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Special Issue "Sustainability Transition Towards a Bio-Based Economy: New Technologies, New Products, New Policies"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (16 April 2018)

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Piergiuseppe Morone

Bioeconomy in Transition Research Group (BiT-RG), Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
Website 1 | Website 2 | E-Mail
Interests: sustainability transition; bio-based economy; economics of innovation; environmental economics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Significant changes are expected to occur in the near future. Most notably, the world’s population which stands at 7.5 billion in mid-2017 is projected to increase by almost one billion people within the next decade, and to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. At the same time, large and fast-growing economies will experience increasing wealth. The composition of the global population will therefore change significantly (Morone, 2016). Over the next 15 years, the number of people considered to be part of the global middle class is projected to nearly double, increasing from 3.2 billion in 2016 to more than 5.2 billion by 2030 and the bulk of this growth will come from developing countries—with the vast majority (88 percent) of the next billion people in the middle class being Asian (Kharas, 2017)

A major effect of these trends is higher consumption and demand for food, consumer durables, and energy sources, as well as services including tourism, entertainment, and transport. All this adds pressure to the incumbent socio-technological regime (fossil-based) and calls for a transition towards a more sustainable one (bio-based).

Among others, key drivers of this transition are:

  • development and diffusion of new green technologies (eco-innovations) for a bio-based economy;
  • development of a holistic approach for sustainability assessment of bio-based products (e.g., sustainability schemes, standards and eco-labelling initiatives)
  • policy measures for promoting market uptake of bio-based products and creating a level playing field among different bio-based products and fossil-based alternatives;

The objective of this Special Issue is to bring together cutting-edge studies on the role of these three drivers in making the transition toward a sustainable economy. Specifically, this Special Issue invites theoretical and empirical studies addressing one or more of these drivers, although other relevant and related topics will also be considered.

Prof. Piergiuseppe Morone
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Sustainability transition

  • green technologies

  • bio-based products

  • sustainability assessment

  • policy measures

  • sustainability scheme, standards, (eco)labels and certifications.

