3.2. Information Aggregation and Levels of Action
The three pillars of sustainability—environment, economy, and society—define the basis for the thematic framework of the indicator system. Each of the three pillars has assigned key objectives. An adequate set of indicators is necessary to quantify the key objectives. The supplementary information
) show an overview about the key objectives and assigned indicators of the three pillars.
It is part of an information pyramid, from which three levels of information aggregation are picked out, which correspond to the base, the middle, and the top of the pyramid, in which one may observe continuous transitions. The top form the headline indicators, followed by the specific indicators, and the base forms the basic data (Figure 2
Headline indicators summarize certain aspects in a clear form so the cause-effect relationships can be bundled by them. Headline indicators should inform about essential characteristics of a system. Combined with reference values, they indicate to decision-makers the need for change measures. They therefore have a high degree of aggregation of information and a correspondingly low level of detail. In this paper, the headline indicators include resource footprints, which are used to measure important integrative key objectives of sustainability (part of several pillars). An example for a well-known economic headline indicator is GDP (gross domestic product).
Specific indicators broaden and deepen the information the headline indicators provide. They are defined more narrowly but still keep the attributes of an indicator, meaning they adequately inform about certain characteristic features. An example would be the indicator of self-sufficiency in forest resources. In the social sector, an example indicator could be the level of disabled persons integrated in the bioeconomy (e.g., workshops for disabled people). On the lowest level of the information pyramid, basic data provide information. These are used to calculate specific and headline indicators. Basic data can be partly used their own characteristic values and have a high degree of detail. The aggregation of information provided by the different layers of the information pyramid has to be distinguished from the scaling level of actors and the respective monitoring. Here the range of actors extends from a local level, regional and national level, up to the global level. Each of the scale levels has to be monitored considering different information pyramids. Depending on the local conditions, the headline indicators of the different information pyramids may differ.
Significant for the presented indicator system is the multi-scale applicability and relevance. The consideration of all pillars of sustainability for the derivation of the indicator framework guarantees a holistic point of view. It hereby enables users to answer target questions on sustainable development from a large-scale international level to a small-scale regional level of action. The underlying target question defines the level of observation. It is decisive that goals on the national level can only be realized if the necessary information is forwarded and monitored on lower levels of action. Vice versa, substantial requirements and development of local and regional levels has to be considered in the goals, the evaluation criteria, and the monitoring on a higher level of scale. A top-down as well as a bottom-up information flow is necessary to realize an adequate information flow within the system.
3.3. Integrative Key Objectives of the Bioeconomy
The cross-dimensional key objectives are particularly important, not least because of their integrative character (Figure 1
, Table 1
). The selection of key objectives and criteria was conducted following Section 2.3
of the article. We assigned an exemplary indicator to each criterion. Regarding the FAO food security indicators, an internationally well-established set of indicators is chosen. The second set of headline indictors are the resource footprints; there relevance is further explained below. Criteria that are also explicitly mentioned in the subject catalogue of the SDGs are listed separately, stating the respective number. Aspects marked with an asterisk (*) were classified as particularly relevant in the stakeholder analysis reported by Zeug et al. [52
]. Classical LCA indicators are listed, e.g. climate footprint, as well as indicators which can be assigned to social LCA [46
], like the indicator of political stability within the FAO food security indicators.
Indicators marked with (“) are not part of regular data collection, but refer to the results of individual reports. The last column shows possible sources of data for the indicator quantification. LandSHIFT is a land use change model for global and regional scale simulation experiments developed by Schaldach et al. [89
] at the Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR) in Kassel.
The table does not claim to be complete, but serves to illustrate an exemplary structure of an indicator system for assessing the sustainability of the bioeconomy. The respective indicator table may need to be adapted depending on the national or regional conditions, policy priorities and the scale of the reference system. Selected indicators would need to be checked against the quality criteria described in Section 2.2
Rural development is a key objective that can be assigned to both social and economic sustainability assessments through the spatially differentiated presentation of criteria, such as working conditions, employment, and added value.
