Environmental Sustainability Indicators for the Bioeconomy

  • Tiina Pursula
  • Maija Aho
  • Ida Rönnlund
  • Minna Päällysaho
Part of the World Sustainability Series book series (WSUSE)


Bioeconomy is a rapidly evolving field, where novel value chains and concepts are developed and commercialized. In this field, there is a need to address sustainability issues, specific to biobased value chains, such as origin of biomass feedstock and related land use issues, material efficiency and energy and water requirements. There is a place for biobased products, for fossil based products and for mixtures of these, and environmental sustainability indicators should aim at pointing out the most suitable alternative from an environmental point of view, in each unique case. Although biomass is a renewable resource, the production of it is dependent on limited resources, such as fresh water, land, nutrients and in the case of animals, food. Biomass is thus only renewable if these limited resources are used sustainably: avoiding excessive use and ensuring that the impact from production does not affect other issues negatively, which for example emissions and wastes, chemical use, nutrients depletion or overload may do. In this chapter, we summarize current state of environmental sustainability indicator development and use for the bioeconomy. In the light of this, the chapter further addresses the gaps in sustainability assessment and lists the novel attempts to develop assessment methods needed to ensure the sustainability of bioeconomy from a wider perspective, yet maintaining proper alignment with the LCA principles. The use of comprehensive environmental sustainability indicators in bioeconomy value chains is also concretized with two case studies. The case studies cover aspects of environmental sustainability in a holistic manner, including e.g. efficient use of natural resources, including materials, water, and energy, minimization of wastes and emissions and reduction of risks to humans and the environment from use of chemicals and disposal of chemicals. Qualitative indicators are utilized when important sustainability aspects cannot be turned into numeric values. Systemic perspectives have the benefit of showing the wider effects of actions, as many effects are not direct, but indirect, and the use of biobased products may have multiple effects. Lastly, benchmarking is applied in the cases to give a meaning to the calculated values and form a bridge between sustainability indicators, the status of the environment and industrial production. From results of the cases the multi-faceted nature of sustainability in bioeconomy can be clearly seen. While the biobased value chain out performs the fossil value chain in some sustainability aspects, the fossil chains are equally good or superior in certain other sustainability aspects. This highlights the need for comprehensive sustainability assessment. In order to develop a sustainable bioeconomy we need to analyze and benchmark the value chains in a systematic manner and develop the methods and availability of reliable data continuously. The objectives of the paper, bridging the gaps of sustainability assessment of bio-based value chains, supports the inherent target of bioeconomy to utilize bio-based resources in a sustainable manner.


Bioeconomy Sustainability Benchmarking Indicators Bioproducts 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tiina Pursula
    • 1
  • Maija Aho
    • 1
  • Ida Rönnlund
    • 1
  • Minna Päällysaho
    • 1
  1. 1.Gaia Consulting LtdHelsinkiFinland

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