Social impact metrics that tie to environmental achievements are needed for biofuel project funding decisions, especially in this climate of budget austerity, says a new University of Illinois report. The authors say an emphasis must be placed on biofuels value to a "green economy."
To win the hearts and minds of the American public, the biofuel industry’s best chance will be to continually emphasize the value of a “green economy,” suggests a new report from the University of Illinois (http://farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2012/10/how_green_economy_metrics_have.html). The spotlight on a “green economy” compared to only generic economic development is critical because “greenness” justifies bioenergy subsidies in a climate of budget austerity and political polarity, the report says.
“A backlash against the biofuels industry is mounting from myriad directions . . . including the food versus fuel debate and carbon accounting,” write Jody Endres, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; and Daniel Szewczyk, The Energy Biosciences Institute, both at the University of Illinois. “The threat of rising food and feed prices from this season's drought will only exacerbate biofuels advocates' uphill battle in the U.S. policy arena against grocers and cattlemen lobbies who object to rising costs of feedstocks, and NGOs concerned about food insecure countries that depend on imports,” they add.
The authors say that academia has failed to adequately define what constitutes a "green" economy, including the metrics by which it should be measured. They add, however, that the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense appear “keen to develop social impact metrics that tie to environmental achievements for project funding decisions, thus driving demand by the private sector for standards that define their contributions to a green economy.”
Green economy metrics must integrate environmental impacts into calculations of socio-economic benefits within a biorefinery's "shed of influence," the report says. This includes answering the following types of questions:
· How do biorefineries build intellectual capacity within a community by attracting and retaining a green-educated workforce?
· How do cellulosic cropping systems improve water quality, which may reduce water purification costs for municipalities?
· How can improved habitat for animals and birds increase tourism and recreation?
· Do practices that sequester carbon enhance farm income, which in turn is spent within the community?