Over the last few years, the bioeconomy — a global economy that uses biological resources and waste from the land and sea as inputs to food, industrial and energy production — has been a major point of discussion for scientists and policymakers alike. According to the World Economic Forum, our bioeconomy is far from sustainable as it presently exists, as companies across many industries continue to rely on environmentally damaging practices. As such, today’s discussion on the bioeconomy has largely centered around how people, companies and industries can reduce their impact on the environment through more ethically sourced, produced, packaged, sold and consumed products and services.
In order to transition to a sustainable bioeconomy, the international community must reach consensus on standard definitions and criteria and methods for measuring its goals, which has thus far hindered progress. In industry, issues such as land-use, fossil fuel dependence and climate change are key discussion points. From a consumer perspective, historically developed structures and ways of life that appear normal today need to be completely rethought and relearned.
Key bioeconomy stakeholders
According to the European Commission, the goal of the bioeconomy is "a more innovative and low-emissions economy, reconciling demands for sustainable agriculture and fisheries, food security, and the sustainable use of renewable biological resources for industrial purposes, while ensuring biodiversity and environmental protection." This goal can be achieved through the development and commercialization of new sustainable technologies, but that requires the entire value chain to unite and innovate new ideas at a rapid pace. To truly make meaningful change, more partnerships and stakeholders must come together to see sustainability through from beginning to end.
For example, by meeting the rigorous standards to become a bluesign® system partner, a product or company can communicate its commitment to reducing its impact on people and the environment, ensure responsible use of resources, and guarantee the highest level of consumer safety. The OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification ensures that a company’s product is stringently tested to be free from harmful levels of more than 300 potentially dangerous substances and that it is safe for use by infants and toddlers. Additionally, the Cradle to Cradle certification for apparel products guides designers and manufacturers through a continual improvement process that looks at a product through five quality categories — material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness.
Once brands and retailers develop sustainable products, it’s imperative that they properly promote them and educate consumers on the value they bring a sustainable bioeconomy.
In the apparel industry, DuPont Sorona brand partner Toad&Co produces “clothing with a conscious.” The eco-icon on its clothing indicates that it is made with sustainable fibers and that the fabrics have met the bluesign® or STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certifications. In 2018, the company reduced their carbon emissions by 51 tons, enough to drive a car 150,000 miles.
Home care brand Mrs. Meyer’s uses thoughtful ingredients in its products, including raw materials such as coconut, corn, soy and olive. The brand pledges that none of its products contain chlorine bleach, ammonia, petroleum distillates, parabens, phosphates or phthalates and that the brand uses concentrated, biodegradable formulas and at least 25 percent post-consumer plastic in its bottles.
Seventh Generation promises consumers that every product is made with careful consideration of its impact on “the wellbeing of the next seven generations.” Its products are USDA Certified Biobased and the brand fights for labeling transparency and ingredient disclosure. Unilever acquired Seventh Generation in 2016, demonstrating that major corporations are recognizing the value of these forward-thinking companies.
Beauty brands are also following suit. LUSH has a dedicated “Green Policy,” which includes a company-wide zero-waste goal. Its customers can choose to buy products with no packaging at all. And when it comes to material sourcing, LUSH prefers to use ingredients that are produced in a sustainable way; and the brand works diligently with all of its suppliers to minimize its environmental impact, including monitoring how it uses water at its factories.
Beyond supplying responsible materials and producing and selling environmentally friendly goods, there are other critical opportunities to promote a sustainable bioeconomy, and much of that work can be attributed to NGOs — organizations that fight for change by increasing awareness and driving adoption among the public.
The Sustainable Brands community, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition are groups that serve as resources and forums for brands dedicated to collaborating for a more sustainable bioeconomy.
Additionally, Ceres is dedicated to “transforming the economy to build a sustainable future for people and the planet.” The organization works with investors and companies to create economic solutions to the world’s biggest sustainability challenges that impact entire sectors of the economy, including banking and finance, insurance, transportation, electric power, food and agriculture, oil and gas, and water infrastructure.
Together these players — and many more layers in between — can collectively drive a sustainable biobased economy that can transform our environmental impacts.
Looking to the future
Although it has not been without major challenges, a sustainable bioeconomy is approaching a tipping point in its growth and maturation. Already, a number of companies have successfully commercialized technologies for renewable chemicals, built biorefineries and created supply chains — and turned their attention to commercializing their next sustainable product.
Work in the space, however, is far from complete. It requires significant collaboration across all industries and stakeholders, including apparel, and a broad commitment to defining success so that the next several generations can enjoy environmentally friendly products that promote a sustainable bioeconomy.