Developing Sustainability Indicators for Woody Biomass Harvesting in the United States

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Bioenergy production has increased significantly in the last decade, and recent legislative efforts such as the discussion draft for the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 and the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 are expected to encourage even more growth. The growing demand for bioenergy will necessitate production of large quantities of woody biomass and plant residues if it is to be met. However, concerns are being raised as to how increased pressures will affect the sustainability of woody biomass. In order to avoid potential pitfalls and ensure the sustainability of wood-based bioenergy systems, a set of sustainability indicators needs to be developed. Some of these indicators can be based on standards similar to those developed for sustainable forest management, energy balances, greenhouse gas emission reductions, and existing codes and guidelines for biomass harvesting. This article discusses a potential set of sustainability indicators encompassing ecological, economic, and social principles for harvesting woody biomass for bioenergy. The extent to which existing standards and certification systems reflect these indicators is elaborated upon. Methods for making these standards operational are also suggested.



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