns the learning?” was emphasized in a sense that motivation and ownership of learning should always originate from inside the learner instead of outside from the teacher or other external motivations. In many visions school buildings had disappeared but teachers had not. In the learning intensive society teachers act as learning facilitators supporting individual learning. Teachers’ role as change agents was also seen crucial in the process of transforming our current learning system towards this new learning intensive society.

Future of futures literacy?

How about the future of futures literacy? Some participants believed that futures literacy will still be too abstract to integrate it to the national education curriculum, while others were optimistic that futures literacy would become a basic skill for everyone. The main concern seemed to be polarization: what if futures literacy becomes a skill that helps those who have it to succeed and those who don’t have it to be condemned to be less successful.

What we conclude is that if we are heading towards this kind of learning intensive society, where we own the responsibility of our own learning, futures literacy becomes even more essential. In this peer-to-peer-learning society futures literacy is like a compass that helps us to navigate and decide the direction we should focus our learning next. This is why we need to start building our individual, organizational and societal futures literacy skills today. This is something in which Finland can be a global forerunner, because we already have exceptionally strong tradition and institutions of futures studies and foresight in our country. Now we just need to mobilize this futures know-how and make it our shared capacity.

In practice we can start mobilizing our futures know-how by embedding futures literacy in all the levels of our current education system. Futures literacy can be taught in schools as phenomenon-based multidisciplinary courses, or elements of it can be integrated in the existing study topics, such as history, geography or the language studies. This way we can make “futures” more approachable as a topic that everybody knows is important but few have capacity to comprehend. Thinking of Finland, futures literacy could indeed become the new competitive edge for our learning institutions.


Futures literacy refers to a space of potential freedom inside our minds and hearts. Indeed, we can decide what kind of assumptions of the future we hold. Our hopes and our fears about future are very important vehicles in our journey towards future. Moreover, it is that mental space that creates opportunities for personal development and transformation. Simply put, our assumptions about future are the ways future exists in the present.

For the young people in particular, going through their formative years, it is critically important that they learn to discover their futures through their assumptions. To build a positive and constructive vision of future on personal, local and global level is by far the best asset they can have in our complex and fast changing world. By facilitating these discoveries we can make a great contribution to their lives. This is what futures literacy is all about.

The FLL was led by Head of Foresight Riel Miller from UNESCO and UNESCO Chair Markku Wilenius from Finland Futures Research Centre. Laura Pouru, Nicolas Balcom Raleigh, Ellinoora Leino-Richert, Marianna B. Ferreira-Aulu and Amos Taylor from the Finland Futures Research Centre organized and facilitated the group work sessions during the Lab. The session was organized as part of the research, development and education agenda of the UNESCO Chair in Learning Society & Futures of Education at the University of Turku.

Interested in Futures Literacy and Futures Literacy Laboratory as a learning method? See these:

Balcom Raleigh, N.A. – Pouru, L. – Leino-Richert, E. – Parkkinen, M. – Wilenus, M. (2018) Futures Literacy Lab for education – Imagining Complex Futures of Human Settlements at Finland Futures Academy Summer School 2017. FFRC eBOOK 3/2018.

Miller, R. (ed.) (2018) Transforming the Future: Anticipation in the 21st Century. Routledge. 

Laura Pouru
Project Manager, Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku

Markku Wilenius
Professor, UNESCO Chair, Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku

From the left: Ellinoora Leino-Richert, Amos Taylor, Laura Pouru, Riel Miller, Marianna B. Ferreira-Aulu, Markku Wilenius and Nicolas Balcom Raleigh. (photo: Katariina Heikkilä)



Cobalt: What the price of a mineral can make us inquire about the future?

Mikkel Stein Knudsen & Jari Kaivo-oja:

How can strategic foresight help prepare Finland for a healthy economic future? One element is to detect market movements, which, now and down the line, might affect Finland’s economy and manufacturing. The cobalt market is one such market.

The price of cobalt is surging. The price of the mineral has more than quadrupled over the past 26 months from a historic low of 21,750 $/ton in February 2016 to an all time high of 95,250 $/ton in March 2018. On Friday April 13 2018, trading closed at 92,000 $/ton.

