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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

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
Indicators Take Many Forms
  • Textual (‘swimmable’)
  • Numerical (temperature, MCLs)
  • Visual (air quality colors)
  • Graphical (“Consumer reports”)
need for national indicators
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 cont1
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
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
Helpful Analytic Frameworks
  • Policy Cultures of Information Use
  • Beyond the Pyramid
  • Strategic Coordination with other Trends
policy cultures of information use
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
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?
a post pyramid view
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
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
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
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”