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.