Fig. 1. Five years trading prices of Cobalt.  

This price development is remarkable for a number of reasons, and, as this blog post aims to show, it provides us with important questions and links to the global sustainable energy transition, to a healthy and competitive Finnish economy, and to possible geopolitical challenges of the future. We should pay more strategic attention to the monitoring of the global economy from the perspective of the Finnish manufacturing base. In the future we need strategic value mapping systems, of manufacturing, which include (1) independent models of value, (2) specific strategy and technology models and (3) growth models implicit in the life-cycle of the technology underlying the business model of the family of business models.

The blog post thus briefly covers five main questions:

  1. Why is the price of cobalt suddenly surging like it is?
  2. Why is the price development of cobalt important for Finland?
  3. Why might the cobalt market impose challenges for sustainable transition?
  4. Why does the cobalt market have geopolitical implications?
  5. How can we assess future implications of this issue?

The aim of the post here is not so much to provide answers, but rather to develop insights and key questions for additional research, which we believe would be of interest for the Government, Finnish policymakers, Finnish businesses, industrial stakeholders and academics across a range of fields. We should present a strategic important question: What is the role of Finnish manufacturing in global value creation and production networks?

The price of cobalt as a proxy for demand for electric vehicles?

The main driver of the dramatic price surge is linked by market participants to rising demand for electric vehicles (EVs) (Financial Times, 2018; The Economist, 2018). In the EV-sector lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are the preferred battery technology due to it’s energy density (Zubi et al., 2018), with cobalt used for lithium metal oxides. 75% of the global cobalt consumption is going into the battery sector (Fröhlich et al, 2017). As demand for EV’s increase, so does the demand for batteries, and so does the demand for cobalt.

The price of cobalt might therefore be a telling proxy for the general optimism surrounding the business ecosystem of electric vehicles – and the surging price of cobalt can be seen as an indicator that the car and battery industries, at least, are now betting big on EV markets. Of course, this price analysis is not only price indicator trend analysis, we should perform in the context of global economy. However, this is an interesting strategic case example with broader importance. We need to pay more attention to the price monitoring system of strategic resources relevant for the Finnish manufacturing base and economy.

Possible research ideas: Market development and global uptake of electric vehicles; linkages between EV sales and global cobalt consumption, the price monitoring system of strategic resources relevant for the Finnish manufacturing base and economy. 

Finland and the cobalt industry

The largest cobalt refinery in the world is located in Kokkola, and Finland is the second largest producer of the refined cobalt in the world after China. Current (2017) Finnish production is at 12,200 tons of Cobalt per year (GTK, 2018). Finland is not a marginal player in this field of global manufacturing…

While a large majority of the cobalt used for refining is imported (thereby possibly limiting profits added by the price surge), the value of the refined cobalt outputs have increased remarkably. If each ton of refined cobalt is worth $70,000 more than two years ago, an annual production of 12,200 tonnes of refined cobalt is worth $850m more.

The surging price of cobalt alone therefore by itself lifts Finnish exports by as much as €0,5bn in 2018 compared to 2016.

There are current plans of mining for cobalt at Terraframe (formerly Talvivaara) and near Kuusamo, although the developments are not quite without issues (Terraframe, 2017; Yle, 2018; Lapin Kansa, 2018).

Through mining and refining of cobalt as well as through a number of other aspects, this growing battery manufacturing value chain might be a key value-producing network for the Finnish economy of the near future. We need proactive industrial and manufacturing policy platform based on private-public governance. One important idea behind this blog post is that we need a more proactive industrial policy in Finland.

It has indeed already been noted that Finland is well positioned for this growth market (Aamulehti, 2017; Business Finland, 2017), and this month  (April 2018), the Ministry of Economic Affairs launched a new program for Batteries for Finland 2018-2020 in order to strengthen this agenda further (Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö, 2018). In addition to attracting new international mining investments, the plans aim at generating a higher value part of the battery manufacturing chain.

One important strategic aspect of economic trend research is that we can understand that relative advantages are variable dynamic factors. Therefore, they should be constantly monitored on the basis of global economic changes. Of course, prices changes are such factors.

