• Bioenergy
  • Renewable Energy
  • Sustainability

A Valuable Role for Bioenergy in Corporate Sustainability Targets

Madeleine Hardy
Sep 06, 2019

Field

Biomass is the largest contributor to renewable energy in Europe and many other parts of the world. Despite that, it remains a somewhat unsung hero.

In some cases, biomass is the most attractive renewable energy option because it is a storable and flexible energy carrier that enables high temperature heat and dispatchable power. This is the case for many companies with a high thermal energy demand such as in the steel, cement, or brewing industry. Bioenergy can also be attractive from a cost perspective, especially in cases where companies have access to their own waste and residue streams. In other cases, it may be the only feasible option, such as companies operating in developing countries or remote areas with limited options for other renewables. The implementation of bioenergy projects can also simultaneously contribute to several UN Sustainable Development Goals. This is because bioenergy can provide clean energy and improve economic prosperity in rural areas.

Tainted Reputation

Biomass is associated with environmental and social calamities such as deforestation, competition with food security, and land grabbing. These risks are especially relevant for land-based biomass and are lesser or irrelevant for wastes and residues. With the tainted reputation bioenergy has gained in recent decades, many companies with renewable energy targets are hesitant to consider bioenergy as a viable renewable option. Consequently, bioenergy is not being used to its fullest potential, even though it could help meet urgent climate targets.

Though there are real risks associated with biomass, the negative impacts are equally avoidable or mitigatable. Bioenergy can be implemented sustainably with the correct safeguards in place. It can and should have a role in corporate renewable energy targets.

How to Ensure Sustainability

Considering the sustainability risks associated with bioenergy, it is critical for companies to ensure that the biomass they source for bioenergy is truly sustainable. This can prove difficult with the spectrum of definitions of sustainable biomass and the complexity of biomass supply chains. Credible sustainable biomass certification schemes do exist and can verify the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of a biomass feedstock. However, these are not yet widespread and do not always cover the identified risks such as indirect land use change and carbon debt. Companies can alternatively develop their own sustainable bioenergy programs. These programs have the advantage of being tailored to their specific operations and aligning with the sustainability values that company wishes to prioritize.

Navigant’s Guidance for Biomass

Navigant supports companies in developing such sustainable biomass programs. We are working with our clients to build transparent and robust programs that can be effectively put into practice. The keys to building these programs are:

  • Creating a policy that clearly outlines sustainability priorities and aligns with other corporate sustainability ambitions

  • Maintaining knowledge and awareness of local sustainability concerns linked to bioenergy

  • Considering different international views on biomass sustainability

  • Engaging with biomass suppliers, NGOs, and local stakeholders

  • Communicating the sustainability criteria to every actor in the value chain

  • Developing tools to facilitate the assessment of biomass sustainability before procurement and during operation

Navigant applies its biomass sustainability expertise and experience to support organizations through this sustainability journey. We help to develop policies, sustainability assessment tools, learning modules, and other services to operationalize bioenergy in these organizations.

Across the globe, bioenergy is being underutilized by organizations. Navigant is committed to helping develop this opportunity in a sustainable way.