Skip to content

Biofuel sustainability standards

September 25, 2008

Yesterday I had a look at the emerging standards for sustainable biofuel production. I was pulling together information for, an interesting attempt to create a credentialed wiki that draws on the knowledge of land grant university extension personnel. Biofuel sustainability standards are evolving so quickly that the material I contributed to yesterday will likely be long out of date by the time it is published. I thought that readers of this blog might be interested to know a little about ongoing efforts to create national and international standards to certify biofuels as “sustainable.” It’s an ambitious undertaking.

International Standards

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, based in Switzerland, has released a draft set of principles and criteria for sustainable biofuels production, as a first step in developing an international standard to be administered by the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance (ISEAL). The roundtable is the first large-scale effort to create a global standard for biofuels, although similar efforts for specific fuel feedstocks – including palm oil, soybeans, and sugar cane – are under way.

Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels Principals and Practices
Principal Practice
Legality Follow all applicable laws of the country and international treaties
Consultation Design and operate projects under appropriate, comprehensive, transparent, consultative, and participatory processes that involve all relevant stakeholders
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Mitigate climate change by significantly reducing GHG emissions as compared to fossil fuels
Human Rights Do not violate human rights or labor rights, and ensure decent work and the well-being of workers
Development Contribute to the social and economic development of local, rural and indigenous peoples and communities
Food Security Do not impair food security
Ecosystem Conservation Avoid negative impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems, and areas of High Conservation Value
Soil Conservation Improve soil health and minimize degradation
Water Conservation Optimize surface and groundwater resource use, including minimizing contamination or depletion of these resources, and respecting existing formal and customary water rights
Air Conservation Minimize pollution from production and processing throughout the supply chain
Efficiency Use cost-effective production technology and improve efficiency and social and environmental performance through the use of emerging technology
Land Rights Do not violate land rights

Teams from Brazil and Germany developing biofuel quality standards for the International Standards Organization (ISO) expanded their mandate to include sustainability criteria in July 2008.

National Standards

The Leonardo Academy released a Draft American National Standard for Trial Use for Sustainable Agriculture in April 2007. The standard includes a section that specifically addresses biofuel sustainability, and would require biofuel processors to calculate the net fossil fuel gain of their products. The standard is modeled on the USDA’s National Organic Program standard, and would require third-party certification to sell biofuels labeled ‘Certified Sustainably Grown.’ The standard is currently going through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) process, under which it has been contested by the USDA, and defended by the Leonardo Academy.

Draft National Standard for Trial Use, Sustainable Agriculture
Key Element Practice
Sustainable Crop Production Build and maintain a healthy agroecosystem, based on healthy soil structure and functioning; preferentially employ biological, mechanical, and cultural methods to control pest and disease vectors; minimize agrochemical inputs, favoring the use of reduced risk or US National Organic Program (NOP) permitted agrochemical options; and phase-out those agrochemical inputs that pose significant acute and chronic risks to human health or ecotoxic risks to the environment.
Ecosystem Management and Protection Protect the surrounding ecology including but not limited to waterways, riparian and wetlands habitats, high ecological value habitats and species, and other biologically and culturally significant areas.
Resource Conservation and Energy Efficiency Increase water efficiency, energy efficiency and resource efficiency in all stages of growing, packaging, transporting and handling of crops. Account for greenhouse gas emissions throughout the product life cycle (from seed to store) from all direct and indirect sources, and establish specific greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Integrated Waste Management Compost, recycle, and dispose of agricultural, non-agricultural, and hazardous wastes properly.
Fair Labor Practices Ensure a safe and equitable workplace for agricultural workers, addressing such issues as equitable hiring and employment practices, safe workplace conditions, workers’ right to organize, worker housing, child labor, access to health, education, and transportation services.
Community Benefits Support local communities through preferential purchasing, hiring, and improvements or development, as well as addressing impacts caused by agricultural operations.
Product Quality Ensure product quality throughout the chain-of-custody and establish quality assurance and traceability requirements designed to ensure that sustainably grown products are properly handled and can be traced back to their source.
Product Safety and Purity Conform to minimum acceptable food safety practices and food purity requirements for edible crops.

Michael Bomford provides research and extension services related to organic agriculture and small-scale renewable energy production through Kentucky State University’s Land Grant Program.

(original URL:

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: