Breaking the circular bioeconomy communication barrier

An ambiguous term with multiple facets

Communicating the circular bioeconomy effectively is a challenge for many reasons. First of all, the concept of circular bioeconomy is highly technical and abstract: it may refer to new products from biomass, circular and cascading resource systems, developments of new and more resilient plants, or synthetic biology for molecular biotechnology, to name a few. Therefore, although the bioeconomy touches upon several areas of our daily life, such as agriculture, forestry, bio-based textiles, paper, wood products, bio-energy, etc., it remains detached from the lifeworld of the average citizen and an abstract concept for many people.  

Multiple classifications and definitions

Additionally, the bioeconomy is subject to different classifications and definitions, depending on the context, region, priorities and purpose, which actually highlights the role of political discourses in framing the concept. This uncertainty about what the bioeconomy is, can make it difficult to communicate effectively. For example:    

  1. The European Union (EU) defines the bioeconomy as “the sustainable production and conversion of biomass into a range of food, health, fibre, industrial products and energy” (European Commission, 2012).
  2. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the bioeconomy as “the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value-added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy” (OECD, 2020).
  3. The German Bioeconomy Council defines the bioeconomy as “the production, exploitation and use of biological resources, processes and systems to provide products, processes and services across all economic sectors within the framework of a future-oriented economy” (Federal Government, 2020).
  4. The Bioeconomy Working Group in Finland defines the bioeconomy as “an economy that utilises renewable natural resources as inputs for innovative products and services, thereby creating added value and contributing to economic growth, employment and sustainable development” (Government of Finland, 2022).
  5. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines the bioeconomy as “the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy via innovative and efficient technologies” (FAO, 2018).

Differences in understanding and awareness of it

These differences in the classification and definitions of the circular bioeconomy are also reflected in our understanding and awareness of it. According to several perception studies, farmers in Austria, for example, tend to be more critical of the bioeconomy concept than other stakeholders, whereas forestry stakeholders from Sweden or Slovakia appear to be more optimistic and identify opportunities for the sector as they consider it can improve the image of forestry.  Citizens in Germany, despite not being very familiar with the concept, support its underlying ideas and have high expectations in terms of environmental and economic benefits, while experts and citizens from Finland, on the other hand, are skeptical about the promised sustainability of the bioeconomy. In terms of stakeholder groups, in a study conducted in Germany in 2021, it was found that NGOs are among the most critical stakeholder groups and question the concept’s socio-economic beliefs (Giurca, 2022).

Complex political and techno-scientific nature

Furthermore, the circular bioeconomy’s political and techno-scientific nature raises questions about whether it is a political project or a techno-scientific issue. This lack of clarity about its nature and purpose may add further ambiguity to the focus of the communication. However, there is no one way or the other. The bioeconomy is a complex and multifaceted concept that involves both technical and policy dimensions. On the one hand, the bioeconomy involves the use of biotechnology and other scientific and technological advancements to develop sustainable solutions for economic growth. On the other hand, the bioeconomy also requires the involvement of policymakers and stakeholders from various sectors to develop policies and strategies that support the development of a sustainable biobased economy. It requires collaboration between the scientific and political communities to achieve sustainable solutions for economic growth. Therefore, it is essential to consider both the scientific and political aspects of the bioeconomy to ensure effective communication.

Confusing terminology

The terminology used in the bioeconomy can also be confusing. For instance, in many countries, the term “bio” is associated with “organic agriculture,” making it difficult to explain what “bio-based” means. However, there is a distinct difference between “bio” and “bio-based”.  “Bio” refers to living #organisms and biological processes. It is often used to refer to organic or naturally occurring substances. For example, “biochemistry” refers to the study of the chemical processes occurring within living organisms. The term “bio-based,” on the other hand, refers to products or materials that are derived from renewable biological sources, such as plants, animals, or microorganisms. Bio-based products may or may not be organic, as they may still undergo chemical processing to convert biological raw materials into useful products. For example, bio-based plastics are made from renewable biological sources, but they may still undergo chemical processing to transform the raw materials into a bioplastic material. In summary, “bio” refers to living organisms and biological processes, while “bio-based” refers to products or materials derived from renewable biological sources.

The circular bioeconomy interfaces with other policies and strategies

The circular bioeconomy is also not a policy field in its own right, but an umbrella term for several of EU-level and national policy programmes, for example: 1. Agriculture and development policies that support sustainable agricultural practices and the development of rural areas, which are important components of the bioeconomy. 2. Environmental policies that address issues related to the sustainable use of natural resources, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The bioeconomy can contribute to these goals by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. 3. Energy policies that support the development and use of renewable energy sources, such as biofuels derived from biomass. 4. Innovation policies that aim to promote research, development, and innovation in various sectors of the economy, including the bioeconomy. 5. Industrial policies that support the development of bio-based industries and the production of bio-based products, and 6. Trade policies that can regulate and impact the global trade of bio-based products and the development of the bioeconomy. This means that it can be challenging to communicate what the circular bioeconomy is and what its goals are, especially as it is often framed through the lens of existing policies.

Explaining circularity

Finally, the recent addition of the “circular” dimension to the bioeconomy highlights the need to avoid locking into linear, business-as-usual modes of operation. Although the circular economy concept provides a solution, it also requires a conscious effort to communicate how it relates to the bioeconomy concept.


In summary, communicating the bioeconomy is a challenge because of its technical and abstract nature, different classifications and definitions, political and techno-scientific nature, confusing terminology, lack of clarity about its nature and purpose, and the need to emphasize the circular dimension. This is why different groups have different levels of knowledge regarding bioeconomy, and interpretations of the concept differ widely depending on who communicates and what is communicated.


Photo credit: Freepik


Giurca, A. Why is Communicating the Circular Bioeconomy so Challenging? Circ.Econ.Sust. (2022).