Benchmarking indicators with target values for monitoring.
© AdobeStock, Nuthawut

Nearly every indicator which provides information about the performance of the bioeconomy may be associated with target value(s). Those targets, while ideally derived from scientific understanding, are basically normative and usually defined by political processes. In quite a number of cases, trade-offs between different targets and sustainability goals may be observed, in particular when observations are crossing scales.

Like the indicators, their target values may apply to local, national, regional or global scales. For instance, the local threshold of 50 mg/l Nitrate in drinking water, which has been set for medical precaution, tends to limit the application of nitrogen fertilizer and manure on agricultural areas and tends to support organic farming practices. At the national level, in Germany, the area of forest must not be diminished, so that increasing demands for agriculture land can only be fullfilled by using foreign area, if no counteraction such as reduced food waste generation is taken.

At the global level, planetary boundaries have been suggested [1], and the Earth Commission is striving to update and extend the concept by identifying a safe and just corridor for people and the planet [2]. Besides boundaries for GHG emissions, nitrogen and phosphorous, the other thresholds considered address the state of the global environment. For effective measures to reach those thresholds, however, actionable targets are required which are closer to production and consumption activities. State targets must be translated into pressure-based management targets. For instance, a minimum extent of global forest area can only be conserved against deforestation when pressures such as the (a) overexploitation of forests, and (b) the expansion of agricultural land are halted. For that purpose, indicators like (a) the timber footprint of consumption can be compared to the national, regional or global net annual increment of forests in order to assess whether consumption levels exceed sustainable capacities [3]; and (b) the agricultural land footprint of a country´s product consumption can be compared to national, regional or global availability [4].

Recent orientation values for budgeting resource and climate footprints have been suggested for both biotic and abiotic resources [5].


Notes and references

  1. Rockström et al. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature. doi: 10.1038/461472a and Steffen et al. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. doi: 1126/science.1259855
  2. Rockström et al. (2021). Identifying a Safe and Just Corridor for People and the Planet. Earth’s Fut. doi:1029/2020EF001866
  3. Beck-O’Brien et al. (2022). Everything from wood – The resource of the future or the next crisis? How footprints, benchmarks and targets can support a balanced bioeconomy transition. WWF Germany. Available at:
  4. Bringezu et al. (2021). Environmental and socioeconomic footprints of the German bioeconomy. Sustain. doi: 10.1038/s41893-021-00725-3.
  5. Bringezu et al (2022). The World Budget: Safe and fair resource use for global survival and well-being.