You must really understand your feedstock and question where it is going to come from: Is it going to be sustainable? Is it going to qualify under legislation? Is it going to be seen as sustainable by a voluntary standard, like RSB?
More and more companies are supporting the development and proliferation of sustainability certifications and standards in order to substantiate credibility for their bio-based products. The Roundtable for Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) is an example of a truly robust sustainability standard that companies are adhering to. The RSB Standard, developed by RSBs broad multi-stakeholder membership community, is uniquely positioned to cover any bio-based feedstock, biomass-derived material and any advanced fuel, as well as complete supply-chains and novel technologies that adhere to stringent social responsibility and environmental stewardship requirements as laid out in the RSB Principles & Criteria.
Here, Liz Gyekye, senior content manager at Bio-Based World News catches up with Rolf Hogan, executive director of RSB.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Whats the story behind RSB?
RH: RSB (@rsb_org) started in 2007 as controversy around the use of biofuels was growing. Initially, biofuels had been hailed as a great solution to help tackle climate change by environmentalists and NGOs, but as time went on, concerns about their impacts in relation to issues like agricultural land used for fuels, food security and greenhouse gases (GHGs) were increasingly gaining attention.
When we started out, our main aim was to bring businesses and NGOs together to develop a global standard in order to help guide the development of truly sustainable biofuels. On the environmental side, we looked at issues which included GHG reductions, biodiversity protection, and issued guidance on how to make sure water was used efficiently. On the social side, we looked at guidance on how to protect labour rights, land rights, food security and more. Based on those standards we offered certification.
Today, we have expanded beyond fuels to cover all biomaterials and bioproducts our Standard covers all bio-based and advanced feedstocks as well as their products and entire supply chains. In addition to this, we offer advisory services to industry and engage in innovative projects with partners. We also support policy making at various levels.
LG: Before you joined RSB, what did you do?
RH: I have an academic background in both natural and social sciences and more than 20 years experience working in the NGO sector. I led a multi-country programme on protected areas for WWF International and represented the organisation at the Convention on Biological Diversity, among other things. Most of my work experience has focused on biodiversity protection. This has involved mainly working at policy level with governments at the Convention on Biological Diversity. I also worked on projects that helped to establish protected areas, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe and Africa.
Although, I was helping to protect nature in this role, I was drawn to joining RSB because of its work on the bigger picture of protecting the planet. RSB works with industry and provides a global standard for products used by industry. Every day I see real change being driven within the bioeconomy and its thrilling to be a part of it.
LG: What new trends do you see happening in the bioeconomy?
RH: We are seeing the bioeconomy head more and more towards the use of wastes in an increasingly circular bioeconomy. There is also a move away from the use of agricultural feedstocks to make fuels.
I think we will also start to see companies take a closer look at the availability of biomass, both on the waste side and the agricultural side as competition will grow between industries for that biomass.
We have worked with WWF in South Africa to model the future availability of biomass feedstocks across sub-Saharan Africa. This project also looks at the impacts of climate change on biomass feedstocks and was supported by Boeing who are looking to understand the availability of a variety of feedstocks for aviation fuel production.
Apart from alternative fuels, many other industries such as chemicals will be looking to understand what types of biomass are out there in order to help with long-term business planning.
LG: What advice would you give to someone else looking to launch their own company/product in this space?
RH: You have to be smart from the start in terms of understanding sustainability and integrating that into your project planning. So, right from the get go you need to know that sustainability is going to be key for the long-term success of your project. You must really understand your feedstock and question where it is going to come from: Is it going to be sustainable? Is it going to qualify under legislation? Is it going to be seen as sustainable by a voluntary standard, like RSB? You also need to ensure you have a proper monitoring and evaluation system as soon as your project comes online. We know that investors are increasingly showing an interest in sustainability and understanding the risks of not using a credible sustainability certification. Therefore, it is important for new players who are thinking about seeking investment for their projects to consider sustainability. Incorporating real sustainability is extremely important for projects looking to source investment, enter protected markets like the EU and ensure consumer confidence.
LG: What is your favourite sustainable/bio-based product?
RH: I am amazed by products that are based on fungus, and can be used in packaging to replace Styrofoam. The fungus is used to bind together agricultural waste, which is then moulded into different packaging materials. These are cutting-edge technologies that are grounded in nature and are able to reduce our reliance on traditional, heavily polluting materials. They have it all!
Rolf Hogan will be speaking at this year’sWorld Bio Markets Conference, the leading assembly for the bio-based economy, which takes place from 1-3 April in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.