Bio-economy at the Crossroads of Sustainable Development

  • José G. Vargas-HernándezEmail author
  • Karina Pallagst
  • Patricia Hammer
Living reference work entry


This chapter aims to review, analyze, and systematize the knowledge created on bio-economy to develop a conceptual and theoretical framework based on the transdisciplinary study of biology and socioeconomy to be used in further research. It begins from the questioning of what are the benefits that bio-economy has compared to the neoclassical economy. The methods employed are the critical analytic, descriptive, and deductive-inductive and suggest holistic and transdisciplinary approaches. As a result, the core of the chapter presents the principles under which this new scientific paradigm in sustainable development can continue creating more scientific knowledge to be used in the formulation and implementation of strategic choices for the bioproduction, biodistribution, and bioconsumption process.


Bio-economy Green economy Knowledge-based economy Sustainable development Strategic choices 


Any nation of the world faces major environmental, economic, and social challenges to be addressed to change for sustainable development and to better the way to live and work. Bio-economy is a “greener” alternative that has impacts on natural and environmental resources, food, soil, land, and livelihoods. Bio-economy has a relevant impact in important bio-products such as textiles, cosmetics, bioenergy, biofuels, building products, and other by-products and biopower. Bio-economy serves a market of environmentally sustainable satisfactors, products, and services, and to keep in pace in the long term to become global, it requires more research and development. Bio-economy is globally influencing biotechnological research and development, business models, and market structure. (Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (BMEL) 2016).

Bio-economics is considered as a more advanced scientific development than economics because it relies on the evolutionary process of humanity and nature. The advance of economic science extends to consider biological evolution, biology, and thermodynamics as important foundations of the economic process. The bio-economy connects and expands economics and biology to anchor in its empirical prediction to give it the power of regeneration and sustainability to the activities of the socioeconomic and biological systems.

This chapter analyzes the recent developments on bio-economy. It reviews the conceptualization of bio-economy, green economy, and ecological economics to analyze the deficiencies of classic economy leading to present the bio-economics as the new epistemological paradigm inextricable linked to sustainable development. From this framework, there are derived at the core of the subject and object of study some principles offered as the basis for further research: circular economy, sustainable development, holistic and transdisciplinary approaches, innovation culture and capacity creation, knowledge-based economy, global ethics, social capital, and culture of peace.

Finally, the chapter considers the importance of formulation and implementation of the bio-economy as a strategy to enable and ensure results in terms of contributions for the sustainable development of renewable resources. Also some concluding remarks are offered.

Conceptualization of Bio-economy

The concept of bio-economy is relatively new to name those economic activities derived from the biosciences advances and surge in the scientific knowledge in biotechnology, genetics, genomics, etc., to achieve practical applications from biological processes. The term bio-economics was coined by Georgescu-Roegen to explain the biological origin of the economic process and thus spotlight the problem of mankind’s existence with a limited store of accessible resources, unevenly located and unequally appropriated (Georgescu-Roegen 1977, p. 361). Bio-economy is the sustainable production and conversion of biomass into a range of goods and services, among others food, health, fiber and industrial products, and energy. The term “bio-economic” is used to indicate both economic and biophysical components (Knowler 2002).

Bio-economy is a concept related to the economic activities derived from utilizing natural and biological resources or bioprocesses to produce bio-products. Bio-economy is an aggregated set of economic operations and activities related to biological products to capture economic value, growth, and welfare benefits for human development. The concept of a bio-economy refers to that economy where the basic components of materials, chemicals, and energy come from renewable biological resources, such as plant and animal sources. This type of economy can meet many of the requirements for sustainability from environmental and social aspects as it is designed and implemented intelligently.

Returning to the definition of the concept of bio-economics, the OECD suggests that it can be understood as the aggregate set of economic operations in a society that uses the latent value of biological products and processes to capture new benefits of growth and well-being for citizens and nations. This first definition, from the year 2006, essentially includes the same idea with regard to the means to achieve growth and prosperity, as is clear from the description of the OECD from 2009.

Turning to a European vision, the EC defines the bio-economy in its policy package as the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value-added products such as food, feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy (European Commission 2015a, b, c). The bio-economy encompasses agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, and biotechnology, as well as a wide range of industrial sectors, ranging from energy and chemical production to construction and transportation.

The concept of bio-economics has several meanings: It is the efficient management of human resources (Clark 2010) and is considered as an analogy of biology to explain economic theory. The concept of bio-economics is the biological analysis of economic relations, which as dynamic systems can be effected, for example, through frames of reference, mental schemes, and instruments of thought analysis.

The concept of bio-economy is under debate (Levidow et al. 2012). A bio-economy can be defined as an economy in which the basic building blocks for materials, chemicals, and energy are derived from renewable biological resources (McCormick and Kautto 2013). Bio-economy is defined as the global industrial transition of sustainably utilizing renewable aquatic and terrestrial biomass resources in energy, intermediate, and final products for economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits (USDA 2015). The bio-economy is defined as an economy based on the sustainable production and conversion of renewable biomass into a range of bio-based products, chemicals, and energy (de Besi and McCormick 2017).

Awareness on the concept of the bio-economy as potential in biosciences and biotechnologyis important to understand the implication for human beings.

While the concept of bio-economics began initially from the science of biotechnology, then it has expanded to incorporate other ideas. Biotechnology can be understood as the science of using living things to produce goods and services. Therefore, it involves manipulating and modifying organisms to create new and practical applications for primary production, health, and industry.

Another meaning of the concept is the one that considers the bio-economy as the influence that has the satisfaction of the human needs like the biological conditions in the economic behavior.