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial Sustainability Transition towards a Biobased Economy: Defining, Measuring and Assessing
Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2631; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082631
Received: 24 July 2018 / Accepted: 25 July 2018 / Published: 26 July 2018
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Abstract
This Special Issue proposes an array of 11 key papers aimed at investigating the complex and multifaceted nature of the biobased economy, focusing both on a conceptual understanding of the transition and on the measurement issues associated to it. More specifically, collected papers
[...] Read more.
This Special Issue proposes an array of 11 key papers aimed at investigating the complex and multifaceted nature of the biobased economy, focusing both on a conceptual understanding of the transition and on the measurement issues associated to it. More specifically, collected papers can be broadly divided in two groups: (1) those aiming at adding to our understanding of the transition process towards a sustainable biobased economy; and (2) those aiming at adding to the definition and measurement of the emerging sustainable biobased economy. In the guest editor view, papers collected in this Special Issue offer valuable and complementary insights to our understanding of the ongoing transition towards a biobased economy, providing a logical framework to understand the transitions, as well as an overview of existing tools to assess and measure it. Ideally, policy makers will benefit from the papers included in this Special Issue and, hopefully, it will contribute to make a further step to the much-needed transition towards sustainability. Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle Gaps and Research Demand for Sustainability Certification and Standardisation in a Sustainable Bio-Based Economy in the EU
Sustainability 2018, 10(7), 2455; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10072455
Received: 29 April 2018 / Revised: 6 July 2018 / Accepted: 10 July 2018 / Published: 13 July 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (6728 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The concept of the bio-based economy has gained increasing attention and importance in recent years. It is seen as a chance to reduce the dependency on fossil resources while securing a sustainable supply of energy, water, and raw materials, and furthermore preserving soils,
[...] Read more.
The concept of the bio-based economy has gained increasing attention and importance in recent years. It is seen as a chance to reduce the dependency on fossil resources while securing a sustainable supply of energy, water, and raw materials, and furthermore preserving soils, climate and the environment. The intended transformation is characterized by economic, environmental and social challenges and opportunities, and it is understood as a social transition process towards a sustainable, bio-based and nature-oriented economy. This process requires general mechanisms to establish and monitor safeguards for a sustainable development of the bio-based economy on a national and EU level. Sustainability certification and standardisation of bio-based products can help to manage biogenic resources and their derived products in a sustainable manner. In this paper, we have analysed the current status of sustainability certification and standardisation in the bio-based economy by conducting comprehensive desktop research, which was complemented by a series of expert interviews. The analysis revealed an impressive amount of existing certification frameworks, criteria, indicators and applicable standards. However, relevant gaps relating to existing criteria sets, the practical implementation of criteria in certification processes, the legislative framework, end-of-life processes, as well as necessary standardisation activities, were identified which require further research and development to improve sustainability certification and standardisation for a growing bio-based economy. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Socioeconomic Indicators to Monitor the EU’s Bioeconomy in Transition
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1745; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061745
Received: 16 April 2018 / Revised: 18 May 2018 / Accepted: 22 May 2018 / Published: 26 May 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (2127 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The monitoring of the European bioeconomy is hampered by a lack of statistics on emergent and partially bio-based sectors. In this study, we complete the picture of the bioeconomy in the European Union (EU) by first estimating a set of socioeconomic indicators in
[...] Read more.
The monitoring of the European bioeconomy is hampered by a lack of statistics on emergent and partially bio-based sectors. In this study, we complete the picture of the bioeconomy in the European Union (EU) by first estimating a set of socioeconomic indicators in missing sectors. Second, we identify four broad bioeconomy patterns within the EU that differ according to the specialisation of Member States’ labour markets in the bioeconomy (location quotient) and according to the apparent labour productivity of their bioeconomies. The patterns are geographically distributed in (i) Eastern Member States and Greece and Portugal; (ii) Central and Baltic Member States; (iii) Western Member States; and (iv) Northern Member States. They are strongly related to the level of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Member States, and to their political histories (e.g., their year of accession to the EU, and the existence and maturity of their bioeconomy strategies). Within each group, diversity exists in terms of sectoral bioeconomy development. Third, we examine temporal dynamics over the period 2008–2015, stressing with the cases of Slovenia, Portugal, Greece and Finland that a transition from one group to another is possible. Finally, we take a closer look at the East–West bioeconomy disparities within Europe and suggest measures to promote EU bioeconomies. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Assessing the Contribution of Bioeconomy to the Total Economy: A Review of National Frameworks
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1698; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061698
