Educating for a sustainable future? : perceptions of bioeconomy among forestry students in Sweden

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Forest Economics

Abstract: Unsustainable consumption has led to the crossing of several planetary boundaries, which is threatening life on this planet as we know it. To be able to cope with this challenge, CE, Circular Economy, has been introduced as a way forward. Additionally, often seen as a subcategory of CE, bioeconomy is a frequently used word in the sustainability debate. It is a concept associated with using renewable, bio-based resources. However, scientists still stand without a common definition of the concept. Looking at Sweden, the biggest natural and renewable resource is the forest, and it therefore plays an important part in the Swedish bioeconomy. Due to the magnitude to which the forest is a resource in the country, there are several vocational programmes for forest management offered at higher educational level. SLU, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, offer two of these programmes from bachelor level; the forestry bachelor program and the forestry master programmes. Furthermore, these programmes are pledged to weave the goals of Agenda 2030 into the course curricula and pedagogy. Agenda 2030 was created by the UN, United Nations and contains several Sustainable Development Goals, SDG’s, to further accelerate sustainable change. Several of these goals can be linked to the Swedish forest sector, and goal 4.7 and 15.2 have a direct connection with forestry programmes at SLU. SDG 4.7 states that all learners should acquire the knowledge needed to promote sustainable development, and SDG 15.2 claims that implementation of sustainable forests management should be promoted. Based on these goals, as well as on seeing these forestry students as future stakeholders in the national, forest-based bioeconomy, how these students perceive the concept of bioeconomy becomes important. This is due to that bioeconomy will continue to grow as a field in the sustainability debate. Moreover, how the students perceive the forest’s role in the national bioeconomy, as well as their education on the topic, are of interest to investigate. To answer these questions, and to get an overview of the students’ perceptions of bioeconomy, a survey by the research team PerForm, Perceiving the Forest-based Bioeconomy, was created. It was carried out on all campuses at SLU which offers forestry education, where students could fill in the questions with the thesis writer in situ. The questions with fixed alternatives for answers were presented in the form of descriptive statistics, and a thematic coding analysis was used to analyse the open-ended survey questions. The analysis was built on theory regarding the SD, sustainable development, competencies needed to solve sustainability issues that should be acquired at higher education institutes. The findings indicate that the students have heard of bioeconomy, although they are not in unison when it comes to what the concept means. They further express that the forest is Sweden’s most important bioeconomy resource. Additionally, they are not content with the extent to which bioeconomy has been addressed during their education and ask for more fully developed education on the subject. Furthermore, looking at the curriculums, SLU has successfully implemented several of the sustainable development, SD, competencies necessary for achieving SDG’s 4.7 and 15.2. These competencies are moreover indicated in the student responses as well. However, further studies are needed to see how the students apply these competencies to sustainability problems.

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