Bio-economy as Green Economy

Bio-economy also called green economy can be defined as one that has low carbon emissions, uses resources efficiently, and is socially inclusive (PNUMA 2016). The bio-economy sector is a warrantor for a green economy.

The “bio-economy” agenda has developed the concept “green economy” that emerged at the 2012 Rio+20 Summit and is promoted by the United Nations Environment Programme to pursue natural renewable resources bioenergy and sustainable biological products (Socaciu 2014). The agenda for bio-economy has been pushed by large corporations and developed states linked to green economy and the knowledge-based bio-economy (Hall and Zacune 2012). The Rio+20 agenda “Towards a Green Economy” gave rise to the bio-economic strategy for sustainable development and economic growth (European Commission 2012a, b, c). The European Union promotes among its member states the commitment to the agenda of “green economy,” bioenergy (Paul 2013), and agrofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels (Hall and Zacune 2012).

Bio-economics biologicalizes the natural environment and the biological resources of business activities as intrinsic and inextricable elements of mutualistic coevolution. The bio-economy integrates the green economy that seeks to respond to the challenges of food security and clean bioenergy.

Bio-economy as Ecological Economics

However, bio-economics is also called ecological economics. For some authors the bio-economy is the ecological economy that reconciles the economy and the ecology, that at the same time looks for the economic efficiency, and that takes care of the natural resources that are essential for the humanity. The bio-economic approach calls for a change in values on the use of available resources and energy to be conserved for the use of future generations. The bio-economy is the basis of the business of ecological projects, agricultural, etc. Bio-economics studies the biological origin of economic process and the human activities associated with a limited stock of available and accessible resources that are unevenly located and unequally appropriated (Mayumi 2001).

Ecological disasters in recent years as a result of the subordination of the laws of nature to the laws of the market economy have demonstrated the destructive capacity of the forces of nature, to the point that has created an awareness by the environmental care. Some analysts consider that the bio-economy approach is destructive and should be restructured from an agroecological perspective.

The Deficiencies of Neoclassical Economics

The economy as a science oriented by the competition has serious methodological deficiencies that the bio-economy tries to overcome through biocentric processes and of bio-economic balance centered in the cooperation for the sustainable development and the conservation of the nature and the environment in their interactions with the humanity. From a holistic perspective, the interactions between biological and socioeconomic systems result in the field of bio-economics. The interactions of the natural biological and economic processes that give rise to the bio-economy have an impact on the complex and uncertain phenomena of the biosphere.

The physiocrats subordinated reproduction and economic transformation to nature and classical economics to capital, later to the goal of market equilibrium and the financial system with economic neoliberalism. The heterodox economy is more oriented to the human aspect with approaches such as humanist socialism that resists the clashes of the liberal economy and analyzes the contradictions of economic liberalism with the argument that the labor force is not a commodity that separates from the human being.

The market economy reduces natural, social, and moral values but cannot regulate the behavior of nature. In the First Report of the Club of Rome (Club de Roma 1972) which warns about the limits of economic growth and the Brundtland Report (Brundtland Gro Harlem 1987) that reports threats to the mechanisms that regulate nature, the issues for sustainable development to maintain the balance between the interdependence of the economy, the nature, and the biosphere emerge.

Bio-economy: A New Economic Epistemology Paradigm

Bio-economics as a discipline is a new paradigm in environmental economic development (Soedigdo et al. 2014). The emergence of bio-economics as a different science to economics and biology represents a new paradigm in scientific disciplinary evolution for the study and analysis of the bio-economic causes of the environmental impacts of human actions (Mohammadian 2000). The interactions of biological and economic systems are integrated in the bio-economy from a new perspective that represents a paradigm shift. As an interdisciplinary science, bio-economics synthesizes sciences based on the empiricism of biology and the humanism of economics, resulting in a new, more holistic paradigm because it attempts to explain the interactivity of biological systems and nature with economics and the social.

Bio-economics represents a paradigmatic change in the evolution of disciplines whose main task is to investigate the problems that arise from the impact of human enterprise on the environment. These problems are not only due to purely biological causes or to purely economic causes. Bio-economics has been the result and in turn is provoking paradigmatic change in the epistemology of research for the generation of innovative theoretical and empirical knowledge with applications that are highly significant for their contributions. The paradigm focused on bio-economic development is based on the holistic perspective that results from the interaction of biological, socioeconomic, and environmental development to explain the coevolution of human development that guarantees the provision of resources for present and future generations.

The bio-economic development paradigm (Mohammadian 2000) is an alternative to prevent the accelerated depletion of natural biological resources, mitigate environmental degradation, and reduce economic inequality and social inequity. The community participation and paradigm have been changing with the bio-economy process (Henry and Roche 2013). Sustainability preserves the identity and integrity of bio-economic systems by enhancing self-sufficiency and equity and respect for biospheric equilibria as the criteria for regulation of trade and economic activity in opposition to the neoclassical economic paradigm endorsing global trade to stimulate economic growth.

The new paradigm complements the tangible and intangible resources, the objective with the subjective, and the feelings with the facts with a sustainable and sustained growth orientation, with a material and economic operational benefit. The new paradigm of production and market has been called cognitive capitalism and bio-economics, in a word, bio-capitalism (Fumagalli 2007). Bio-economics makes aware of the interactions of biological and socioeconomic systems, to reach a conciliation and to adopt a holistic research. The three disciplines of the economy-environment have offered a change of perspective and a non-paradigm shift as bio-economics does.

