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Lets Define Sustainable and Bio-based

As we make scientific and commercial advancements in bio-based energy and building materials we are witnessing an emerging market for "sustainable" and "bio-based" products. With these terms being thrown around the question is bound to come up: what does it mean to be sustainable or bio-based?

This question was recently raised at IREE's E3 conference. Among the numerous breakout sessions at E3 was a session on the challenges and opportunities of biopolymers, and among the panelist at this session was Cargill representative Yusuf Wazirzada. Wazirzada spoke about Cargill's BiOH, a soy-based polyol that is used to manufacture some of the foam found in furniture, carpeting, and automobiles. BiOH is one of the first examples of a bio-based product that has gone through the full product development cycle and is now available for purchase. While discussing his experience as a participant in this cutting-edge development process, Mr.Wazirzada referred to an experiment the BiOH team took part in to verify the bio-based claims of its product and its competitors. The experiment found that while BiOH lives up to its claims, being between 96% and 98% bio-based, its competitors fell quite short. One competing product, which claimed to be 20% bio-based, turned out to be 12% bio-based. A second product, labeled as having "high bio-content" was found to be only 1% bio-based.

With such mislabeling already underway we may quickly see the terms sustainable and bio-based lose their meaning. This linguistic diluting could be dangerous; it causes economic harm to those who manufacture truly sustainable or bio-based products and exploits the environmental concerns of customers. Before any more damage occurs we as a society need to stop and ask what the terms sustainable and bio-based mean. We need to define these terms and set standards for manufactures who wish to make sustainability and bio-based claims. And we need to do this now, before our new sustainable and bio-based market is flooded with products that are no different than those found in our old petroleum-based market.

The website for the Center for Sustainable Polymers can be found here.
You can join the Center for Sustainable Polymer's Facebook Group here.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
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