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Defining and evaluating the sustainability of biofuels: leading criteria and indicators. Elisabeth Graffy U.S. Geological Survey U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey. Indicators Take Many Forms. Textual (‘swimmable’)

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Defining and evaluating the sustainability of biofuels: leading criteria and indicators

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Defining and evaluating the sustainability of biofuels: leading criteria and indicators

Elisabeth Graffy

U.S. Geological Survey

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Geological Survey

Indicators Take Many Forms

  • Textual (‘swimmable’)

  • Numerical (temperature, MCLs)

  • Visual (air quality colors)

  • Graphical (“Consumer reports”)

Need for National Indicators

  • “DRIP” widely viewed as increasingly problematic

  • Existing mechanisms and sources too fragmented, inconsistent, sporadic, not broadly credible

    • Improvements in production, reporting, and use at the national level proposed

  • Sustainability a consistent focus

    • Social, economic, environmental

Major National Indicator Efforts

  • Heinz Center: State of the Nation’s Ecosystems

  • NAS: Key National Indicator Initiative

    • State of the USA

  • EPA: Report on the Environment

  • Intergovernmental: Sustainable Water, Forest, Rangeland, Minerals Roundtables

  • National: NEST pilot

  • Federal: IWG on sustainability criteria for biofuels

National Biomass R&D Board

  • Co-chaired by DOE and USDA

    • NSF, EPA, DOI, DOT, OSTP, OFEE, DOC, DOD, Treasury

  • Created by E.O. > Biomass R&D Act of 2000 > Energy Policy Act of 2005

  • Responsibility: coordinate Federal activities to promote biobased industrial products.

    • President’s 20-in-10 plan, biofuels aspects of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007

    • National Biofuels Action Plan 2008

National Biofuels Action Plan 2008

“The Board aims to provide the interagency leadership to steer biofuels development on a sustainable path through the compilation and evaluation of biofuels sustainability criteria, benchmarks and indicators.”

Interagency Leadership Charge

  • Establish a Sustainability Interagency Working Group led by DOE, USDA, EPA

  • Define, by November 2008, a set of science-based national biofuels criteria and indicators

  • Coordinate with ongoing international activities, interface with industry and environmental groups, and plan workshops with internal and external stakeholders.

S-IWG Criteria and Indicators

  • Criteria

    • Directional: prescriptive, imply policy direction that may or may not currently exist; could show U.S. leadership.

    • Neutral: descriptive, aligned with other U.S. activities underway in international community (e.g. GBEP); provide policy flexibility and consistency with projected future policy development and legislation.

  • Indicators

    • Intended to empirically capture the direct and indirect consequences of moving to a biobased energy future.

    • Aim is relevance, availability of science information, economic feasibility.

S-IWG -- Draft Criteria

  • Greenhouse gases (GHG)

  • Soil quality and land productivity

  • Water use efficiency and quality

  • Air quality

  • Biological diversity

S-IWG -- Draft Criteria (cont.)

  • Land use change impacts

  • Resource use and conversion efficiency and productivity

  • Cost competitiveness and returns

  • Economic well-being and rural development

  • Food, feed, and fiber supply

S-IWG -- Draft Criteria (cont.)

  • Public health and safety

  • Legal and institutional framework compliance

  • Workforce capacity

  • Imported oil displacement and energy supply diversity

  • Net energy balance

  • Energy access

Evaluating Indicators

  • Not just a question of whether they are right or wrong…

    • What are they for?

    • Who are they for?

    • Who should be involved in development?

    • Is science-based sufficient?

    • How will they be used in practice?

    • Is coordination necessary across sectors, scales?

Helpful Analytic Frameworks

  • Policy Cultures of Information Use

  • Beyond the Pyramid

  • Strategic Coordination with other Trends

Policy Cultures of Information Use

  • Scientific – improve understanding

  • Ecological – protect ecosystems, resources

  • Managerial – promote efficient use, solve problems, balance objectives

  • Governance – enhance public access to information, to policymaking

  • Development -- improve human welfare, eradicate poverty, disease

Policy Cultures as Diagnostic Tool

  • OECD: “ultimate goal of improving policy making, democracy and citizens’ wellbeing.”

  • NEST/US: credible, consistent, comprehensive to support federal and state level decisions

  • S-IWG on biofuels: “Expanding biofuels usage to 36 BGY over 15 years on a sustainable basis”

  • Who and What are they for?

  • Who is or should be involved?

  • Is science-based enough?

Policy, Planning, and Mgmt Indicators

Monitoring Data and Statistics

A “Post-Pyramid” View

Synthesized knowledge, symbols, narratives, metaphors with technical, cultural, economic,

spiritual content



Legitimize common knowledge base for public discourse, social




Measure Progress or Accountability to goals

Advance scientific understanding

Design: what for and for whom?

Uses: projected or desired

Strategic Coordination with Trends 1

  • Sustainability indicators for biofuels under development

    • Global Bioenergy Partnership (G8)

    • International Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (NG)

    • UK plans mandatory biofuels sustainability standards by 2011

    • Crop-specific sustainability criteria & indicators (palm oil, soy, sugar cane) drafted

      • for use as management benchmarks and market certification

Strategic Coordination with Trends 2

  • U.S. National environmental indicators overlap in many areas

    • Water

    • Land use

    • Soils

    • Biodiversity

    • Atmospheric

    • ….

Strategic Coordination with Trends 3

  • General sustainability & societal indicators

    • OECD: “life satisfaction, freedom, trust, the level of education, income, employment, government effectiveness, the quality of democracy, corruption reduction, tolerance, commitment and innovation all are aspects of one phenomenon: societal progress”

How do or should state-level bioenergy indicators fit in?

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