Laura Vainio has just spent two weeks in New Zealand, working with Wintec's fulltime researchers. Laura is a Project Expert for the Research Unit of Bioeconomy at Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) in the Häme region of Southern Finland. She is particularly interested in social innovation, resource wisdom, circular economy, textile recycling and new technologies.
Her visit is part of Wintec’s recently established collaboration with HAMK. This encompasses a number of innovation projects, largely falling within the area of Circular Economy. In Circular Economy the aim is to keep resources in use for as long as possible and use the resources as well as possible, then recover and regenerate. In a linear economy, resources are taken, made, used and disposed of as a waste but Laura comments, “We cannot continue to use resources as we currently do. Economic growth needs to cease its dependence on ever increasing exploitation of natural resources, yet it must still generate wellbeing. We have to find new ways to do more with less. This means innovating new processes, products, service etc.”
Currently, in Finland Laura works on two projects, which are LUO Next Step, focused on new business opportunities and sustainable growth, and Bright Green Innovations, building upon Bright Green Forssa Region, which is the common official development strategy of the municipalities in the region. Both projects are funded by the European Regional Development Fund and implemented by HAMK in collaboration with national partners.
Luo Next Steps (with Natural Resources Institute Finland, Lammi Biological Station at Helsinki University and Environmental School of Finland) targets industry and companies running and developing business in the sustainable utilisation of natural resources, along with education and research organisations. It enables these businesses to learn from and incorporate the existing high level of expertise in bio/circular economy in their own growth and development.
Bright Green Innovations' objective, together with City of Forssa, is to implement the resource wisdom roadmap. The roadmap is guided by an operating model developed by Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra, together with City of Jyväskylä and piloted in three cities, including Forssa. ‘Resource wisdom’ encompasses three targets - no emissions, no waste and no overconsumption.
While at Wintec, Laura has visited a number of centres in Waikato to make presentations and gain a sense of the resource and innovation potential of these centres. She also guided a group of researchers, in a workshop setting, towards the formulation of two transdisciplinary projects jointly tackling economic and environmental issues.
Laura has enjoyed her trip to New Zealand and hopes to return. She sees many similarities between Finland and New Zealand although certainly the winters are not the same.