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Bioenergy > Issues > Sustainability

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Panel of experts debates the sustainability of bioenergy at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., 12 January 2010.

Note: Also see the BioenergyWiki page Sustainability standards.


What is sustainability?

  • Sustainability refers to the capability of complex systems to maintain themselves over time.
  • When used in the context of human activity, sustainability usually has three aspects: social, economic and environmental.
  • All three aspects must be met if something is to be considered truly sustainable.
    • Anything which protects the environment by driving people into poverty, or something that supports the economy while undermining environmental services, will inevitably collapse, often with devastating consequences for people today and future generations.
    • While nothing can be sustained forever, ecosystems, including those with humans, have maintained themselves for tens of thousands of years.

Sustainability and bioenergy

There are a variety of sustainability issues that concern the production and use of biofuels. Below is a list of some of these issues with links to related pages.

To ensure that the use of biofuels is sustainable, a variety of sustainability standards are being developed by groups such as Better Sugarcane Initiative, Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. For a more extensive list see the Sustainability standards page.

Measuring and Monitoring


Note: Also see events listed on the BioenergyWiki page Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels.






The March 2010 report by the National Wildlife Federation, Growing a Green Energy Future, examines issues related to the sustainability of biomass utilization in the United States.

See books, reports, scientific papers, position papers and websites for additional useful resources.

  • Greenhouse Gas Accounting: Lifecycle Analysis of Biofuels and Land Use Change by John A. Miranowski for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 23 April 2012. "By definition, an LCA [lifecycle analysis] is a comprehensive accounting of all the energy inputs into the process and outputs out of the process, including GHG and other emissions. Ideally, sustainability should be incorporated into the system. Others have argued that increased GHG emissions in the biofuel system from global LUC [land use change] should be included in the LCA for biofuel as well."
    • "The high level of uncertainty created by model incompatibility and by aggregate agricultural models not capable of capturing necessary refinements in LUC and agricultural management practices has led to two positions on including indirect LUC in LCA models. First, we know that indirect LUC and associated GHG emissions are not zero, so we are doing a disservice to society by not including them in LCA estimates, even though the “confidence interval” is extremely wide (Hertel et al., 2010). Second, we do not have the tools to obtain a reasonably accurate estimate of the GHG emission effects of indirect LUC, and we are doing a disservice by trying to measure the unmeasurable (Babcock, 2009b)."
    • "Although there are a number of qualifiers, the same LCA model should be used to derive GHG

emission estimates when comparing different feedstocks or different fuels since cross-model comparisons simply highlight model differences (i.e., it is important to create a stable market environment when comparing fuels). Yet, in order to provide a complete understanding of the sensitivity of LCA results and policy impacts to model assumptions, it is important to consider alternative LCA models (and assumptions)." [[2]

  • The Global Bioenergy Partnership Sustainability Indicators for Bioenergy, First edition by the Global Bioenergy Partnership, 2011. "This report presents 24 indicators of sustainability regarding the production and use of modern bioenergy, broadly defined. These indicators were developed to provide policy-makers and other stakeholders a set of analytical tools that can inform the development of national bioenergy policies and programs and monitor the impact of these policies and programs. The indicators were developed by the Partners and Observers of GBEP and provide a framework for assessing the relationship between production and use of modern bioenergy and sustainable development. The indicators were intentionally crafted to report on the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainable development."
  • Forest Footprint Disclosure "The Forest Footprint Disclosure Project (FFD Project) is a new UK government-supported initiative, created to help investors identify how an organisation’s activities and supply chains contribute to deforestation, and link this 'forest footprint' to their value."

Sustainability edit
Sustainability standards | Sustainability initiatives (Better Sugarcane Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil)


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