Possible research ideas: Scenarios and a strategy architecture for Finnish cobalt mining and refining, Orchestration of the EV battery business ecosystem. 

Can lack of cobalt hinder a sustainable transition?

A sustainable global transition requires new technologies for energy production, transportation, etc. However, these new technologies are dependent on various metals, including cobalt. In 2016 Finnish researchers from VTT and the Geological Survey of Finland assessed this ‘Role of critical metals in the future markets of clean energy technologies’ in a peer-reviewed article (Grandell et al., 2016). Here availability of other metals (e.g. silver) is deemed even more critical, but for cobalt the researchers find that with assumptions of a global clean energy transformation, cumulative demand for cobalt for the period until 2050 can exceed known global resources by almost 200 pct.

In other words, positive scenarios for fast climate change action can be challenged by the lack of minerals. If the world transitions with the use of current technologies, there might simply not be enough cobalt available for the job.

It is not without reason that a recent published study concluded that “Cobalt, however, is a reason for major concerns in the Li-ion battery sector” (Zubi et al., 2018).

Possible research ideas: Critical metals as possible limiting factors for cleantech-technologies; Designing optimal policies for reducing dependence on critical metal; Substitutionality of critical metals in various technological fields.

Why does the cobalt market have geopolitical implications?

The main supplier of cobalt in the world is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which supplies more than 50% of the current global production of cobalt (Fröhlich et al., 2017). Having one dominant global supplier entails supply risks, increased by political and economic instability. In 1978, civil unrest in the DRC quickly increased the price of cobalt by 6.5 times (Bailey et al., 2017), the so called “Cobalt Crisis” (Shedd et al., 2017). Depending on the stability and development of the DRC, there might be concerns regarding continuous supply.

The second supply-related concern relates to the dominant position of China. A 2015-paper in Energy Policy stated that “Whereas experts in the minerals industry are mostly aware of China’s strong position, many stakeholders in and advocates for renewable technologies are not” (Stegen, 2015). This strong position certainly holds true for cobalt, leading to concerns of what might happen if China corners the cobalt market (The Economist, 2018). The Chinese company China Moly  was also in talks to take over Freeport Cobalt’s refinery in Kokkola, but the deal fell through in the summer of 2017 (Reuters, 2018).

If there is a global scarcity of certain minerals, and if one nation holds the key to these minerals, it is easy to imagine the availability might have important geopolitical implications (cf. Øverland et al., 2017).

Possible research ideas: Security and geopolitical implications of mineral resources for clean energy technologies; black swans and resilience research.

What can we say about the future?

Like with any other raw material, the price and the criticality of cobalt hinges on supply and demand. In the terms of minerals these fundamental variables can meaningfully be subdivided into specific variables (adapted from Martin et al., 2017):

Fig. 2. Determinants of price and criticality of minerals (inspiration from Martin et al., 2017)

The supply of cobalt available for the market will be driven both by the amount of cobalt resources and reserves naturally available, by the amount of cobalt that is recycled, and by the amount of cobalt actually produced. The production supply will be a function of price and profitability, but other issues like social and environmental concerns might also affect production constraints, e.g. in Finnish mining projects.

Similarly, demand for cobalt will be a function of the demand for technologies using cobalt, but also shaped by the technical and economic feasibility of using alternative raw materials or using alternative technological solutions (ie. substitutionality).

A thorough foresight or technological forecast study should therefore consider each of these variables individually, in the case of Finland or even globally. Given the potentially major role of cobalt for sustainable transition, for global geopolitical concerns or ‘just’ for the economy of Finland, this would however be a very interesting endeavour to pursue.

Possible research ideas: Scenarios for global cobalt demand; Scenarios for Finland’s mining industry.

References and additional information

Mikkel Stein Knudsen
Project Researcher, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

Jari Kaivo-oja
Research Director, Adjunct Professor, Dr, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku School of Economics, University of Turku

This research work has been supported by the Finnish Strategic Research Council [grant number 313395]. The blog text refers to the preliminary foresight and background analyses of the Manufacturing 4.0 project.

Photo: Tesla,

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