Received: 13 April 2018 / Revised: 9 May 2018 / Accepted: 17 May 2018 / Published: 23 May 2018
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (377 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Developments in technology have enabled envisioning the derivation of materials and products from renewable biomass as an alternative to finite fossil-based resource consumption. Therefore, bioeconomy is regarded as an opportunity for sustainable economic growth. Countries are formulating strategies in accordance with their goals
[...] Read more.
Developments in technology have enabled envisioning the derivation of materials and products from renewable biomass as an alternative to finite fossil-based resource consumption. Therefore, bioeconomy is regarded as an opportunity for sustainable economic growth. Countries are formulating strategies in accordance with their goals to attain a bioeconomy. Proper measurement, monitoring, and reporting of the outcomes of these strategies are crucial for long-term success. This study aims to critically evaluate the national methods used for the measurement, monitoring, and reporting of bioeconomy contribution to the total economy. For this purpose, research and surveys have been conducted on selected countries (Argentina, Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United States). The results reveal that the bioeconomy targets set up in the strategies often reflect the country’s priorities and comparative advantages. However, comprehensive approaches to measure and monitor bioeconomy progress are frequently lacking. Most countries only measure the contribution to gross domestic product (GDP), turnover, and employment of the sectors included in their bioeconomy definition, which may provide an incomplete picture. In addition, this study identifies the mismatch between the targets and measurement methods, as the environmental and social impacts of bioeconomy are often foreseen, but not measured. It is concluded that existing global efforts towards sustainable bioeconomy monitoring can be strengthened and leveraged to measure progress towards sustainable goals. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Bridging the Gaps for a ‘Circular’ Bioeconomy: Selection Criteria, Bio-Based Value Chain and Stakeholder Mapping
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1695; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061695
Received: 20 April 2018 / Revised: 13 May 2018 / Accepted: 14 May 2018 / Published: 23 May 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (2813 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Bio-products and bio-based value chains have been identified as one of the most promising pathways to attaining a resource-efficient circular economy. Such a “valorization and value-addition” approach incorporates an intricate network of processes and actors, contributing to socio-economic growth, environmental benefits and technological
[...] Read more.
Bio-products and bio-based value chains have been identified as one of the most promising pathways to attaining a resource-efficient circular economy. Such a “valorization and value-addition” approach incorporates an intricate network of processes and actors, contributing to socio-economic growth, environmental benefits and technological advances. In the present age of limited time and funding models to achieve ambitious sustainable development targets, whilst mitigating climate change, a systematic approach employing two-tier multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) can be useful in supporting the identification of promising bio-based value chains, that are significant to the EU plans for the bio-economy. Their identification is followed by an elaborate mapping of their value chains to visualize/foresee the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges attributable to those bio-based value chains. To demonstrate this methodology, a systematic review of 12 bio-based value chains, prevalent in the EU, sourcing their starting material from biomass and bio-waste, has been undertaken. The selected value chains are mapped to visualize the linkages and interactions between the different stages, chain actors, employed conversion routes, product application and existing/potential end-of-life options. This approach will help chain-actors, particularly investors and policy-makers, understand the complexities of such multi-actor systems and make informed decisions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Exploring the Dedicated Knowledge Base of a Transformation towards a Sustainable Bioeconomy
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1694; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061694
Received: 16 April 2018 / Revised: 17 May 2018 / Accepted: 18 May 2018 / Published: 23 May 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (298 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The transformation towards a knowledge-based bioeconomy has the potential to serve as a contribution to a more sustainable future. Yet, until now, bioeconomy policies have been only insufficiently linked to concepts of sustainability transformations. This article aims to create such link by combining
[...] Read more.
The transformation towards a knowledge-based bioeconomy has the potential to serve as a contribution to a more sustainable future. Yet, until now, bioeconomy policies have been only insufficiently linked to concepts of sustainability transformations. This article aims to create such link by combining insights from innovation systems (IS) research and transformative sustainability science. For a knowledge-based bioeconomy to successfully contribute to sustainability transformations, the IS’ focus must be broadened beyond techno-economic knowledge. We propose to also include systems knowledge, normative knowledge, and transformative knowledge in research and policy frameworks for a sustainable knowledge-based bioeconomy (SKBBE). An exploration of the characteristics of this extended, “dedicated” knowledge will eventually aid policymakers in formulating more informed transformation strategies. Full article
Open AccessArticle Understanding the Transition to a Bio-Based Economy: Exploring Dynamics Linked to the Agricultural Sector in Sweden
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1504; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051504