Principles of Bio-economy

Circular Economy

Bio-economy links economic growth with environmental sustainability under the guiding principle of a circular economy. Bio-based circular economy is a bio-economy for a sustainable policy agenda which can solve the challenges of climate change, eco-technologies, agriculture and food security, blue growth, etc. For example, the wood-based bio-economy is a bio-based circular economy that originates from processing and recycling timber, pulpwood, and other forest products utilized for material and energy sources. Bio-economy innovation is shaping the new social economy combining elements of circular economy and social inclusion.

Sustainable Development

Bio-economy is a transitional step toward sustainable development. Bio-economy promotes sustainable development by protecting biodiversity and reducing dependence on fossil natural resources. The White Paper The European Bio-economy in 2030 sustains that bio-economy has to face challenges such as the sustainable management of natural resources, sustainable production, public health, mitigating climate change, integrating and balancing social developments, and global sustainable development.

The neoclassical model of the economy supports neoliberal capitalism, while the bio-economically centered sustainable development model encourages people to engage in cooperative socioeconomic activities that benefit in the long run. The bio-economy reduces dependence on fossil natural resources, prevents biodiversity loss, and creates economic growth and employment in line with the principles of sustainable development.

The bio-economy provides benefits for the increasing sustainable development by economic growth and outputs, replacing fossil fuels with renewable natural resources, biodiversity conservation, and increased energy self-sufficiency. Some contributions of bio-economics to sustainable development are in global food security, renewable raw materials, mitigation of climate change, etc. The utilization of bio-economic resources to promote sustainable development of marine fisheries resources requires empirical research on fisheries biology and economics. Bio-economic analysis of fisheries is scarce despite that there are some reports on economics and biological and resource management (Habib et al. 2014).

The bio-economic analysis is based on calculation of reference points (Thunberg et al. 1998). Mathematical bio-economics is used to study the management of renewable resources, such as differential equations to model resource processes based on guiding principles to determine profits (Clark 1990). One of these principles is the tragedy of the commons. Indicators for bio-economy sustainable development are required to be defined (Fritsche and Iriarte 2014).

The bio-economy agenda has already presented several limitations in all principles of ensuring food security, harvest limited to the capacity of regeneration, use of biomass for the highest value, and reducing, recycling, and reusing waste. The European Union imports aromas expanding the use of bio-economy, despite that its policies are being questioned and criticized. A good example is agrofuels, which are not actually renewable resources and, therefore, have failed to deliver the promises.

One of the main challenges of the bio-economy is to change the current production, distribution, and consumption systems to those that are more environmentally friendly and provide sustainable development for the conservation of natural resources, while meeting human current needs.

Holistic Approach

According to Mohammadian (2005), bio-economics is a holistic interdisciplinary science, also called biological economics, and is a new epistemology for the investigation of the interrelationships between biological and socioeconomic systems beyond the different approaches of environmental economics, economics of natural resources, and the ecological economy. Bio-economics aims to narrow biology as an empirical science and economics as a social science.

Bio-economics aims to achieve a harmony between the holistic balance of economic, social-human, and natural and environmental conditions. Thus conceived, this bio-economic balance of holistic character gives rise to the happiness of a life balanced in all the orders. Achieving the balance between the price and the quantity of the economy that is short term with the quality and the bio-economic value that is maintained in the long run is also to maintain a holistic perspective that balances selfishness and altruism.

Bio-economic education should focus on a holistic and transdisciplinary learning process that results from the scientific experimentation of new cognitive processes and synthesis of the interactions and interrelations of biological, economic, social, and environmental processes. To achieve this new mentality, the educational process must undergo a scientific-academic revolution through the synthesis of theories of biology, economics, and cognition, to promote an integrated education in the form of a bio-economic educational process. Such an educational process is holistic and interdisciplinary and helps to dismantle reductionist education to promote the synthesis culture in addition to facilitating the art of learning to learn.

Transdisciplinary Approach

Modern scientific research during the last centuries has suffered from the premises of simplicity, objectivity, and positivism. In addition, its Cartesian reductionist methodology has divided biospheric and socioeconomic systems into separate compartments, to be investigated by various disciplines, forgetting the unity of human life with its biological basis. It is evaluating interactive problems with an outdated mindset, evolved for a world it has left behind decades ago. Bio-economics is born as a response to the incremental advances of the other economics-environment disciplines through which the pathologies of capitalism and its industrial system have been investigated individually and separately.

The analysis from the bio-economy is based on the transdisciplinary interrelations between the human, natural, and economic areas (Nicolescu 1996). In addition, the reflections of Georgescu-Roegen (GR) helped to establish links between different disciplines and to address the economic issue beyond money, managed to introduce the biophysical dimension, so that the currents of industrial ecology, agroecology, or urban ecology have in the proposals of GR a precedent (Carpintero 2006).

Bio-economy is a transdisciplinary approach that encompasses biology, economics, physics, genetics, forestry, marine sciences, etc. Bio-economics as a transdisciplinary science proposes the integration of biophysical subsystems of nature and environmental, biological, and bio-spherical with economic, social, and human subsystems with long-term orientation to ensure the happiness of future generations. Bio-economics is a transdisciplinary science that seeks to study and analyze biological and socioeconomic systems from a perspective of cooperation and solidarity for the conservation of physical, natural, biological, and social capital. Bio-economics proposes among its transdisciplinary principles for the creation of bio-economic capital through biology and economics as the integrated solution to sustainable bio-economic development.

Heuristics is a method used by the bio-economy that is based on transdisciplinary and holism for the generation of knowledge through the absence or reordering of existing information. The functional method in research starts from emerging properties in the interaction of problems such as climate change in biological and socioeconomic systems. The transdisciplinarity of the principles of bio-economics and the knowledge economy raises its character of postmodernity.