Another important key objective is the avoidance of area degradation in the sense of Land degradation neutrality
]. Meaning that settlement areas, for example, do not expand indefinitely at the expense of agricultural areas, and these in turn do not expand at the expense of forest and natural areas. Land degradation neutrality
aims at a zero net balance of change between the types of land use. For monitoring, in the first step, the real domestic land use is presented, divided into the five main categories of land use: settlement and transport areas, cropland, forest areas, water areas, and other areas
, such as protected areas (nature reserves, national parks, and biosphere reserves). In a second step, criteria will have to be applied which aim at direct and indirect land-use changes (LUC and iLUC) associated with activities within national territory, impacting land use on foreign territory, in particular losses of agricultural and forest land. These data are determined in connection with the quantification of area footprints, since the indirectly induced losses are used to determine the land use triggered by the product demand of domestic consumption abroad. In the land use category of arable land, it must also be examined to what extent parts of it are degraded, e.g., by erosion.
Food security is a key objective that is becoming increasingly important as the world's population is growing. Therefore, food security has the highest priority within the bioeconomy. In order to guarantee this, criteria from all three pillars must be examined and observed. These include price trends, the nutritional situation, and self-sufficiency. Indicators such as the trend in consumer prices for food
, the proportion of food consumption that can be covered by domestic production
, and the FAO indicators for food security
can be assigned to them. The latter are divided into four different categories, which are shown in the supplementary information
An important goal of bioeconomy is to strengthen sustainability in production, infrastructure, and consumption [77
]. German stakeholders attach particular importance to this goal [52
In order to meet this expectation, it is necessary to extend the indicator set of SDGs in a way that it is possible to make sufficient statements on the criteria of resource inputs, consumption, and efficiency. Currently, German official reporting only considers the material intensity, putting the material footprint in relation to an economic output indicator. In order to be able to make statements about the total resource requirements and key environmental pressures, it is also necessary to determine the resource footprints for (agricultural) land, forest, and water, and the climate footprint in terms of greenhouse gases (GHG). The resource and climate footprints of domestic consumption relate to the extent to which resources are used or GHG emissions are released on national and foreign territory, in connection with the final domestic consumption of products. The quantity of these resources, used for imports or emissions released for their production abroad, is added to the annual domestic resource use and emissions by production, processing, etc., and the quantities of the resource used or emissions released for exporting these products are deducted.
While sustainable production and consumption are related to SDG 12 “Responsible consumption and production”, the integrative key objective of sustainable infrastructure relates explicitly to SDG 9.1 “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”. In this goal, the development of “quality, reliable, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure…to support economic development and human well-being” is demanded, which states the integrative character of this key objective.
In addition to the use of resources, resource productivity is another important criterion in order to assess the performance of bioeconomy. Indicators of resource productivity are raw material productivity (GDP/cost of raw materials) (€/kg) and area productivity (yield/reference area) (t/ha). At the country level, reference area may refer to the domestic area under cultivation (for specific crops), or the footprint area.
Waste management has a direct influence on the sustainability of production, consumption, and infrastructure. Indicators, such as the amount of waste
or the recycling rate of municipal waste
, allow drawing conclusions about the resource losses occurring in the system, and thus provide indications of possible optimizations. The criterion use of production cascades
is directly related to this, since the use of primary resources can be reduced by the multiple use of a product. According to the definition of the Federal Environment Agency, cascade use exists if the end product of a production process from biogenic raw material to bio-based product is used for material or energy purposes, at least a second time [102
]. This is quantified by the indicator biomass utilization factor
Certification is a criterion that can have a beneficial impact on the sustainability of bioeconomy if two aspects are fulfilled. On the one hand, the respective certificate must scientifically substantiate an increase in the sustainability of the respective production-consumption chain. On the other hand, the consumer must trust the respective certificate and consequently change or adapt his consumer behavior. The core aspect is to increase the transparency of the life cycle of products for end consumers. From an overall economic perspective, the share of products certified for sustainable production in final consumption can be a possible indicator.
The aspect of good political practice
(good governance), which is addressed in the SDG's catalogue by the sub item 16 peace, justice and strong institutions
, would formally belong to the category of integrative key objectives. However, this key objective is not specifically relevant for the bioeconomy as such, and is therefore not included in Table 1
. Nevertheless, good political practice
can be important for assessing the origin of imports.