Received: 5 March 2018 / Revised: 2 May 2018 / Accepted: 3 May 2018 / Published: 10 May 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1530 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
There is a growing interest in the bio-based economy, evident in the policy domain as well as in the academic literature. Its proponents consider it an opportunity to address multiple societal challenges, and the concept has broad reach across different sectors of society.
[...] Read more.
There is a growing interest in the bio-based economy, evident in the policy domain as well as in the academic literature. Its proponents consider it an opportunity to address multiple societal challenges, and the concept has broad reach across different sectors of society. However, a potential transition process is also linked to areas of risk and uncertainty, and the need for interdisciplinary research and for the identification of potential trade-offs and synergies between parallel visions of the bio-based economy have been emphasized. The aim of this paper is to contribute to addressing this gap by using an approach combining tools for systems analysis with expert interviews. Focusing specifically on dynamics in the agricultural sector in Sweden, an integrated understanding of the social and ecological processes contributing to or hindering a transition in this area is developed, high order leverage points are identified, and potential impacts of proposed interventions explored. The paper also considers cross-sectoral linkages between the forestry and agricultural sectors. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Impact of Bio-Based Plastics on Current Recycling of Plastics
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1487; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051487
Received: 11 April 2018 / Revised: 2 May 2018 / Accepted: 4 May 2018 / Published: 9 May 2018
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (619 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Bio-based plastics are increasingly appearing in a range of consumption products, and after use they often end up in technical recycling chains. Bio-based plastics are different from fossil-based ones and could disturb the current recycling of plastics and hence inhibit the closure of
[...] Read more.
Bio-based plastics are increasingly appearing in a range of consumption products, and after use they often end up in technical recycling chains. Bio-based plastics are different from fossil-based ones and could disturb the current recycling of plastics and hence inhibit the closure of plastic cycles, which is undesirable given the current focus on a transition towards a circular economy. In this paper, this risk has been assessed via three elaborated case studies using data and information retrieved through an extended literature search. No overall risks were revealed for bio-based plastics as a group; rather, every bio-based plastic is to be considered as a potential separate source of contamination in current recycling practices. For PLA (polylactic acid), a severe incompatibility with PET (polyethylene terephthalate) recycling is known; hence, future risks are assessed by measuring amounts of PLA ending up in PET waste streams. For PHA (polyhydroxy alkanoate) there is no risk currently, but it will be crucial to monitor future application development. For PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a particular approach for contamination-related issues has been included in the upcoming market introduction. With respect to developing policy, it is important that any introduction of novel plastics is well guided from a system perspective and with a particular eye on incompatibilities with current and upcoming practices in the recycling of plastics. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Social Life Cycle Approach as a Tool for Promoting the Market Uptake of Bio-Based Products from a Consumer Perspective
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 1031; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10041031
Received: 23 February 2018 / Revised: 26 March 2018 / Accepted: 27 March 2018 / Published: 30 March 2018
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (2660 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The sustainability of bio-based products, especially when compared with fossil based products, must be assured. The life cycle approach has proven to be a promising way to analyze the social, economic and environmental impacts of bio-based products along the whole value chain. Until
[...] Read more.
The sustainability of bio-based products, especially when compared with fossil based products, must be assured. The life cycle approach has proven to be a promising way to analyze the social, economic and environmental impacts of bio-based products along the whole value chain. Until now, however, the social aspects have been under-investigated in comparison to environmental and economic aspects. In this context, the present paper aims to identify the main social impact categories and indicators that should be included in a social sustainability assessment of bio-based products, with a focus on the consumers’ category. To identify which social categories and indicators are most relevant, we carry out a literature review on existing social life cycle studies; this is followed by a focus group with industrial experts and academics. Afterwards, we conduct semi-structured interviews with some consumer representatives to understand which social indicators pertaining to consumers are perceived as relevant. Our findings highlight the necessity for the development and dissemination of improved frameworks capable of exploiting the consumers’ role in the ongoing process of market uptake of bio-based products. More specifically, this need regards the effective inclusion of some social indicators (i.e., end users’ health and safety, feedback mechanisms, transparency, and end-of-life responsibility) in the social life cycle assessment scheme for bio-based products. This would allow consumers, where properly communicated, to make more informed and aware purchasing choices, therefore having a flywheel effect on the market diffusion of a bio-based product. Full article
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Open AccessArticle The Bio-Based Economy: Dynamics Governing Transition Pathways in the Swedish Forestry Sector
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 976; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10040976