Sustainable bio-economy needs transdisciplinary capabilities and expertise. The bio-economy is not only a transdisciplinary branch but also contributes to change the mentality of people, passing from a greedy, guided by the power that grants the money to a person who uses resources in a rational way, thinking about the future and the conservation of the planet.

Innovation Culture and Capacity Development

The bio-economic theory is based on the value of complex innovations based on an ethical – economic – humanist balance. Business culture to foster innovation is essential in bio-economy aligned with the needs of sustainable development and with the collaboration of all the stakeholders involved on strategic alliances, or other forms of cooperation between different sectors are essential. Education, research, and innovation skills are critical factors for development of bio-economy. However, the basis for the bio-economy comes from previous strategic agendas of the European Commission (2012a, b, c; 2015a, b, c) (EC), including the 1993 White Paper which highlighted the need for nonphysical investments based on knowledge and the role of biotechnology in innovation and growth or the 2000 Lisbon Agenda by stimulating the knowledge-based economy to ensure competitiveness and economic growth.

It can be pointed out convincingly that discoveries, ideas, and innovations play an important role in economic growth. Bio-economy is driven by material innovations. Bio-economy innovation emerges from research and bio-economy. The bio-economy web is created to integrate all the sectors involved in sustainable growth, including all bio-products, food and nonfood, and facing the challenges to become a major driver of innovation.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are drivers of innovation in bio-economy, thereby driving SMEs in bio-economy. SMEs and groundbreaking innovation emerge in the bio-economy. Not only large corporations but also SMEs in all sectors are important for the development and implementation of bio-economy because they may be able to develop the capability to absorb the knowledge, produce in accordance and marketing innovations of the new bio-products. Bio-economy offers opportunities to promote innovations and market access and ensure operations and functioning solutions.

A transition toward bio-economy requires the innovation and development in biotechnology. The transition toward a bio-economy founded on biomass has been designed by different strategies but on a common direction based on technological research and innovation on biotechnology (de Besi and McCormick 2017). Biotechnology R&D requires bio-economy innovation to attend an increasing market demanding sustainable products and services.

Bio-economy initiatives contribute to shape a sustainable economy away from fossil resource dependency, prompting governments and firms to develop strategies aimed to conduct research and innovation. Bio-economy makes possible decarbonization which in turn supports innovations. Thus, biotechnology innovation drives bio-economy innovation and technology transfer from scientific institutions to industry through cooperation and networks with private firms and academic, social, and governmental institutions.

Bio-economy obtains biological natural resources from agriculture, forestry, and fishery providing innovations that are vital for biotechnology growth. Sustainable bio-economy objectives are based on research and innovation into breeding, feeding, health, and housing of livestock and fish. Some key influence factors identified for the wood-based bio-economy development are the biomass availability/forest structure, globalization and global economic development, energy and climate policies, supply and demand for wood, willingness to pay for bio-based products, and innovations along the value chain of wood (De Besi and McCormick 2015). Bio-economy innovation is driven by other influence factors such as the demand for biomass that may be reducing due to utilization of waste materials.

Urban green spaces are potentially development environments for sustainable bio-economy innovations in products and services that provide solutions in air quality, water, energy, health, waste management, etc. Interactions between urban green spaces and communities derive bio-economy benefits in areas such as renewable energies, food, health, etc. Bio-economy is already a major driver of rural and coastal development playing a key role in societal innovation.

Sustainable bio-economy activities of new business require investments in innovation and equity financing for growth of bio-economy services and products entering into global markets. Bio-economy business growth may be government funded, cooperation and public finance for research innovation and improve the bio-economy base products and services market position. An innovation system supported by institutional infrastructure and supportive mechanisms embedded within the waste-based bio-economy enable transition from traditional market to bio-economy-based market.

Sustainable bio-economy innovations require capabilities and competence development in research and expertise in product and services development. Development of bio-economy business expertise in some sectors still in their infancy is driven by the market attractiveness, risk investments for innovation and growth, and target of demand. Further research on bio-economy innovation is needed. The circulate nature of bio-economy processes influences the economics of energy use and raw materials as it is required to build a capacity for future development based on research, innovation, and market conditions.

Research, development, and innovation on diverse sustainable technologies, facilities, processes, and skilled workforce maximize environmental sustainable bio-economy. Innovations along the value chain to reduce costs are necessary. Institutional and technological innovations are essential for bio-economy product and process. A deficient innovation system may lead to weak innovative firms. Innovative innovation by the increase of bio-economy-based raw materials, increases the diversification and variety supply for the bio-economy. The development of the bio-economy integrates alternative forms of agriculture and social innovation to achieve a more distributed bio-economy with relationships between firms and community’s involvement.

Certain conclusions are drawn from the strategic analysis and recommendations for the future of bio-economy based on research, development, and innovation. The bio-economy transition requires changes at the level of system involving social, political, government, and industry actors in the strategy formulation and implementation on research and innovation, land use, biomass, social change, and governance.

Bio-economy research and innovation strategy across the landscape resources meeting the scientific criteria is needed. Future opportunities of bio-economy applications for markets are the duties of research policies shaping the innovation and creativity as a framework conditions for the bio-economy locations.

Knowledge-Based Economy

To date, the progress of the bio-economy has been made possible by a recent search for knowledge and technical expertise to use biological processes for practical applications. The human enterprise based on the principles of bio-economics and novel ideas is really the knowledge economy. The dominant view of the bio-economy considered as a hard science based on knowledge and technological innovation has a life sciences perspective that is based on the argument that global value chains increase the efficiency and productivity of natural agriculture bio-products.

