The future is ready for biobased products, entirely or partially derived from biological sources. Over the past decade, the European Union has made significant investments in transitioning from a linear fossil-based economy to a circular, biobased economy. However, a successful shift from fossil-based to renewable biological resources requires ensuring environmental, social, and economic sustainability, guided by a robust governance structure. In light of this, numerous certifications and labels have emerged as key instruments for enhancing global production and trade sustainability and enabling the private sector to showcase corporate responsibility. Yet, there is a need to assess the reliability and effectiveness of these tools, and this is where SUSTCERT4BIOBASED comes into play and our key highlights will follow!
Since June 2022this three-year Horizon Europe project’s objective has been to create a monitoring system that evaluates the efficiency, resilience, and comprehensiveness of current certification schemes and ecolabels. It seeks to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these systems and advocate for the adoption of the most robust and effective ones. The focus of the project is on certifying biological resources destined for industrial value chains and biobased products, excluding applications in food/feed, biofuels, and bioenergy. The project includes all six key industrial sectors highlighted in the European Commission’s Bioeconomy Strategy: chemicals, plastics, textiles, pulp and paper, construction, and woodworking (refer to Fig. 1).
The Joint Monitoring System: A key component
SUSTCERT4BIOBASED with its two ‘sister projects’, HARMONITOR and STAR4BBS, are funded under the same call and work together in the implementation of different joint activities, including the Joint Monitoring System. They have formed a project cluster called BiobasedCert. The goal of the three sister projects working together is to create a harmonised, overarching system. The JMS aims to provide the European Commission and certification schemes and label owners with a framework to evaluate the potential of certification schemes and labels (CSLs) and their accompanying standards to contribute to the sustainability priorities for the bioeconomy in relevant EU policies. The JMS will further increase transparency regarding the performance of existing CSLs for biobased systems in the European market. This information incentivises CSL owners to improve and harmonise their systems regarding shared sustainability and governance criteria.
The JMS is structured in three levels: system level, content level and outcome level (see Fig. 2). The system level focuses on system characteristics, including governance, traceability, assurance, etc. This level provides an assessment of the robustness of schemes. The content level focuses on the sustainability requirements of the CSLs vis-à-vis specific environmental, social, economic, and circularity priorities and targets. This level provides an assessment of the comprehensiveness of the schemes for key sustainability priorities. The outcome level focuses on evidence of the performance and impact generated by implementing CSLs. This level provides an assessment of the effectiveness of schemes. For each level, the monitoring system will have a standardised set of indicators housed in a centralised database.
Another key component of the JMS is a layer of interpretation which concerns the definition of minimum requirements and the evaluation mechanism. The JMS will be optimised using the feedback from testing on selected certification schemes and labels, pilot audits and stakeholder engagement. It is expected that by engaging with a range of stakeholders, the applicability and acceptance of the JMS will improve.
Throughout the 1,5 years of SUSTCERT4BIOBASED lifecycle, a categorisation was made for the range of biological resources intended for industrial biobased systems under four main categories (primary, secondary, tertiary residues, and primary dedicated) and 22 sub-categories. The categorisation of biobased products was made according to the sector in which they are used from the six industrial sectors using NACE codes and corresponding subcategories from PRODCOM to maximise opportunities to link with available statistical data. A multicriteria methodology based on the analytical hierarchical approach was applied to identify 18 representative biobased value chains linking the biological resources and products belonging to the six industrial sectors. For a selection of these value chains, data was gathered on global trade flows concerning EU production and trade volumes using available international statistical sources, as well as on the extent of their certification.
Moreover, a collation of sustainability principles and criteria applicable to biological resources and biobased materials and products was made by reviewing relevant EU legislation, certification schemes, and studies in the field of sustainable bioeconomy. Factsheets were prepared on eleven selected sustainability certification schemes and ecolabels for industrial biobased systems. In addition to general information and scope, the factsheets contain information on the governance of the schemes and their sustainability criteria categorised into environmental, circularity, social, and economic dimensions. As input for the development of the JMS, a comprehensive review of a total of 18 existing assessment and benchmarking tools and guidelines for CSLs was carried out with a focus on their requirements, criteria, and rating and scoring methodologies used in the evaluation of schemes and labels within various biobased sectors.
Furthermore, a methodology for conducting the cost and benefit assessment was proposed following a review of literature on their application to sustainability certifications and on methods for internalising externalities to integrate them into the cost and benefit assessment. Finally, together with the sister projects, a midterm policy brief is being prepared, paving the way for CSLs in EU co-regulatory frameworks promoting the market uptake of certified products.
Co-creating a sustainable biobased future: Our next steps!
Together with our sister projects, our Network of Interest members and the valuable expertise of our consortium, will continue promoting a biobased future and shedding light on the sustainability certification of biobased products.