Environmental Management

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 339–353 | Cite as

Advancing Sustainable Bioenergy: Evolving Stakeholder Interests and the Relevance of Research

  • Timothy Lawrence Johnson
  • Jeffrey M. Bielicki
  • Rebecca S. Dodder
  • Michael R. Hilliard
  • P. Ozge Kaplan
  • C. Andrew Miller


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.


Bioenergy Biofuels Decision making Participatory processes Research Stakeholder engagement Sustainability 



The authors would like to thank four anonymous reviewers for their thorough comments on an earlier draft of this paper. This paper is an outgrowth of discussions that took place during the Sustainability of Bioenergy Systems: Cradle to Grave workshop, held Sept. 10–11, 2009 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN. The authors wish to thank the workshop organizers for a stimulating exchange of information and ideas. Notice: This manuscript has been authored by UT-Battelle, LLC, under Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy. The United States Government retains, and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the United States Government retains, a non-exclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, world-wide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for United States government purposes.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA)  2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy Lawrence Johnson
    • 4
  • Jeffrey M. Bielicki
    • 2
  • Rebecca S. Dodder
    • 1
  • Michael R. Hilliard
    • 3
  • P. Ozge Kaplan
    • 1
  • C. Andrew Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.Office of Research and DevelopmentDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public AffairsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Oak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  4. 4.Nicholas School of the Environment Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

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