The bio-economy is based on the knowledge economy and green economy for an efficient management of renewable biological resources and the production of bio-products and agrofuels. The new bio-economic sustainable growth theory is an alternative theory to neoclassical growth theory that emphasizes knowledge and ideas as the most relevant production factor.

The European Commission (2012a, b, c) adopted the agenda “Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bio-economy for Europe” in 2012 under the life sciences strategy to address environmental, biological, and natural bio-products and bioenergy. However, the life sciences approach to knowledge-based bio-economy (KBBE) dominates bio-economy research more than the agroecology perspective. Life sciences is one of the dynamic sectors of bio-economy. The agroecological perspective of the knowledge bio-economy stands as an alternative under the premise that organic farming with fewer levels of supply chains gives more value to producers (Levidow et al. 2012).

The OECD further states that the bio-economy involves three elements: the use of advanced knowledge of genes and cellular processes to design and develop new processes and products, the use of renewable biomass and efficient bioprocesses to stimulate sustainable production, and the integration of knowledge and applications of biotechnology in a range of sectors. According to the White Paper, the implementation of bio-economy needs coherent and integrated policy for a sectorial and multidisciplinary investment on bio-economy research, knowledge development and innovation, entrepreneurship in bio-economy, and development of skilled workforce in bio-economy. However, it is highly debated and contested the top-down target-oriented approach to implement knowledge-based bio-economy as a programmatic framework.

The bio-economy pivots on the basis of the new knowledge economy with objectives of economic growth and competitiveness in close relation with the strategies of public policies that emerge from the neoliberal narrative. The bio-economy agenda is sustained by the knowledge-based bio-economy (KBBE) as an approach that emerged from the life sciences research focusing on bioagriculture. The dominant version of bio-economics is the life sciences approach which commodifies both nature and knowledge reinforcing dysfunctional behaviors and patterns instead of solving their causes.

Bio-economy is the knowledge-based bioproduction and use of renewable resources to make bio-products, processes, and services. The knowledge-based bio-economy develops biological processes technologically to provide a wide range of bio-products from renewable raw materials. The knowledge-based bio-economy promotes strategic research and innovation to support the transition from an oil-based to a bio-based economy that enables economic prosperity with ecological and social compatibility. Efficient and sustainable biological resources rest on bio-economy knowledge-based innovation aimed to business and large corporations to concentrate control over natural resources, production processes, and distribution chains.

Knowledge-based bio-economy supports research and innovation for the transition from oil-based economy to bio-based economy to foster ecological and social compatibility in a wide range of sectors. Bio-economy, bio-based economy, and knowledge-based bio-economy (KBBE) are similar concepts used to describe the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy toward an economy based on renewable biomass for bio-products and bioenergy (Schmidt et al. 2012; Birch and Tyfield 2012; Staffas et al. 2013).

Knowledge-based bio-economy is translating into economic growth by bio-based research and innovation; accelerating bio-based products and services, energy, health, food, IT sector, agriculture, and manufacturing; and strengthening competitiveness. The bio-economy is expanding knowledge on biosciences and biotechnologies based on nano-molecular structures to genetic science. The knowledge-based bio-economy is scattered among the industrial sectors and nations. Knowledge-based research in the area of the bio-economy has been conducted and substantially covered in agriculture and food policy.

Bio-based innovations promoted by a knowledge-based research strategy are centered around competitive bio-economy sectors, such as sustainable agricultural production, the global food security, healthy and safe foods, the development of biomass-based energy carriers, and the industrial application of renewable resources. Bio-economy involves the use of knowledge of genes and cell processes to develop new products and services.

Biotechnology benefits from bio-economy knowledge spillover contributing to a significant increase of economic growth. Bio-economics can maximize economic efficiency and social and human benefits from a sustainable use and maintenance of nature and environment through knowledge spillovers and commercial applications.

For the knowledge-based bio-economy to create sustainable development, it is required to include sectoral components at all levels, that is, at local, national, regional, and global level. The economic, ecological, and social contributions of the bio-economy can be realized through knowledge of the biological processes and systems and their interactions with the ecosystem, as well as the associated biotechnology and social implications. The knowledge-based bio-economy combines economic growth and prosperity with environmental sustainability and compatibility. The knowledge-based bio-economy contributes to global responsibility in the present and to appropriate foresight for future generations.

Bio-economy knowledge can be taken for granted by the emerging information channels. The bio-economy transformation process driven by technological knowledge and supported by structures of innovation networks is taking commercial advantages in global markets. Integrated bio-economy combines entrepreneurship with corporate responsibility and identity with other stakeholders and firms sharing knowledge networks. Incorporation of renewable natural resources in bio-economy programs aimed for creation of business and new jobs requires the expertise of research multidisciplinary models to generate bio-economy knowledge in creating business.

Bio-economy knowledge can be transferred from research centers to different sectors, including to business in different organizational forms among which can be joint ventures for development and innovation. Innovative developments in bio-economy technologies and products are stimulated for investments on research and development and knowledge transfer and exchanges, combined with a created demand of bio-products which are important components of bio-economy policy (Grubler et al. 2001; Borrás and Edquist 2013; Foxon et al. 2005).

The knowledge-based bio-economy accommodates results between technology, the economy, and ecology. Knowledge-based bio-economy competencies expertise is developed by research infrastructure extended in bio-economy research centers and information and communication technologies such as the one supported by platform technologies and institutional funding.

The knowledge-based bio-economy requires the implementation of complex interrelationships of training and research agents committed to the creation of sustainable bio-based economy in accordance to demographic and socioeconomic changes. Bio-economy requires well-trained and educated talent with multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary qualifications.

