Companies dealing with chemical products have to cope with large amounts of waste and environmental risk due to the use and production of toxic substances. Against this background, increasing attention is being paid to “green chemistry” and the translation of this concept into biobased chemicals. Given the multitude of economic, environmental and societal impacts that the production and use of biobased chemicals have on sustainability, assessment approaches need to be developed that allow for measurement and comparison of these impacts. To evaluate sustainability in the context of policy and decision-making, indicators are generally accepted means. However, sustainability indicators currently predominantly exist for low-value applications in the bioeconomy, like bioenergy and biofuels. In this paper, a review of the state-of-the-art sustainability indicators for biobased chemicals is conducted and a gap analysis is performed to identify indicator development needs. Based on the analysis, a clear hierarchy within the concept of sustainability is found where the environmental aspect dominates over economic and social indicators. All one-dimensional indicator-sets account for environmental impacts (50%), whereas two-dimensional sets complement the environmental issues with economic indicators (34%). Moreover, even the sets encompassing all three sustainability dimensions (16%) do not account for the dynamics and interlinkages between the environment, economy and society. Using results from the literature review, an indicator list is presented that captures all indicators currently used within sustainability assessment of biobased chemicals. Finally, a framework is proposed for future indicator selection using a stakeholder survey to obtain a prioritized list of sustainability indicators for biobased chemicals.
The paper is now in press in the journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. You can read the full version here.