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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Building the Bioeconomy

EFIB 2011, Amsterdam
The sustainable economy, the biobased economy, the biobased society, the bioeconomy... which label to put on the shift to more renewable products was one theme which came out in the 'Communicating the Bio-based Economy' session at the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology (EFIB) in Amsterdam last week.
Whether this new economy needs a label or not was also debated in the panel.

Putting a name to a concept is certainly helpful in policy circles as it makes sense if all stakeholders are talking about the same thing although one speaker argued that for the general public the label was less important than educating and getting people on-board with the concept, in this case the need to do something about climate change.

For our two cents, we shared our view that while we support the term 'biobased economy', we find it more compelling to talk about 'decarbonising the economy'.  When explaining any concept, it helps to show what impact it will have on people's daily lives.  We speak to journalists about renewable chemicals all the time and unless they are in the trade media, they generally will not see the point.  If you're a policy journalist, just the word 'chemicals' is enough to make you glaze over.  But when you make the case for making plastics and other materials from plants not oil, it starts to make sense. 

We are in a consumer society and while some might like that to change (and the downturn in the economy may force some change), it is likely that this drive for 'stuff' will continue.  Consumers want to keep buying 'stuff' and manufacturers want to keep making 'stuff'.  We must therefore rethink how that 'stuff' is made.  Lifecycle thinking and renewable materials are essential here.

The European Commission is expected to launch its strategy for a bio-based economy in November, although a Commission speaker in Amsterdam suggested that it could be early 2012.  It will be interesting to see what European policymakers put forward on rethinking the economy and moving to a more decarbonised society.

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