Giving credit where credit is due…Certifications and the bioeconomy

May 28, 2019 |

How do you know a company is telling the truth about their sustainability claims? How do you know that biofuel X really achieves an 80% GHG emissions savings over fossil fuels? How do you know they aren’t telling “Big Little Lies” like on HBO’s show with stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley spinning in tales of mischief?

Well, certifications are one way to help gauge transparency, honesty, verification. And there’s been some big news in certifications over the last week.

In Switzerland, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials had some exciting news  when SkyNRG and KLM announced their commitment to RSB certification at a new Dutch plant.

In case you missed our breaking news, in Amsterdam, SkyNRG and KLM announced the first European alternative aviation fuel plant. To be built by SkyNRG, KLM has made a commitment to purchase 75, 000 tons of fuel per year over 10 years. With the plant due to be operational in 2022, the announcement was coupled with a commitment to achieve RSB certification for the facility – cementing its social and environmental credentials a sustainability standard for the circular and bio-based economy.

So what’s the big deal about having certified fuel? To start with, the fuel produced at the DSL-01 facility will boast a CO2 emissions reduction of approximately 85%. How do we know? It has been assessed by RSB in its planning phase to ensure it is in a good position to comply with RSB’s sustainability standard.

The development of the plant is great news for travelers everywhere looking for leadership from airlines and fuel suppliers as they seek ways to fly more sustainably. A plant on this scale, using primarily waste and residue feedstock, producing extremely low carbon fuel for a major airline demonstrates what can be achieved when one merges sustainability criteria and new technologies.

RSB-certified alternative aviation fuels, adhering to a holistic approach to a broad range of risks, are ensuring real sustainability and lasting solutions for decarbonizing the aviation industry – whilst addressing any possible social and environmental challenges. Commitment to producing and sourcing RSB-compliant fuels shows the world that SkyNRG and KLM are aiming for the very highest levels of sustainability while creating enormous positive climate impacts through significant greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Rolf Hogan, Executive Director of RSB: “We are pleased and proud that KLM and SkyNRG are committed to RSB certification of the sustainable aviation fuel. Our standards are globally considered to be the best in class. Our 12 comprehensive principles include greenhouse gas emissions, human and labor rights, practices to maintain soil health and water use, food security, and rural and social development. None of the other standards use such a broad range of criteria.”

Maarten van Dijk, Executive Director of SkyNRG: “We are very proud to announce this project today and that we will be realising it in the Netherlands together with such strong partners. For us and our partners, this project is an important milestone in further upscaling the market for sustainable aviation fuel and RSB certification is key to demonstrating our commitment to the highest levels of environmental and social sustainability. We are the first to take a step on this scale and we hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the industry in the transition towards a sustainable future for commercial aviation.”

Tasma Bioenergy Certification

RSB also has some big news to share exclusively first with The Digest readers – about Tasma Bioenergy, a biomass energy company, which achieved the first RSB certification in Indonesia. Tasma Bioenergy applied RSB’s Standard for Advanced Fuels – which enables the certification of production residues by defining an approach for the specific sustainability risks and traceability factors at play – to their production of steam energy from agricultural and industrial waste materials. This enables Tasma Bioenergy to assure their customers that they are selling truly sustainable energy for other industrial processes.

Harshad Bhat, Vice President at Tasma Bioenergy explained, “Sustainability is inherent to our business model and the right thing to do. RSB offers Tasma a great platform to foster customer trust by verifying our commitment to sustainable operations.”

“Companies procuring energy from Tasma Bioenergy can be certain of their robust, verified sustainability practices and real greenhouse gas savings,” according to the press release. “Passing this sustainable best practice on to their clients, Tasma is providing a solution for industrial processors looking to demonstrate sustainability in their supply chain. In a typical project, Tasma can produce Greenhouse Gas emission reductions of approximately 90% for its clients.”

“We are thrilled to issue this new certification to Tasma Bioenergy in Indonesia – who are demonstrating that with the right leadership the bioeconomy in that region can thrive sustainably. By producing energy for other industrial operators, Tasma is helping to build more sustainable supply chains across the region and we look forward to seeing their business continue to thrive!” said Rolf Hogan, Executive Director of RSB.

