STAR4BBS works on improving the effectiveness of certification schemes and labels in different sectors of the EU Bioeconomy. Could you elaborate on the so far outcomes of the project?

Indeed, the overall aim of the STAR4BBS (Sustainability Transition Assessment Rules for Bio-Based Systems – is to maximize the potential of Sustainability Certification Schemes (SCS) and labels to support a successful transition to a sustainable circular bio-based economy. By applying novel sustainability assessment methodologies, the project seeks to develop a comprehensive set of indicators and a new monitoring tool for assessing the effectiveness and robustness of existing international and EU sustainability certification schemes and B2B labels applicable to biological feedstock and bio-based products. Ultimately, the goal is to make recommendations for a more efficient and harmonized framework for the sustainability assessment of bio-based products along the entire value chain.

After the first year of project implementation, a comprehensive review of policy sustainability targets and analysis of existing SCS and labels and monitoring systems have been conducted, to assess the current state and inform design of the monitoring system. Furthermore, LCA sustainability indicators were identified and developed, along with the preliminary identification of relevant value chains. In addition, for the collection of biogenic feedstock quantities, a methodological approach and concept was developed. Finally, an impact study on contribution of existing SCS and labels on GHG emissions reduction was conducted, and first steps in conceptualization of the monitoring system have been undertaken.

STAR4BBS represents a coordination and support action, so relevant stakeholders – e.g. scheme owners, feedstock producers, industry actors and policymakers – are being actively involved in the design of the monitoring system at different stages, such as the conceptualization, evaluation etc., as well as in the development of practical recommendations for exploitation purposes after the end of the project.

How do you think the standardization needs will evolve during the next 5 years in the biobased industry?

I think that over the next five years, standardization in the biobased industry will definitely evolve. This is primarily driven by the regulatory frameworks promoting sustainability and technological advances. Key regulations, like the Lead Market Initiative (LMI) and RED II for biofuels, recognize the importance of standards in stimulating demand and ensuring sustainability. Consequently, sustainability standards will gain prominence, ensuring not only product quality but also safety, and environmental responsibility. Furthermore, global regulatory harmonization will facilitate international trade in biobased products, with a focus on product specifications, testing methods, and metrics for conducting environmental impact.

Both consumers and businesses are increasingly putting supply chain transparency and traceability at the top of their priorities. The establishment of standards for tracing the origins and product processes of bio-based materials will build trust within the industry. Simultaneously, as technological innovations and circularity practices gain traction – embracing novel feedstocks and production methods – there will be increasing demand for safety and efficacy standards. The commitment to reducing waste, promoting recycling, and embracing the circular economy will drive the development of recycling and upcycling standards for bio-based materials. At the same time, as digital technologies and Industry 4.0 principles become more widespread, standards governing data exchange, interoperability, and cybersecurity will become critical.

In summary, the bio-based industry is set for substantial growth and change, with standardization pivotal in supporting this progress while ensuring product safety, quality, and sustainability. Active engagement from all stakeholders is essential for developing these standards to address evolving challenges and the shifting landscape within the industry.

So far the current EU framework sets to adopt European Sustainability Reporting Standards. When it comes to the sustainability assessment of bio-based products, what do you think are the gaps in the EU framework?

In my opinion, a significant gap in the EU’s sustainability assessment of bio-based products is the lack of clear guidance for industries in conducting integrated assessments, considering all aspects of sustainability. The challenge arises due to inadequate metrics, data availability, and standardization, making it difficult for businesses to understand and meet reporting requirements. This challenge is especially pronounced in the context of the circular economy, where bio-based products’ role in waste reduction and resource efficiency remains inadequately addressed. Moreover, the proliferation of schemes and labels contributes to issues like greenwashing and verifying sustainability claims.

One noteworthy area of concern is the transparency and traceability of supply chains. Although sustainability standards in the EU framework often focus on individual products, there has been limited emphasis on promoting supply chain transparency. This transparency is crucial, particularly for bio-based products, as it’s vital to trace the origin and processing of bio-based feedstocks to ensure their sustainability.

Recent regulatory developments, such as the Green Claims Directive, underline the critical role of robust standards and certification in ensuring sustainability. Furthermore, the 2022 EU standardization strategy is poised to encourage the identification of standardization needs across various industries. It’s essential for standards to adapt to reflect evolving demands and emerging sustainability trends, driven by consumer preferences.

It is important to note that the European Union is consistently working to enhance its sustainability standards and frameworks. These identified gaps may have already been addressed or modified in response to changing circumstances and the increasing importance of bio-based products in the global market. To bridge these gaps and ensure the framework’s effectiveness in promoting sustainable practices in the bio-based industry, it is vital for stakeholders to engage actively, provide feedback, and facilitate regular updates to sustainability reporting standards.

Can you provide insights on the existing ecolabel criteria and standards for bio-based products and how they align with the Sustainable Development Goals?

Ecolabels and standards are key drivers of environmentally friendly and sustainable products. They provide consumers with explicit information about the environmental performance of a product, based on different criteria, for evaluating the environmental and social impacts of products and processes (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, toxicity, energy efficiency, and working conditions). Their alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) varies based on their specific criteria and objectives of the ecolabel under consideration, but typically centers on the core objective of SDG 12, promoting responsible consumption and production. Furthermore, they may extend their contribution to other SDGs, including SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 15 (Life on Land), and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), depending on their particular focus.

This alignment with the SDGs is pivotal in addressing global sustainability challenges. Established ecolabels such as the EU Ecolabel and Nordic Swan and the EU Ecolabel, which emphasize reducing environmental impact, significantly support the objectives of SDG 12. Furthermore, the responsible sourcing of bio-based materials from sustainably managed forests or agriculture bolsters progress toward SDG 15, dedicated to Life on Land.

In the case of Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), it aligns well with SDG 12 by promoting responsible production and consumption and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) by ensuring fair labor practices in the bio-based industry. On the other hand, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), while not exclusive to bio-based products, becomes relevant when wood or paper is the primary feedstock, making it a supporter of SDG 15 by promoting responsible forest management and biodiversity conservation.

Various standards organizations have developed protocols for assessing the carbon footprint of bio-based products, contributing to SDG 13 (Climate Action) by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bolstering SDG 12’s objective of promoting sustainable consumption and production.

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ORCID: 0000-0001-5983-0517