Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Biobased Product Markets – Part 1

Creating a “demand market” for biobased products could be very useful in achieving more acceptance and use of biobased products.   In current “free markets”, fossil fuel-based products usually win out in competition with biobased products because fossil fuel-based products cost much less to produce, and therefore have much lower sales prices.   Greater use of biobased products, versus fossil-based products, would benefit society a lot by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.  Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is needed for society’s benefit, based on the conclusion that such emissions are causing undesirable climate changes.  Undesirable climate changes are likely to get worse as carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase.

Cities account for 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions.  Carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to the increasing global average temperature rises and to the changes that are occurring in global climate.  Therefore, city procurement programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions could be of the highest importance in reducing global carbon dioxide emissions.    And because of society’s (hoped-for) interest in reductions of carbon dioxide emissions, creating a demand market for biobased products through city governments is warranted

Cities purchase billions of dollars (on a global basis) of materials every year.  By purchasing materials that are made from biobased raw materials, versus fossil fuel-based materials, a significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions can be obtained.  Many cities have procurement rules that provide guidance that environmentally-friendly materials should be purchased, when available.   But at least two questions exist:

1. Are sufficient efforts being made to ensure that biobased materials are being identified and purchased and
2. How much are carbon dioxide emissions being (could be) reduced from the use of these materials.

I visited the websites of twenty-two of the largest United States cities to determine which ones have procurement programs that are committed to purchasing environmental friendly materials.   I found that nine of the twenty-two (41%) have such commitments.  But, unfortunately, none of the nine cities so far provide measured results on the success of such commitments.

Performance measurements are vital in understanding the effectiveness of a city’s procurement program in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.  Here are some actions that I believe are needed for cities to be able to implement effective measurement programs:

1.      A standards organization, such as GRI (click here to go to GRI’s website), which has been instrumental in companies measuring and reporting on sustainability efforts, needs to be established for city programs to report on environmental (sustainability) efforts.  Cities alone cannot be expected to come up with such standards for measuring and reporting sustainability efforts.  Standards need to be established that all cities can respond to so that cities can be evaluated with respect to their peers.
2.      Non-profit associations need to support research and analysis related to correlating biobased materials use with carbon dioxide emission reductions and other positive environmental results.   These associations need to initiate programs to influence public policy including the need for city councils to insist that the results of their procurement programs for reducing carbon dioxide emissions be shown on the city’s websites.
3.      Chemical companies interested in better biobased product demand should lobby their legislatures to require city procurement departments to purchase biobased products and to have in-place effective measurement and reporting programs on these purchases and their results in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

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