Do we really need certifications?

For those in Europe, you probably are well aware of certifications since it is one of the European Commission’s requirement to show compliance with the EU Renewable Energy Directive’s sustainability criteria.

But why do we even have them? To start with, it’s a way to prove what companies say they are doing is really true. It offers transparency so buyers and consumers can know for sure that the claims a company makes has been verified and is true.

Just think about the USDA organic label, the Energy Star label, the FairTrade label, the FSC label or any of the other labels out there that have verified a product has been produced with certain criteria in mind. It might be environmental, or social, or combination. It’s how we know someone outside of the company (i.e. 3rd party verified auditor in most cases) checked on what the company was doing (visiting the production plant or field, reviewing records, etc.), to verify what they say they are doing is really true. That’s it in a super simplified statement.

RSB’s is the first standard to develop a credible approach for the use of production waste and residues – including from non-biogenic sources – for fuels and products, and was developed and approved by its many stakeholders, including social and environmental NGOs, UN agencies, academia and industry, which helps make it stand apart.

Some other certifications out there are feedstock specific, like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which just last week announced that they are partnering with BASF, The Estée Lauder Companies, and the civil society organization, Solidaridad, to promote sustainable palm oil and palm derivatives production in the district of Waykanan, Lampung, Indonesia.

There are even some newbies to the scene, like SustainAccounting, which has close ties to the non-profit Center for Sustainable Organizations. SustainAccounting just launched its Certified Triple Bottom Line (TBL) program for organizations, Certified TBL Orgs, “the world’s first certification program for integrated TBL measurement and reporting,” according to their press release. The Vermont based organization said it’s Certified TBL program differs from all other CSR- / sustainability-related certifications in several ways, which you can read more about here.

McElroy, who also founded the Center for Sustainable Organizations in 2004 and who currently leads the Certified TBL program at SustainAccounting, had this to say about the announcement:

“The Certified TBL program is the world’s first and only certification credential that explicitly targets the management accounting function in organizations, and in particular the degree to which it measures, manages and reports Triple Bottom Line performance. And none too soon, mind you – indeed, how can anyone expect managers operating in today’s new economy to be effective using accounting tools forged in the old one? The Certified TBL program solves this problem by providing managers with exactly the kind of expanded, Triple Bottom Line performance accounting system they need to be successful in today’s world!”

Importantly, the MultiCapital Scorecard method featured in the Certified TBL program has been endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as precisely the kind of performance accounting tool that “all companies” should be using; just as B Lab, creators of the Certified B Corps program, has also endorsed it for reporting in Benefit Corporations, according to SustainAccounting’s press release.

As McElroy points out, “These two programs – B Corps and TBL Orgs – are in no way competitive and indeed are quite complementary. Every Certified B Corp can aspire to become a Certified TBL Org as well, since there can be no better way of fulfilling the measurement and reporting needs of purpose-driven organizations than to use context-based accounting. As an accounting solution for not just profit-oriented companies, but for B Corps, non-profits and other socially committed organizations, too, TBL accounting is uniquely fit for purpose!”

In California, Center for Resource Solutions has embarked upon a process to create a new Green-e standard and certification program for renewable gas products and associated environmental attributes. Publication is expected in mid-2020. In the future, CRS will consider expansion of the program to address other renewable fuels and renewable thermal energy products.

The goal of the Standard is to accelerate the adoption of RNG, while ensuring that the gas is from sustainable renewable resources, meets the highest environmental standards, and that customers are protected in their purchase and ability to make verifiable usage claims.

CRS has convened a Working Group and an Advisory Group to provide environmental, technical, and market input prior to the opening of public stakeholder consultation on the new proposed Standard. The Advisory Group is comprised of environmental nonprofit organizations, Green-e Governance Board members, academic experts, and industry stakeholders. Relevant dates for the standard-development process, including public comment periods, are also listed at Green-e Standard Setting.

Bottom Line

Quality management, quality control, transparency, verification – those any many other words come to mind on why certifications are important. But perhaps the most important reason why they are important is pretty simple. To ensure we are doing the best we possibly can. That’s what the biofuels and biobased economy is based on…doing the right thing, making profit and surviving and thriving while helping people and planet in some small, or big, way.

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