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Tuula Packalen, head of the Boreal green bioeconomy programme, believes that the most important research issues of the future will stem from three major changes: the climate change, change in people’s needs and values, as well as the social change brought about by digital transformation.

Studying the interaction between different ecosystem services and the human impact on them, as well as the means for reconciling ecosystem services with the needs of man are among the major long-term challenges of forest research activities.

Tuula Packalen and her Brittany dog Lahja.

That is how Tuula Packalen, the new head of the Boreal green bioeconomy research programme, sees the situation.

Packalen mentions the role of forests in regulating climate change as one example. Wood can replace fossil fuels and raw materials, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions. On the other hand, growing forests serve as carbon sinks. Which is the correct alternative for the future? According to Packalen, the answer depends on the goals when making the decision and on its system boundaries. Factual research information is required for giving the correct answer.

“In the absence of research data, the discussion is based on values and opinions.”

Productizing risk management based on the example provided by investment advisors

There are also risks and uncertainties associated with the future of forests and bioeconomy.

“This is where we researchers could learn from the banking sector. They have succeeded in productizing their risk management into a form that is comprehensible to their customers.”

Packalen continues with the idea by deliberating on whether forest researchers could also provide information on the risk/reward ratio associated with various decisions.

In Luke’s strategy work currently in progress, Packalen wants to bring all forest sciences together to produce ideas for and build decision support tools based on research data.

Three major changes of the future

According to Packalen, the operating environment of the future will be intertwined with three major changes. The first two of them are the climate change and the change in people’s needs and values.

“Which ecosystem services can be produced in which area, and what happens if the demand for them changes? People’s needs and values change more rapidly than the forests or bioeconomy. That is why we need information on the ecological resilience of forests and the socio-economic resilience, or change flexibility, of bioeconomy in a changing climate.”

The third change is the major social change brought about by digital transformation. Blockchain technology, for example, if it becomes more popular, can completely change the business and administration processes, but we do not know yet how and into which areas of bioeconomy will be affected by the change.

“Change factors of the global operating environment warranting future research are also mapped in Luke’s strategy process.”

The challenge for this winter is the Wassberg technique

Packalen’s scientific career already began while she was still studying when Pekka Kilkki, Professor of Forest Management Planning at the University of Joensuu, recruited her for his research project.

“My first task was to program a digital terrain model for timber harvesting planning. That was no mean feat, as there were no ready-made geographical information systems (GIS) available in the 1980s.”

Packalen describes herself as a person who is motivated by the learning new things. Besides her work, this is also evidenced in her leisure.

“I do a lot of cross-country skiing with my spouse Petteri. This winter I intend to learn the Wassberg technique used in skate skiing.”

Her Brittany dog Lahja is the factor encouraging her training as she is keen on fast disciplines, such as dog skijoring.

Text: Maria Latokartano