The bioeconomy has an inter-sectoral, (inter)national, and transdisciplinary nature, which is reflected in varying definitions and delimitations. The way in which the term is defined and in which its activities are delimited depends on the stakeholders: scientists, policymakers, NGOs, or the private sector. Bugge et al. identified three visions of the bioeconomy, that is a biotechnology vision, a bio-resource vision, and a bio-ecology vision, which are associated with different actors and reflect their priorities in the bioeconomy [67
]. Furthermore, the bioeconomy is considered as being of pervasive nature, not only a sector but more and more integrated into day to day life, similar to digitalization [1
]. This presents a challenge for monitoring and measuring the bioeconomy, for which a clear scope is necessary.
Within Europe, one of the most used definitions is the one defined by the European Commission [5
] (p. 4), who define that “The bioeconomy covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources (animals, plants, micro-organisms and derived biomass, including organic waste), their functions and principles. It includes and interlinks: land and marine ecosystems and the services they provide; all primary production sectors that use and produce biological resources (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture); and all economic and industrial sectors that use biological resources and processes to produce food, feed, bio-based products, energy, and services”.
The Commission’s definition of the bioeconomy in its 2018 Bioeconomy Strategy Update expands on the Commission’s 2012 definition by including a wider array of products, sectors, and value chains. Furthermore, the strategy stresses that “to be successful, the European bioeconomy needs to have sustainability and circularity at its heart,” thereby emphasizing sustainability and circularity.
The Global Bioeconomy Summit provides another frequently used definition. The summit brings together ministers and government representatives from Asia, Africa, Europe, South and North America, international policy experts from the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Commission, as well as high-level representatives from science and industry. The 2018 Global Bioeconomy Summit defined the bioeconomy as “[…] the production, utilization, and conservation of biological resources, including related knowledge, science, technology, and innovation, to provide information, products, processes, and services across all economic sectors aiming toward a sustainable economy” [68
] (p. 2).
The European Bioeconomy Alliance, a cross-sector overarching alliance of various bioeconomy industries associations (e.g., The European Vegetable Oil and Protein Meal Industry), has a comprehensive definition of the bioeconomy:
“The bioeconomy comprises the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy via innovative, efficient technologies. In this regard, it is the biological motor of a future circular economy, which is based on optimal use of resources and the production of primary raw materials from renewably sourced feedstock”
This definition includes the concept of the circular economy and emphasizes the relationship between the circular economy and the bioeconomy in that the progress in the bioeconomy is stimulating the transition to a circular economy.
Another perspective comes from organizations representing different sectors within the bioeconomy. They emphasize the role of their sectors and how those sectors can contribute to the overall objectives of the bioeconomy on the one hand, and how their sectors can benefit from the bioeconomy on the other hand. An example is the Confederation of European Forest Owners:
“Sustainable, multifunctional forest management and the forest-based sector play a key role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, for example, by providing climate action, sustaining life on land, delivering work and economic growth, enhancing responsible production and consumption, boosting industry innovation and infrastructure, creating sustainable cities and communities, enhancing good health and well-being, and providing clean energy. The bioeconomy is a key concept to boost the potential of the forest sector to deliver solutions to these multiple challenges.”
In this definition, the Sustainable Development Goals are the primary objective and the bioeconomy is considered a viable solution for their achievement.
In summary, this non-exhaustive selection of definitions provides additional information to and confirm the EC’s perspective on the scope of the bioeconomy. The 2018 Global Bioeconomy Summit specifically mentions the conservation of biological resources to be included in the bioeconomy. The European Bioeconomy Alliance emphasizes the importance of the synergies between the bioeconomy and the Circular Economy. Moreover, the Confederation of European Forest Owners highlights the potential of the bioeconomy to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. Hence, a wide range of stakeholders supports the EU bioeconomy not only within the EU but also beyond.
3.2. Bioeconomy, Bio-Based Economy, Green Economy, and Circular Economy
In addition to the term ‘bioeconomy’, there exist several related terms, such as ‘bio-based economy’, ‘green economy’, and ‘circular economy’. Figure 2
shows the relation and overlap between the terms. The green economy is generally considered as being an umbrella concept [71
] and is understood to “result in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is a low carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive” [72
] (p. 1). The bioeconomy is generally considered to be part of the green economy (Figure 2
). Generally, the bioeconomy is often more related to promoting global economic growth and technological development than purely focusing on limits to growth as a consequence of resource scarcity, depletion, and expected population growth [73
The concept of the bioeconomy has early-on been linked with the concepts of the bio-based and the circular economy. The bio-based economy is seen as part of the bioeconomy and relates to the conversion of biological resources into products and materials. This is also referred to as bio-based production. In some definitions of the bio-based economy, an emphasis is put on innovative bio-based products such as biopolymers and bioplastics [74
] while in others, traditional bio-based products such as bio-based textiles, wood products, pulp, and paper are explicitly included as well [75
]. Figure 2
summarizes the different concepts being used and uses the latter definition of the bio-based economy and additionally includes the food and feed sector in the bio-based economy. The production of food and feed usually involves the processing of agricultural goods and, therefore, fits into the bio-based economy.