Opportunities for a knowledge-based bio-economy, biomass-based raw materials, and global food security are enormous in growing markets with the increasing demand of bio-products and services. The bio-economy is a knowledge-based science requiring further collaborative intra- and interdisciplinary research and development to increase the innovation capable to elicit and solve the global societal challenges.

Global Ethics

Bio-economics represents a fundamental change in ideology in everything that is related to socioeconomic, biological, and ethical activities. Business, industry, and society can contribute to and benefit from bio-economics by considering the socioeconomic and ethical implications. Homo bio-economicus is based on biological principles of conservation, recycling, regeneration, and respect, as well as on the socioeconomic principles of equity and equality and under the ethical principle of exploiting natural and biological resources but living off of its income management provided.

From a different perspective, bio-economics complements analysis of the neoclassical economics of socioeconomic, biological, and ethical activities. The principles of biological sustainability, environmental integrity, social equity, economic equality, and global ethics sufficiency of the bio-economy underpin socioeconomic activities.

The bio-economy supports economic activities based on the principle of an ethical practice to benefit all participants, thereby reducing transaction costs. The science of bio-economics is considered a postmodern science that considers the participation of all interest groups around the concepts of sustainability, quality, value, ethics, equality, social justice, fraternity, and compassion. Ideas and knowledge as intangible resources of the bio-economy emanate from heuristics as a tool for sustainable economic growth that is based on biological, environmental, economic, social, and ethical resources.

The implications of bio-economy for economy, society, and ethics have to be addressed such as long-term health care, food, etc. The framework of bio-economy interdisciplinary research projects contributes to discussions on social, legal, and ethical issues. Sustainable bio-economy global demand of bio-products and bio-services requires to be framed by ethical consumer behavior and legislation.

Social Capital and Culture of Peace

The business bio-economic activities have as components in bio-economic capital and social capital. Bio-economics is based on the cultural, noneconomic, and intangible dimensions of social capital such as trust, cooperation, solidarity, reciprocity, etc., values that validate the humanist and transformative vision of biology and socioeconomic activities of bioproduction with use value (Mohammadian 2003). Social capital facilitates the relations of solidarity and compassionate cooperation that contribute to the formation of a more generous and altruistic society.

For organizations and companies with a bio-economic orientation, social capital, biological capital, and financial and monetary capital have the same importance in their scale of values. In other words, a bio-economic enterprise attaches as much importance to social capital and biological capital as to money capital (Mohammadian 2005). At the center of social capital are trust and cooperation, also the main ingredients of a culture of peace.

The bio-economy is based on solid principles of trust and cooperation, fraternity, justice, and compassion to achieve the creation of bio-economic value and economic growth through the internalization of costs that produce the externality attached to the care of the biological foundation. The new institutional economy promotes the cultural principles on which the bio-economy is based, so that they coincide in the sustainable benefits obtained through just, cooperative, fraternal, reciprocal, and trustworthy socioeconomic transactions. For example, the noneconomic components of bio-economic accounting enable the processes of transformation of economic activities with capitalist profit purposes to carry out more humanistic activities that harmonize the relations of cooperation and competition.

Bio-economy has an impact on the quality and level of employment and on building societal trust. The “homo oeconomicus” is a being that seeks efficiency, focused on competition, and is predatory, greedy, and without any human feeling, while “homo bio-economicus” is a being that is sensitive to human needs and nature; centered on relations of cooperation and trust; in harmony with himself, with those around him, and with nature; and with a culture of sufficiency and conservation and with a sense of the values of solidarity and fraternity (Mohammadian 2000, 2003) promoter of sustainability. Bio-economics is considered as a postmodern science in terms of the values of cooperation, trust, and empathy on which it stands.

The institutionalization of bio-economics promotes the relationships of trust and cooperation between stakeholders and other groups of interest. To build consumer trust on bio-products and bio-economy, it is required to implement high global standards of reliable quality, safety, efficiency, transparency, and acceptability with the support from industry, society, policymakers, and regulatory agencies.

The sustainable bio-economy encourages relationships of cooperation between different economic sectors and improves the well-being of society. Homo bio-economicus, unlike homo oeconomicus, is a being satisfied with the resources that he has access to and that has self-fulfillment in his life and is sensitive to human needs and realities, in harmony, and with an attitude of cooperation and care with environmental, economic, social, and political situations. Bio-economy is sustained as the third path of economy because it is considered to be between the classical equilibrium economy and use value and the new global economy of complexity and exchange value and therefore benefits both (Mohammadian 2003) as models of competition and cooperation (Mohammadian 2000).

Bio-economy organizations are using innovative business models based on relationships of cooperation to create new entrepreneurial structures to foster research and development and the applications. All types of organizations involved in bio-economy activities and practices have different entrepreneurship structures to accommodate the participation and cooperation of all the stakeholders to achieve the goals. Sustainable bio-economy services associated with industrial bio-products contribute to develop efficient bio-economy value chains, create new bio-economy business, and encourage relationships of cooperation and partnerships.

As such, development cooperation between business units, regions, and nations demands sustainable bio-economy development activities in sustainable use and expertise of natural resources. Advancement requires active participation in relationships of international cooperation programs to strengthen support of bio-economy activities. A good example of sustainable bio-economy implementation is the cooperation with financial providers across sectoral boundaries. Bio-economy technologies, products, and services can be standardized and certified to follow the rules of global markets by means of international cooperation and allocation. Technology transfer in bio-economy in science delivers economic and social benefits if scientific results are delivered through new forms of cooperation and strategic alliances between firms, science institutions, communities, and government.

