Research • Educate • Connect
Towards a sustainable bioeconomy

Research • Educate • Connect
Towards a sustainable bioeconomy

What motivates stakeholders on the path towards the bioeconomy?

Diverse stakeholders like scientists, representatives of agriculture or civil society, tie different imaginations and expectations to the concept of a “bioeconomy”. A coherent strategy and a successful implementation require a minimum level of consensus – and knowledge.

The transformation towards a sustainable bioeconomy also induces societal change. Diverse economic sectors and spheres of daily life are affected by such far-reaching changes. Thus, the concerned actors, so-called stakeholders, support different interests and attitudes towards the direction of development and the implementation of the bioeconomy. Bringing these positions together presents the core challenge for a successful transformation. The competence platform project Transform2Bio pursues these questions of a societal bioeconomy transformation by focusing on the case of the Rheinische Revier. To this objective, different stakeholder visions are analyzed, e.g. those prevalent among the civil society, agriculture and research.

Fig. 1: Industrial fields in the bioeconomy (Source: Waßenhoven, A., Block, C., Wustmans, M., & Bröring, S. (2020). Analyzing an emerging business ecosystem through M&A activities: The case of the Bioeconomy. Business Strategy and Development. (Early Access) based on Bröring, S. (2005). The front end of innovation in converging industries: The case of nutraceuticals and functional foods. Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag.)

The bioeconomy concept requires, for example, cooperation between stakeholders involved in biomass production, development of (bio-)technologies and products, and, not least, the demand-side. The Rheinische Revier is characterized by excellent starting conditions for the bioeconomy: On the one hand, the region is shaped decisively by agriculture and the food industry. On the other hand, centuries-long lignite mining has established a significant network between the chemical industry, the energy industry and research as well as small- and medium-sized businesses in related sectors. Against the background of mining, also social and ecological initiatives have organized themselves around the issues of structural change and sustainability.

National media coverage offers an insight into the views of the broader society. Media articles are characterized mainly by a focus on the development of new technologies and the objectives of competitiveness and growth. This reflects the research-oriented approach of the federal German government and the European Union. Concerns about biomass production and rural development are less frequent and generally supportive of the technology-based understanding of the bioeconomy. Critical voices are raised regarding social and ecological sustainability, but only represent a marginal issue within the public debate.

Fig. 2: Wordcloud based on the results of analyzing German newspaper articles 2010-2019 (Source: Sophia Dieken and Sandra Venghaus: Potential Pathways to the German Bioeconomy: A Media Discourse Analysis of Public Perceptions. Sustainability 2020 (12), 7987.).

Analyzing visions of individuals presents a challenge: Especially citizens not directly affected lack knowledge about the bioeconomy concept. The term is associatedwith diverse images and hopes: of organic agriculture, resource-saving circular economy, or the incompatibility of “bio” and “economy”. In contrast to media representation, individuals are less concerned with the technology-based understanding. Instead, the positive image of a sustainable, forward-looking economy prevails, although it is also met with concerns about biomass distribution and overall realizability. The consumer perspective is essential for the transformation’s success as well. Especially regarding new, innovative products, consumer acceptance is low, as is the willingness to change buying behavior. Here, society primarily holds  the government responsible for providing information and incentives.

In addition, there are stakeholder groups with more specific views of the bioeconomy than the civil society. Scientists are a key stakeholders group. Analyzing their opinions thus provides an important insight into stakeholder visions of the bioeconomy. University professors working on the bioeconomy or the Rheinisches Revier see high potential in the substitution of fossil by bio-based raw materials, and in additional uses of biomass. Next to biotechnologies in general, fermentation processes, as well as biopolymers and bioplastics are perceived as highly important for a bioeconomy transformation. According to the scientists, such emerging technologies need to meet the following criteria: On the economic level, efficient production is regarded as significant; on the social level, the region should be supported by generating new jobs; on the ecological level, sustainability issues such as reduced environmental pollution and resource efficiency are deemed crucial.

Fig. 3: Stakeholders of the bioeconomy in the Rheinische Revier (Source: Janine Macht).

Farmers are another interesting stakeholder group under investigation in Transform2Bio. This group has to meet diverse requirements. On the one hand, as fundamental biomass producers, they are the starting point for cascading and circular uses, and they serve as the link between economizing biomass and preserving local ecosystems. On the other hand, they take on further tasks, such as selling produce directly to end-consumers. Furthermore, farmers often simultaneously assume several roles, for example as municipal politicians or representatives of a rural association. Bioeconomy visions can differ greatly between and even within stakeholder groups.

In this work package of the competence platform project Transform2Bio, we analyze the specific attitudes and visions of bioeconomy stakeholders, in order to balance them against the techno-economically feasible developments in the Rheinische Revier in the next step.

Involved Core Groups

Prof. Dr. Stefanie Bröring
ILR – Technology and Innovation Management in Agribusi-ness (TIM)
Universität Bonn

Dr. Wilhelm Kuckshinrichs
IEK-STE – Systems Analysis and Technology Evaluation
Forschungszentrum Jülich

Prof. Dr. Monika Hartmann
ILR – Chair of Agricultural and Food Market Research
Universität Bonn

Prof. Dr. Silke Hüttel
ILR – Chair of Production Economics
Universität Bonn