Measuring the (Un-)Sustainability of Industrial Biomass Production and Use

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The purpose of this paper is to explore the scope of applications and benefits of sustainability accounting for the production and industrial use of biomass as an energy source and substitute for fossil-fuel use. As environmental degradation and unacceptable social impacts not only increase from the production and use of fossil-fuel based energy, but also from alternative energy sources, the monitoring, controlling and measuring of the (un-)sustainability of alternative energy production and use emerges as an area in critical need of research. The paper presents a review of the issues surrounding the accounting for the (un-)sustainability of industrial biomass production and use, considering what biomass is, the current and forecast importance of industrial biomass, different approaches to its production, and the subsequent measurement and monitoring of its potential (un-)sustainability. The paper finds that it is insufficient to conclude in general terms, as is often done or assumed in policy documents and statements, that industrial production and use of biomass is sustainable (or unsustainable) and that accounting for biomass must recognise the broader ecological and social system of which the production and use form a part. A further finding of the paper is that from agricultural or industrial production of biomass through to consumption and industrial use of biomass, the accounting issues surrounding biomass production and use are essential to determining its (un-)sustainability. The paper provides an overview of the importance of and problems with the production of biomass for industrial use, and related sustainability issues. It discusses possibilities for and limitations of accounting to address these sustainability issues as well as the need for and the challenges in measuring the (un-)sustainability of biomass production for industrial use and the accounting for sustainability improvements.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)109-133
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 16.11.2012