Received: 5 March 2018 / Revised: 23 March 2018 / Accepted: 25 March 2018 / Published: 27 March 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (1716 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
A transition to a bio-based economy would entail change in coupled social–ecological systems. These systems are characterised by complexity, giving rise to potential unintended consequences and trade-offs caused by actions aiming to facilitate a transition process. Yet, many of the analyses to date
[...] Read more.
A transition to a bio-based economy would entail change in coupled social–ecological systems. These systems are characterised by complexity, giving rise to potential unintended consequences and trade-offs caused by actions aiming to facilitate a transition process. Yet, many of the analyses to date have been focusing on single and predominantly technological aspects of the bio-based economy. The main contribution of our work is to the development of an integrated understanding of potential future transition pathways, with the present paper focusing specifically on terrestrial biological resources derived from the forestry sector in Sweden. Desired change processes identified include a transition to diversified forest management, a structural change in the forestry industry to enable high-value added production, and increased political support for the bio-based economy concept. Hindrances identified include the ability to demonstrate added values for end consumers of novel biomass applications, and uncertainty linked to a perceived high level of polarisation in the forestry debate. The results outline how these different processes are interrelated, allowing for the identification of high order leverage points and interventions to facilitate a transition to a bio-based economy. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Exploratory Research of ISO 14001:2015 Transition among Portuguese Organizations
Sustainability 2018, 10(3), 781; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030781
Received: 16 February 2018 / Revised: 8 March 2018 / Accepted: 10 March 2018 / Published: 12 March 2018
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (17020 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The purpose of this paper is the assessment of the ISO 14001:2015 transition process among Portuguese ISO 14001 certified organizations, including those that successfully have already achieved ISO 14001:2015 certification. A considerable number of the surveyed companies proceeded with the transition to the
[...] Read more.
The purpose of this paper is the assessment of the ISO 14001:2015 transition process among Portuguese ISO 14001 certified organizations, including those that successfully have already achieved ISO 14001:2015 certification. A considerable number of the surveyed companies proceeded with the transition to the ISO 14001:2015 by introducing slight adjustments and were supported by external consultants. Nearly all of the respondent companies (97%) intend to transition until 15th September 2018. The highest ranked reported benefit is the “integrated approach with other management sub-systems” with a well-consolidated perception from the surveyed companies. This is aligned with the ISO 14001:2015 goal of improving the compatibility of management standards supported on the Annex SL. “Alignment with business strategy”, “improved top management commitment” and “improved internal and external communication” are also perceived to obtain significant benefits from ISO 14001:2015. The statistical tests carried out (Kruskal–Wallis) confirmed that the perception of some achieved ISO 14001:2015 certification benefits is dependent on the size of the organization. Concerning the motivations to proceed with certification, results suggest that there is not a particular company profile that is compelled to certify their EMS based on a specific type of motivation (Internal or External). Due to ISO 14001:2015 novelty, these exploratory results should be subjected to additional research confirmation. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview Life Cycle Sustainability Evaluations of Bio-based Value Chains: Reviewing the Indicators from a Swedish Perspective
Sustainability 2018, 10(2), 547; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10020547
Received: 7 February 2018 / Revised: 14 February 2018 / Accepted: 15 February 2018 / Published: 20 February 2018
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (569 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Policymakers worldwide are promoting the use of bio-based products as part of sustainable development. Nonetheless, there are concerns that the bio-based economy may undermine the sustainability of the transition, e.g., from the overexploitation of biomass resources and indirect impacts of land use. Adequate
[...] Read more.
Policymakers worldwide are promoting the use of bio-based products as part of sustainable development. Nonetheless, there are concerns that the bio-based economy may undermine the sustainability of the transition, e.g., from the overexploitation of biomass resources and indirect impacts of land use. Adequate assessment methods with a broad systems perspective are thus required in order to ensure a transition to a sustainable, bio-based economy. We review the scientifically published life cycle studies of bio-based products in order to investigate the extent to which they include important sustainability indicators. To define which indicators are important, we refer to established frameworks for sustainability assessment, and include an Open Space workshop with academics and industrial experts. The results suggest that there is a discrepancy between the indicators that we found to be important, and the indicators that are frequently included in the studies. This indicates a need for the development and dissemination of improved methods in order to model several important environmental impacts, such as: water depletion, indirect land use change, and impacts on ecosystem quality and biological diversity. The small number of published social life cycle assessments (SLCAs) and life cycle sustainability assessments (LCSAs) indicate that these are still immature tools; as such, there is a need for improved methods and more case studies. Full article
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