The circular economy, which shares the rise in popularity and can work complementary to the bioeconomy [76
], can be described as an economy in which products and materials used show a high degree of recycling and reduction, contrary to a linear economic model that builds on a ‘take-make-consume-throw away’ pattern [77
]. Substitution of non-renewables with sustainably produced biomass is also an important part of the circular economy. The concept of circularity is not new and has been the foundation for economy-wide modeling dating back at least to the works of François Quesnay and the Physiocratic school of the 18th century in France. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a strong supporter of the circular economy concept, defines it as “an industrial economy that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design” [78
] (p. 14). Similarly, the European Commission defines the circular economy as an economy “where the value of products, materials, and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimized, [it] is an essential contribution to the EU’s efforts to develop a sustainable, low carbon, resource-efficient and competitive economy” [63
] (p. 2).
The synergies between the bioeconomy and circular economy concepts are significant. Several European industry associations such as CEPI (Confederation of European Paper Industries) and EuropaBio (The European Association for Bioindustries) use and support the concept of a ‘circular bioeconomy’ and promote greater integration of both concepts instead of developing both in parallel [70
] (EuropaBio, 2017; CEPI, 2017). Recently, the term circular bioeconomy has been introduced by the EC, among others, to intertwine the bioeconomy and circular economy concepts and emphasize the use of a circular approach to the bioeconomy, but also to show limitations of the overlap [75
3.3. Sectors in Bioeconomy and Bio-Based Economy
To monitor the bioeconomy and considering the broad definition of the bioeconomy by the European Commission, there is a need to define which sectors make up the bioeconomy [82
]. Bioeconomy-related activities can be broadly classified as (i) Natural-resource based activities that directly exploit a biological resource (e.g., the primary sectors agriculture, fishery, and forestry) and provide biomass for further processing; (ii) Conventional manufacturing activities that further process biomass (e.g., food or wood processing sectors); and (iii) Novel activities that further process the biomass and/or biomass residues (bioenergy or bio-based chemical sectors). The Statistical Classification of Economic Activities in the European Community (NACE) provides a useful starting point for defining which and to what extent economic activities belong to the bioeconomy. Its divisions A01–A03 (i.e., agriculture, forestry, and fishery) are unambiguous as they constitute entire sectors and cornerstones of the bioeconomy. Apart from the primary sectors in Section A, the main part of the bioeconomy can be located in Section C—Manufacturing. Divisions C10 (food products), C11 (beverages), C12 (tobacco products), C16 (wood and wood products), and C17 (paper and paper products) are conventional bioeconomy sectors that further process biomass and can be attributed to the bioeconomy. C13 (textiles), C14 (wearing apparel), C15 (leather and related products), C19 (coke and refined petroleum products), and C31 (furniture) are traditional sectors that to some extent use bio-based input. In the case of C19, the sector includes the blending of biofuels with petroleum products. Like in most other studies, they are part of the bioeconomy, but only for their share of bio-based production. C20 (chemical products), C21 (pharmaceutical products), and C22 (rubber and plastic products) are sectors, which include novel activities that further process biomass, often as a substitute for fossil-based raw material. This substitution is an important objective of the bioeconomy and, therefore, these potential bio-based sectors are included in the list. In order to measure the development of new, innovative industries that make novel use of biomass, biorefineries and cascading use of biomass are two essential concepts that should be captured.
Apart from the manufacturing sectors, several additional service-related sectors partly use processed biological resources. These are D35 (electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply), F41 (construction), F42 (civil engineering), G46 (wholesale trade), G47 (retail trade), I55 (accommodation), and I56 (food and beverage service activities). For service sectors, it is a challenge to determine which share of the use of biological resources (and therefore part of the bioeconomy) can be assigned to them. However, the importance of the service sector for GDP and employment in the EU has become so substantial that a large proportion of the bioeconomy would be omitted from the analysis if it would be ignored. Efken et al. use estimates from different market research companies to calculate the share of biobased related activities in total turnover for G46 (wholesale trade), G47 (retail trade), I55 (accommodation), and I56 (food and beverage service activities) for Germany [84
]. However, for the case of restaurants, they do not find any reliable estimates on the share of turnover related to biological resources and, therefore, consider restaurants completely as part of the bioeconomy.
summarizes the sectors that we consider to belong to the bioeconomy according to previous efforts [61
]. For example, Ronzon et al. in their report use 16 sectors, and the major indicators applied include turnover, value-added, and jobs [86
]. Statistics and methods measuring the contribution of the bioeconomy to reaching the global societal objectives are relatively well equipped and developed for its traditional sectors and products like food, feed, pulp and paper, and bioenergy chains [88
], but there are gaps for the innovative biobased sectors. For example, according to Ronzon and M’Barek, the EU-28 bioeconomy was responsible for 18 million full-time jobs, generated €2.3 trillion of turnover, and contributed to a value addition of €620 billion in 2015 [86