Although, in fact, there is much to do and develop, the projects of bio-economy involve a more democratic attitude supportive of a culture of peace, such as the specific cases of free green spaces.

Bio-economy as a Strategy

Bio-economy strategy aims on self-sufficiency in energy and raw materials and securing availability of biomass and low-carbon and resource-efficient society. A bio-economy strategy is aimed to identify energy, environment, water, food, health, social, etc. challenges and act upon the critical bio-economy research from using waste materials to gain market value and growth. A bio-economy strategy links bio-economy-based renewable resources with sustainability by ensuring sustainable production and use of biomass (Pfau et al. 2014).

The knowledge-based bio-economy is a sustainable economic strategy for the creation of sustainable natural capital (Birch et al. 2010) that is oriented toward the formulation of sustainability policies, in a way that attempts to link bio-economics projects with the knowledge-based economy and technological innovation for the design of public policies and institutional practices (Franco et al. 2011).

Bio-economics is presented as a win-win strategy. Bio-economy has been identified as a strategy and defined as encompassing the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value-added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy. Its sectors and industries have strong innovation potential due to their use of science and enabling and industrial technologies, along with local and tacit knowledge (European Commission 2012a, p. 3). The European Union’s strategy adopted in 2012 was announced as innovation in the service of sustainable growth: a bio-economy for Europe promotes sustainable production and consumption capabilities based on life sciences to address the challenges of the environment, the use of energy, and food security.

The bio-economy as a greening strategy is advancing amid the debates on the so-called green economy proposed by the United Nations Environment Program (PNUMA) to promote bioproduction. Bio-economy as strategy has solutions to environmental concerns and sustainable economic growth moving forward to renewable biological resources in an increasing market share (European Bio-economy Panel and SCAR 2014; European Commission 2015a, b, c). The European Union recommends the bio-economy to the Rio+20 agenda “Towards a Green Economy” as a strategy to promote the sustainable development of environmental and natural resources efficiently, thereby making economic growth compatible and the sustainable use of biological and environmental resources (European Commission 2015a, b, c).

To target specific markets, sustainable bio-economy must study and analyze the development and functioning of the environment and development of sectors and identify global trends and challenges, opportunities and changes in drivers of marketing of products and services, and the specific needs to satisfy. The study of the bio-economy raises the need for a behavioral change of production systems called to play a strategic role in providing a response to a set of global challenges and uses the system approach to analyze related fields such as green economics and energy efficiency and productivity processes taking into account climate variations and increasing restrictions on the quality of biodiversity and natural resources such as air, water, and soil. This analysis is necessary to formulate and implement a strategy and policy actions. Strategy formulation formulates priorities for future bio-economy development.

A favorable operating environment, strategic choices, and policy actions are drivers for business bio-economy development, growth, and achieving competitiveness in a setting to operate. Strategic choices and implemented sustainable bio-economy policy actions to produce efficient goods and services targeted to satisfy the needs of consumers in the marketplace and aimed to support the growth of bio-economy business. Strategy choice implementation and policy actions supported by agents in the bio-economy sector may be able to set up a program aimed for resource efficiency and low-carbon society.

The bio-economy as part of a comprehensive global strategy including the renewable energies is able to solve the problems of sustainable development (Piotrowski et al. 2015). A sustainable bio-economy strategy is aimed to generate bio-economy business growth from added value bio-economy products and services while securing the nature’s ecosystems and providing sustainable global solutions for saving nature’s diversity, global warming, air pollution, consumption standards, etc. Sustainable bio-economy strategy aims for economic growth generation from high added value products and services in the competitive bio-economy business secured by natural ecosystems. Global bio-economy competitive strategy builds innovative firms supported by science and high-technology research and structural conditions.

Productivity and performance of the bio-economy in sectors internationally competitive result in growing demand for innovative products, processes, and services.

Strategies for bio-economy development focus in priority areas related to research, development, and innovation of new biotechnological and industrial bio-products; relationships between firms, communities, research institutions, and government to optimize the functioning of biomass use; and funding the development of bio-based activities. Strategies on import of biomass as a raw material is required in some industries are related to the development certification process to ensure sustainability and not have negative economic, social, and environmental impacts. Availability of biomass for the present and future of bio-economy is dependent on strategies on land use, agriculture, forest, and the other natural and biological resource diversity. Also important are technological development and economic and legal incentives (Welfe et al. 2014).

Bio-economy strategies based on societal awareness and fostering research and innovation are aimed to the transition toward the development of a bio-based economy. To achieve a bio-economy transition, the development of some strategies and actions is required such as to invest in research and development, to train human resources for innovative and completive skills and capabilities, and to engage stakeholders in interactive processes of collaboration with bio-products to meet the market. A transition strategy toward a sustainable bio-economy has to face many factors with significant uncertainty, such as consumption patterns, climate change, sustainability risks, etc.

Some other important bio-economy strategies are designed more specifically to foster biotechnology, using biomass and waste residuals, and promote collaboration relationships between different sectors and stakeholders and firms and research institutions, funding support, etc. A bio-economy research strategy should strengthen the interactions between the different stakeholders. Participation of stakeholders representing the bio-economy is vital to strategy formulation and implementation. The bio-economy research strategy is sustained by participation in research and development in collaborative projects between firms and science institutions aimed to achieve market leadership.

Research, development, and innovation are the basis of the regional and industrial strategy for bio-economy development. Regional strategies for bio-economy development are different and contextualized in its own strengths, capacities, and capabilities (Paterman 2014). Deployment of bio-economics specialization strategies can foster regional economic development and support regional bio-economy clusters. Research on bio-economy strategies at regional level is very limited and provides little knowledge on the bio-economy development.

