Advancing Sustainable Bioenergy: Evolving Stakeholder Interests and the Relevance of Research
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- Johnson, T.L., Bielicki, J.M., Dodder, R.S. et al. Environmental Management (2013) 51: 339. doi:10.1007/s00267-012-9884-8
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The sustainability of future bioenergy production rests on more than continual improvements in its environmental, economic, and social impacts. The emergence of new biomass feedstocks, an expanding array of conversion pathways, and expected increases in overall bioenergy production are connecting diverse technical, social, and policy communities. These stakeholder groups have different—and potentially conflicting—values and cultures, and therefore different goals and decision making processes. Our aim is to discuss the implications of this diversity for bioenergy researchers. The paper begins with a discussion of bioenergy stakeholder groups and their varied interests, and illustrates how this diversity complicates efforts to define and promote “sustainable” bioenergy production. We then discuss what this diversity means for research practice. Researchers, we note, should be aware of stakeholder values, information needs, and the factors affecting stakeholder decision making if the knowledge they generate is to reach its widest potential use. We point out how stakeholder participation in research can increase the relevance of its products, and argue that stakeholder values should inform research questions and the choice of analytical assumptions. Finally, we make the case that additional natural science and technical research alone will not advance sustainable bioenergy production, and that important research gaps relate to understanding stakeholder decision making and the need, from a broader social science perspective, to develop processes to identify and accommodate different value systems. While sustainability requires more than improved scientific and technical understanding, the need to understand stakeholder values and manage diversity presents important research opportunities.