Partnerships for a bio-based economy
For such a sweeping transition as a bio-based economy to be realised, connections need to be established and partnerships created. In this project, recommendations are made to help achieve this.
Highlight the common denominator, invest in participatory processes, clarify actors’ diverse expectations, initiate a debate on advanced technologies at an early stage, and invest in mutual trust. These are some of the recommendations made based on the three case studies that form part of this project and that focus on an acceptable transition to a bio-based economy. The case studies were Essent’s Bio-based Park Cuijk, Eneco’s Golden Raand and the controversy surrounding biogas plants.
When it comes to bio-based innovations such as high-rise pig farms, biomass plants and advanced genetic technology, conflicts arise between the socio-ethical opinions and values of the different stakeholders. The researchers conclude that opportunities can be found by looking for links between these worldviews.
Bio-based innovations are as yet insufficiently compatible with existing opinions of sustainability. A more pro-active, broadly-supported sustainability perspective could prevent conflict, encourage cooperation and new innovation opportunities, and provide a foundation for a market for bio-based products.
A comprehensive social, economic and technological transition is required to achieve a bio-based economy. This project examined pathways for achieving this transition, which requires intensive cooperation between stakeholders in the bio-based chain, such as farmers, energy producers and chemical companies. The following recommendations were made to achieve this:
- Highlight the common denominator. Stakeholders are interested in a bio-based economy because:
- recycling raw materials is efficient;
- there are benefits to small-scale;
- nature has a lot to offer.
Highlight the common denominator and use this to inform the design of bio-based applications.
- Invest in egalitarian inclusion, or a process in which all stakeholders are taken seriously. In the case of bio-based technologies, this can be achieved by ensuring the participation of people who live near bio-based production facilities.
- Respect the division between industry and agriculture. Be cautious of placing industrial facilities on farms and carefully consider the relevant legislation with regard to risks.
- Initiate a debate on advanced technology. A debate on the outcomes of synthetic biology and genetic modification and who stands to benefit could pave the way for guidelines for use of this technology.
- Clarify actors’ diverse expectations. The expectations of actors in the chain can vary widely, for example with reference to the predictability of the properties of biomass, quality continuity and financial risks. These can hinder the development of trust and cooperation, and they therefore need to be clarified.
- Invest in mutual trust. Use instruments such as behavioural codes, corporate identity and a neutral broker to increase trust between the various parties. NGOs have an important role to play in enhancing public confidence in the bio-based economy, making it essential that companies in the bio-based chain cooperate with NGOs.
- Consider cooperative organisational structures. The agricultural sector has plenty of experience in biomass cooperatives, which ensure quality and availability and spread financial risk. This could also work in sectors such as the forestry sector.
This project resulted in a highly-readable report: Naturally sustainable. The social aspects of the transition to a sustainable bio-economy, which describes these recommendations in greater detail. The report was written in both Dutch and English and published just prior to the parliamentary debate on renewable energy in January 2015. The report was read by members of parliament and named in the debate.
The researchers’ recommendations were partly based on interviews and workshops held with various stakeholders. The researchers also examined three case studies: Essent’s Bio-based Park Cuijk, Eneco’s Golden Raand and the controversies surrounding biogas plants.
Transition to a bio-based economy
The development of the bio-based economy has reached a critical turning point. The production of biofuels from food crops seems to be stagnating, now that the European Commission has moderated its support for fuel mixing due to sustainability concerns.
However, there are bio-based alternatives with a broader application than fuel alone. Some products, such as bio-plastics, are already widely available. There are also promising technological developments taking place that are just waiting for widespread application. Examples are fuels from lignocellulose, chemicals from plants and energy from algae. These applications have the potential to make a significant contribution to global sustainability.
The “cascading” principle has the potential to take the bio-based economy to a higher level, both ecologically and economically. This principle states that the same biomass can be used for different applications, in accordance with the biomass value pyramid.
Please also refer to the ‘Working together towards a bio-based economy’ projectOfficial project title: