Society and sustainability
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14 December 2020

Bioeconomy: Involving society

With the aim of promoting sustainable business practices, Germany has set out on the path to a bio-based economy. It is important to involve society in this transformation in order to shape this change towards more sustainability in a sustainable manner.

The economy is entering a phase of transition from a fossil-based to a bio-based economy – the bio-economy. The goal of the bio-economy is sustainability. While this is still a vision at present, it is also a strategy. The strategy is being brought to life with more and more concrete examples, though it will be several years before we reach the goal of a climate-neutral, sustainable economy.

The first companies in Germany have recognized the importance of sustainability for the future of their business. Some have already replaced fossil raw materials and starting materials with bio-based substances or are in the process of converting chemical processes into biotechnological processes. The German Government is helping to drive this change, partly in response to the necessary structural change that it wants to drive forward in the lignite mining regions (Dieken and Venhaus 2020).

What does society think?

What are the public perceptions of this biotransformation? What opinion does the public have regarding the use of biotechnology, the key technology in the bio-economy strategy? Critical attitudes toward biotechnological methods, which are often equated with the use of genetic engineering, are currently shaping public discourse. However, an energy and raw material turnaround will not be possible without biotechnology. It is therefore all the more important to involve society in this transformation process, which contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to educate it about technologies, risks and opportunities.

“... criticisms of the bio-economy’s lack of sustainability are justified. But why is the bio-economy nevertheless seen as a key to sustainable, environment-friendly business practices that can make a decisive contribution to a CO2-neutral economy?”

Professor Bodo Philipp: "On the way to the [bio]economy: Learning from biology", ZIN Blog

To make one thing clear: Bio-based production is not automatically sustainable. The bio-economy’s lack of sustainability in some cases is therefore justifiably criticized. However, this criticism shows above all that some processes that are meant to lead to an environment-friendly economy have not yet been fully thought through – by the companies and/or by the policy. In this context, the innovative strength of biotechnology companies is called for in order to develop alternative bio-based products or biotechnological solutions for the manufacturing industry.

Interested readers can find an article on how we can learn from biological principles and expand the term bioeconomy in the Sustainability Blog of the ZIN, Center for Interdisciplinary Sustainability Research (in German only). Dieken and Venhaus (2020) have recently published an analysis to determine the public perception of the bio-economy and the relevant ideas and arguments.

Interdisciplinary participatory research

In the transdisciplinary research project BIOCIVIS, the participating actors deal with the question of what contribution social participation makes to the sustainability of bioeconomic processes, using microbial biotechnology as an example. What does this mean in concrete terms? Based on democratic theories ideas and findings from participation research, participation formats are being developed that can be used in future to improve participation in decision-making processes.

The research project BIOCIVIS (funding code 031B0780) started on November 1, 2019, under the direction of Professor Doris Fuchs (Institute of Political Science, WWU Muenster) and Professor Bodo Philipp (Institute of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, WWU Muenster) and is located at the Center for Interdisciplinary Sustainability Research (ZIN). The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports the project during its three-year term. "Interdisciplinary research” means that political scientists and biologists work closely together and want to engage partners, including companies in microbial biotechnology and actors from other social areas, as well as citizens in a dialogue on participation processes. BRAIN is one of the participating companies. The planned dialogue rounds with all stakeholders are to be made up for in the summer of 2021.


Dieken S. et Venghaus S. (2020) Potential Pathways to the German Bioeconomy: A Media Discourse Analysis of Public Perceptions. Sustainability 2020, 12(19), 7987;

Philipp B: Auf dem Weg zur [Bio]Ökonomie: Von der Biologie lernen? Nachhaltigkeits-Blog des Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Nachhaltigkeitsforschung (ZIN), Article form 24 November 2020.

→ Learn more about BRAIN´s biotechnology portfolio

→ Learn more about some of BRAIN´s bio-based solutions for industry

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