3.4. Resource Footprints as Indicators for the Integrative Key Objectives
In two decades of life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) and research on environmental impact categories, like the greenhouse effect, a number of methodical approaches have been developed to depict further specific environmental impacts of products system-wide (eutrophication, ozone depletion, ozone formation, acidification potential, ecotoxic potential, etc.). However, to quantify the various mid- and end-point indicators of LCIA for specific products, a high degree of spatial differentiation is often needed, and while there has been progress towards this end in recent years [16
], still no global widely-accepted methodology or comprehensive database exists [45
The level of detail of the resource footprints in comparison to the numerous indicators used in LCIA may appear superficial. Steinmann et al. [56
] proved that the four resource footprints of material, water, fossil energy, and land
combined represent more than 84% of the variance of all product specific environmental impacts investigated in product life cycle assessment. They are, therefore, a good proxy for environmental damage potential [103
This leads to the hypothesis that in order to produce an overall picture on a global perspective, "the abundance of environmental indicators can be reduced to a small key set, which represents the major part of the change of environmental influences between product life cycles" [56
The authors take up this approach here. Figure 3
illustrates the direct relation of resource footprints as indicators of the integrative key objectives of the bioeconomy. In contrast to Steinmann et al. [56
], in this approach the indicator climate footprint
is used instead of the cumulated fossil primary energy
, in order to include greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, which play an important role in agricultural processes. Additionally, based on Bringezu et al. [12
], the authors introduce a forest footprint
for the quantification of the use of forest biomass induced by the bioeconomy.
The five footprints are determined in their scale by the volume of material throughput of the production and consumption system, which in turn determines the extent of impact bundles associated with resource extraction, product use, and disposal. The footprints provide highly aggregated information on key performance properties of the (bio-)economy and related environmental impact potential. In the future, they may be further combined with more specific information of impact cascades in the environment, when more product specific information on production-consumption chains and spatially explicit data on impacts become available.
A consumption perspective on social indicators helps to reveal trade-related impacts of social responsibility issues [104
]. Comparing eleven social indicators and seven environmental footprints for specific countries, O’Neill et al. [105
] found out that none of these countries meet basic social needs without crossing biophysical boundaries (following the planetary boundaries concept [106
]). Therefore, in the future, it will be interesting to monitor not only the resource footprints of nations but also related social aspects, e.g., on the social implications in the exporting countries supplying products to net consuming countries.
3.5. Evaluation of the Resource Footprints based on Sustainability Criteria
However, the quantification of a resource footprint does not allow statements about the change in sustainability performance. Therefore, it is necessary to put the respective footprint in relation to orientation values in a meaningful reference system (global, regional, local). A table showing the reference values of sustainable resource use of water, materials, primary timber, carbon, and cropland, which is taken and amended from O’Brien et al. [110
], is provided in the supplementary information
These orientation values consider, on the one hand, objects of protection, like the global biodiversity, and on the other hand respect the criteria of international equity, in which each person is in principle granted the same right to use resources (expressed by per-person values).
For example, Bringezu et al. [12
] suggested to use 0.20 hectares per person as an orientation value for the cropland area available to produce finally consumed agricultural goods under sustainability criteria in 2030. This calculation was based on the assumption that the Business-as-Usual development of the cropland expansion will be stopped after 2020. The resulting value of 1.66 billion hectares under cultivation was related to the world population in 2030. The problem that the global expansion of agricultural land is a major driver of biodiversity loss is particularly important in the sustainability assessment [16
]. The convention of biological diversity (CBD) already has the status of an international treaty. If their goal of halting the loss of global biodiversity is to be achieved, this requires, in particular, a halt to the net expansion of agricultural land, especially intensively used arable land.
In 2007, each EU citizen consumed an average of 0.31 hectare of global arable land through the consumption of agricultural products [12
]. As a consequence, consumption of agricultural products would have to be reduced or adjusted, resulting in a reduction of about 35% in the area needed to achieve this orientation value (e.g., by reducing the consumption of animal products, as feed production contributes significantly to the area footprint).
To what extent a global average value for the use of water make sense is debatable because the availability and scarcity of water resources are distributed very differently around the globe. The current use of blue water is still below the orientation value shown in Figure 3
, which could lead to the impression that there would be no serious problem. At the level of catchment, however, there are regions where blue water is so heavily overused that the load limits of the regional system have been reached, which raises risks for people and the environment [71
]. In order to also measure regional water scarcity, Steffen et al. [106
] extended their concept and defined a second control variable at catchment level as a percentage of the withdrawal of blue water from the average monthly quantity of water in rivers. Their limit is between 25% and 85%, depending on the size of the flow.