One of the many reasons that make me support bio-based materials, is their untapped potential as circular material. There is no sand or mineral that can transform itself as a result of anerobic digestion processes as ecological and energy efficient then bio-based materials.
Transforming bio-based resources has multiple benefits. One of them is the fact that we use re-growing organic matter that (quickly) captures carbon, we then move it or simply transform it and at the end of the materials’ life-cycle it can become [ideally] one with nature again- dead organic matter.
In addition, using, re-using, up-cycling and recycling bio-based materials will be one of the key components in tackling the climate crisis and accounting for environmental responsibilty as well. The reason is that bio-based materials can be transformed into other by-products along the value chain and therefore aid in reducing scope 3 emissions (nex tto scope 1 and 2 emissions).
Scope 3 emissions are those emissions that occcur outside of control of the company such as transport and waste disposal. They constitute up to seventy-five percent of a company’s emission footprint and therefore inhibits a firm’s ability to pursue the most cost-effective carbon mitigation strategies (Downie and Stubbs, 2013). Another disadvantage is that scope 3 emissions are not accounted for in the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Our current GHG inventories are therefore incomplete, or misleading.
Yesterday, I watched an excellent Webinar by UNDP on the Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. It was highlighted that a country could be well on track to achieve its NDCs as most of the production, where emissions are occuring, have been outsourced. But if we would look at emissions from a “consumption” perspective”, countries would be much less likely to meet their NDCs. This particular relates to the fact that only scope 1 and 2 emissions are accounted but not scope 3 emissions.
Type 3 emissions can be largely reduced if we look at bio-based materials
When we look at the bio-based model of the circular economy, lets say for housing, it is relatively easy to point out that organic waste can be used for multiple purposes. On the image below, waste water is used and transformed into energy, which is again used to supply energy for the household and other applications.
This model can also be applied to entire cities such as on the image below. This model also runs on the integration of renewable energy and bio-based waste to generate energy and add value to the urban setting as well. The model would not function, if it would not incorporate organic waste.
The bio-based economy is more efficient then the non-bio based economy
Of course, circularity also works with other non-biobased materials, but there are limits to their re-utilization and their potential in mitigating scope 3 emissions. In the webinar an excellent example of a “smartcrusher”, which breaks concrete back into its homogenous ingredients was pointed out. I like that it is possible to reutilize these ingriedients, but there are emission limits towards their reutilization and value additon.
Bio-based materials are the answer to carbon neutrality
On the opposite, if we were to adapt more bio-based materials, we could use less finite materials, create value from organic waste products and meanwhile, add value throughout the production. An excellent example for me is bamboo, because of its versatile industrial applications and alternative to steel.
If we look at the production of bamboo boards, each waste component can be used and transformed again either in the form of energy [i.e. gas, electricity] or products [i.e. pellets, charcoal, bio-char]. I like the image of a wood production process below, because it illustrates the versatility of timber waste products. This also applies to bamboo, besides that bamboo grows much quicker and drives well in degraded soils.
Bio-based materials help our planet thrive
A few months ago my former thesis -supervisor introduced me to the concept “ThriveAbility”. ThriveAbility reframes sustainability by focusing on the positive benefits of collectively living within our means ( operating within the carrying capacities of capitals). ThriveAbility does this by weaving two additional dimensions into the sustainability equation that remedy the Social and Governance weak spots, while catalysing context-based environmental performance. It basically looks at adding value to our environment instead of exploiting it (Baue, 2016).
With bio-based products we can do so. An example is bio-char that can be produced as waste product and be fet back into farms. Biochar can be used as soil enhancer as it holds carbon, boosts food security, and increases soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water. Biochar is found in soils around the world as a result of vegetation fires and historic soil management practices. Intensive study of biochar-rich dark earths in the Amazon (terra preta), has led to a wider appreciation of biochar’s unique properties as a soil enhancer (InternationalBiocharInitative, 2019)
Mitigating scope 3 emissions works well on the local level
Since our supply chains are connected across the globe, it is more difficult to achieve carbon neutrality during transportation. But if we would overall , in each region and city of the supply chain focus more on bio-based materials [and renewables], we could feed more energy into our transportation system and therefore ensure that we are meeting our global target under Paris.
My ideal supply-chain would be an integrated bio-based supply chain, which integrates circularity on each stage of it. Since there are growth-limits for bio-based materials, I would emphasize circular business models for end consumers and producers; 1. To capture product value and 2. To have sufficient time for circular systems to regenerate within out planetary boundaries.
On a global level, there are of course more barriers and I recommend reading the article on “Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges” by Brundklaus and Riise (2018) to receive a greater insight into that topic.
Have you become intersted to calculate your Scope3 emissions? I found an excellent technical guideline by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which provides standards, guidance, tools and training for business and government to measure and manage climate-warming emissions. You can access it here.
For questions and comments, feel free to contact me below.
Baue, B. (2016). An Intro to ThiveAbility: The Next Stage of Development for Sustainability. Retrieved from: https://sustainablebrands.com/read/new-metrics/an-intro-to-thriveability-the-next-stage-of-development-for-sustainability
Brunklaus B., Riise E. (2018) Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges. In: Benetto E., Gericke K., Guiton M. (eds) Designing Sustainable Technologies, Products and Policies. Springer, Cham
CarbonTrust (2019). What are Scope 3 emissions?. Retrieved from: https://www.carbontrust.com/resources/what-are-scope-3-emissions
Downie, J., & Stubbs, W. (2013). Evaluation of Australian companies’ scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions assessments. Journal of Cleaner Production, 56, 156-163.
GreenhouseGasProtocol (2020). Scope3 Calculation Guidance. Retrieved from: https://ghgprotocol.org/scope-3-technical-calculation-guidance
InternationalBiocharInitiative (2020). Biochar is a Valuable Soil Amendment. Retrieved from: https://biochar-international.org/biochar/
Soezer, A. (2019). Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. UNDP Webinar. Retrieved from: https://www.ndcs.undp.org/content/ndc-support-programme/en/home/impact-and-learning/ideas-and-insights/20190/circular-economy-new-ndc-generation-.html