Very recently, social innovation has become a subject of investigation in forest research. Earlier on, social innovation turned into a term used in EU policy strategies for addressing social issues and the self-empowerment of local people, as well as for tackling economic, social, or environmental challenges. The question of how the forest bioeconomy might profit from social innovation remains. The article examined the forest bioeconomy from the perspective of social innovation features: How is social innovation reflected in the forest bioeconomy? The forest sector is identified as one principal supplier sectors in the updated European Bioeconomy Strategy. In the strategies’ general objectives of job creation and employment through the green economy, we detected some links to social innovation. In contrast, the EU Social Innovation Initiative includes social aspects via addressing collective action, integration of vulnerable social groups, and rural and urban economic development, without mentioning explicitly the forest sector. In order to make use of both EU policy documents, it is necessary to enquire on the overlaps. This research focused on the communalities in their policy goals as a reference framework for systematically identifying specific forest bioeconomy activities fitting into both realms. With example of these activities, we showed how the forest bioeconomy plays a unique role in addressing hitherto unmet needs with the development of new types of services. There is rich potential in the forest bioeconomy for private forest owners and producers with activities that range from social biomass plants to collectively organized charcoal (biochar) production in remote rural areas. Most of these are service innovations, while some combine services with product innovations. Our findings challenge positions that regard economic and social issues as strictly separated. As a result, they are identified as two combined complementary sources of income for Europe’s forest owners.
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