Regional strategies can improve coordination and communication between groups and industry’s platforms (BioPro Baden-Wuerttenberg 2014) and facilitate the role of local governments in supporting firms and research institutes to create bio-economy partnerships and developing standards for public procurement and labels for bio-based products, recognized by consumers (Carrez 2014). Regional collaboration between the different actors in the different regions has strategies for bio-economy development sustained by biotechnology, health, and life sciences. Regional bio-economy strategies are supported by the provision of funding and subsidies for research, development, innovation, communication, diffusion, and commercialization of bio-based activities and bio-products.

The development of a network system to support bio-economy business is relevant for the strategy implementation to enter a new international market in such areas as food, health, energy, etc. The global strategy of the bio-economy as an agenda of multinational corporations that are linked to local governments is based on processes of innovation and the sustainable development of the agricultural sector and the highly questioned natural resources. The corporate-led bio-economy agenda is a global strategy linking public and private sectors based on innovation and sustainable development. Strategic alliances for collaboration between public and private sectors are critical instruments for information sharing and the research and expansion of bio-economics and to encourage new programs of bioproduction.

A knowledge-based strategy intends to foster skills particularly for innovative start-ups and SMEs. Companies across bio-economy sector should encourage professional participation to gain experience in the field through different strategies and actions such as lifelong learning.

The benefits of bio-economy have to be communicated to consumers who may shift consumption away from fossil-based products and toward sustainable bio-products (FORMAS 2012). An external evaluation of the research bio-economy strategy assesses the positive effects and the impact on groundwork progress for the development of knowledge-based competitive bio-economy activities. The bio-economic model is an integrated approach for evaluation of fishery management strategies (Anderson and Seijo 2010; Armstrong and Sumaila 2000; Clark 1995).

A strategic plan on bio-economy is required to map future potential and directions, matching economic and social needs and formulating policy agendas. The strategist of the bio-economy should be to gradually integrate small-scale ecological practices as an alternative to the expanding biomass production (ETC Group 2015) with increasing independence of fossil fuels. However, some analysts consider that the bio-economy agenda has limitations and suggests that strategies should include more elements of agroecology. The bio-economy strategy becomes essential to the concept of circular economy in such activities as separation of biowaste collection and use, process of biodegradation, sustainable bioproduction, etc. This bio-economy strategy should be clear and transparent, engaging and involving all business, research and education institutions, community and social organizations, and all levels of government institutions.

A sustainable bio-economic strategy requires an operating environment with access to sustainable biomass for the creation of new bio-economy business based on competence. Transition toward sustainable bio-economy needs strategy design and implementation for industrial biotechnological transformation from fossil fuel resources to biomass-based production and the required consumer behavior changes (Birch 2015).

These conditions can contribute to the creation of bio-economy business for sustainable development. Sustainable bio-economy development can be accelerated by systematic strategic choices and policy actions for achieving economic growth and well-being. Society structure must enable sustainable strategic choices and policy actions for bio-economy development targeted to offer alternative well-being services and products to consumer choices.

The bio-economy strategy should be more inclusive of ecological activities and techniques. The strategies of bio-economy based on agro-industrial solutions need to expand to include new forms of adding value and agricultural knowledge involving social and community innovation to biological resources (Birch and Tyfield 2012; Schmidt et al. 2012; Levidow et al. 2012).

A research strategy should be based in a natural cycle of a bio based economy supported by a biological, ecology and technology systems in such a way that provide incentives to work and cooperate interdisciplinary. This strategy should develop the knowledge-based and innovation internationally competitive bio-economy.

Active dialogue, participation and relationships of cooperation among citizens, firms, new social movements and governments are required to support bio-economic initiatives embraced by public policies.

Concluding Remarks

The high dependence of today’s economic development supported on fossil-based resources increases environmental sustainability concerns of production systems and food security. This situation justifies the urgent need for a transition from neoclassical economy type of development based on fossil resources toward a more sustainable development supported by the bio-economy based on biological resources and biological products. Sustainable development based on bio-economy optimizes the allocation of natural and biological renewable resources while increasing the environmental, food security, energy, and health concerns.

The theoretical framework of bio-economics for sustainable development was created as an alternative to neoclassical economic development model. The economic development model based on neoclassical economics is being criticized for not addressing issues such as resource scarcity, environment, social institutions, social policy, social organization, entropy, and bio-economics of economic activities.

The bio-economy sustainable development model focuses more on quality than on quantity as opposed to neoclassical economic development model. However, also the sustainable development model based on bio-economy is being under scrutiny. Some critical points addressed here regarding the sustainable development model are to consider natural resources as infinite goods which leads to an overexploitation and require massive inputs and the production method impact on agricultural land and the environment. This interpretation, which deals with similarities between economic and biological systems, has been harshly criticized. The explosive wave of bio-economics entails as policies the improvement in the quality of fuels and renewable energies; it is highly questioned and criticized for not delivering its promises.

This chapter has identified some principles of bio-economy which are critical issues affecting the prospects for the bio-economy-based sustainable development. Therefore, the chapter concludes that bio-economy is at the crossroads of the sustainable development paradigm.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • José G. Vargas-Hernández
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karina Pallagst
    • 2
  • Patricia Hammer
    • 2
  1. 1.University Center for Economic and Managerial SciencesUniversity of GuadalajaraGuadalajaraMexico
  2. 2.IPS Department International Planning Systems, Faculty of Spatial and Environmental PlanningTechnische Universität KaiserslauternKaiserslauternGermany

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