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Setting up a bioeconomy monitoring: Resource base and sustainability

Susanne Iost, Natalia Geng, Jörg Schweinle, Martin Banse, Simone Brüning, Dominik Jochem, Andrea Machmüller and Holger Weimar

No 149, Thünen Working Papers from Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and Fisheries

Abstract: The transition of the current economic system from non-renewable and fossil-based towards a more sustainable system using renewable resources is a dedicated objective of the German National Bioeconomy Strategy. In order to provide sound information on the status of the bioeconomy, a monitoring concept that assesses the bio-based resources and sustainability effects associated with German bioeconomy was developed. The general monitoring approach includes a definition of the bioeconomy and its implementation in terms of material flows and economic sectors at a given point in time. Based on this, available data is collected and bio-based material flows and economic sectors are quantified. These quantifications are used in the following sustainability assessment of material flows and economic sectors. This procedure can be repeated, starting again with a definition of bioeconomy that may change over time according to changing policies, market development and public perceptions of bioeconomy. Thus, bioeconomy monitoring considers the dynamics of the bioeconomy transition concerning processes, products, available data and connected sustainability goals. Understanding and quantifying material flows provides the foundation for comprehending the processing of biomass along value chains and final biomass uses. They also provide information for sustainability assessment. For biomass from agriculture, forests and fisheries including aquaculture, relevant material flows are compiled. Material flow data is not available consistently but must be collected from a broad variety of sources. Consequently, inconsistencies regarding reference units and conversion factors arise that need to be addressed further in a future monitoring. Bio-based shares of economic sectors can be quantified using mostly official statistics, but also empirical data. Bio-based shares vary considerably between economic activities. The manufacture of food products, beverages and wooden products has the highest bio-based shares. Bioeconomy target sectors like chemicals, plastics and construction still have rather small bio-based shares. The suggested assessment of sustainability effects foresees two complimentary levels of evaluation: material flows and economic sectors. The latter quantifies total effects of bioeconomy in a country and relates them to the whole economy or parts of it. The presented indicators were selected based on the Sustainability Development Goal Framework, the German Sustainable Development Strategy and the availability of data. The selection of effects and indicators to be measured in a future monitoring is a crucial point of any quantification. With sustainability being a normative concept, societal perceptions of sustainability should be taken into consideration here. In that context, we suggest to follow the approach of LOFASA for indicator selection. Sustainability assessment of material flows is demonstrated on the example of softwood lumber material flow and its core product EPAL 1 pallet using a combination of material flow analysis and life cycle assessment. Major challenges for a future monitoring of the bioeconomy's resource base and sustainability are availability of detailed and aggregated data, identification of bio-based processes and products within the economic classifications, identification and quantification of interfaces between biomass types, selection of indicators for sustainability assessment and the inclusion of bio-based services.

Keywords: bioeconomy; material flow; sustainability; monitoring; bio-based; assessment; Bioökonomie; Stofffluss; Nachhaltigkeit; biobasiert; Bewertung (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-agr, nep-env and nep-isf
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