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Careers in Sustainability Excellence

Final Report Summary - CASTLE (Careers in Sustainability Excellence)

The purpose of the CASTLE project was to close the gap between a growing body of academic environmental research and a limited uptake in business to address the need for sustainability assessment methods that quantify environmental, economic and social impacts for the bio-based economy. CASTLE contributed towards this by combining scientific innovative problem-oriented research and practical training of young academics on methods used for sustainability impact assessments (SIA) in the bioenergy and forest-based sector in Europe.

CASTLE had the following scientific and technical objectives: to innovate sustainability impact assessment methods that can be applied to current sustainability challenges in society and business, for land use management and regional planning and policy-making; to apply sustainability impact assessment, scenario analyses, carbon accounting, product footprint, and other related methods to cases in the forest-based and bioenergy sectors in Europe and elsewhere; and to cross-link these approaches to ensure consistency at different scales of sustainability assessments. Furthermore, the ambition was to support the development of sustainable business activities in the knowledge-based bioeconomy by disseminating the CASTLE methods and tools for sustainability assessment. These objectives were addressed in the research projects conducted by the CASTLE Early Stage Researchers (ESR). The 14 research topics were grouped into three Work Packages, which brought together a societal, scientific and business perspective in an innovative cross-linkage of complementary sustainability impact assessment methodologies.

Work Package 1 Societal valuation of sustainability impacts aimed to develop and apply SIA methods for utilisation in public decision making and policy development at various governance levels. The studies covered different land use sectors (agriculture and forestry) and multiple product value chains (bio-energy from agriculture and forestry, traditional forest-wood chains (FWCs), new product value chains). Focus was put on the valuation of biomass production impacts in the light of resource efficiency, particularly energy efficiency. The WP comprised research in five ESR activities. They all had in common the assessment of alternative scenarios of agricultural and forestry production chains with focus on bio-energy. The application of those methods should enable decision-makers and other stakeholders to anticipate and discuss the possible impacts of bio-energy value chains on key parameters of societal challenges and sustainable development. The tasks included methodological challenges related to modelling, indicator development, life cycle assessment, and biophysical accounting at the system level. Result highlights include: regional agronomic strategies for increasing energy efficiency and reducing net carbon balance and blue water demand of agro-bioenergy systems; the assessment of value-based ecosystem service trade-offs in multi-objective management in European mountain forests; an innovative production and procurement of forest fuels resulting in 13% lower GHG emissions and simultaneously reduced supply costs and increased energy efficiency through whole-tree harvest in early thinnings and integrated harvesting of tops and branches with stem wood assortments; an assessment of resource efficiency gains and GHG emission reductions of cascading use of wood biomass in the European Union.

Work Package 2 Methods for quantification of sustainability criteria aimed to develop method related to life cycle assessment (LCA) as well as for tracking and accounting carbon. The two LCA studies carried out did apply LCA methodology to the woodworking industries and made available empirical information on biodiversity in forests to be used in LCA. The focus of the first study was on a techno-ecological evaluation of wood-plastic composites (WPC) which face complexity challenges in terms of resource supply chains, heterogenous processing techniques and the environmental concerns at the end-of-life stage. The result of the second study on biodiversity can be included in the LCA, for example by using the carbon emissions related to one m³ of harvested wood, or the carbon emissions related to the
decomposition or destruction of one m3 of dead wood, as a proxy for biodiversity loss. The third and fourth studies of this WP had a special focus estimating carbon effects of harvested wood products and mitigation options through innovative use of wood products. In the third one, results obtained by flow analysis, carbon accounting as well as scenario analysis show that in most cases alternative wood use has significant trade-offs between environmental, social and economic sustainability and differences are great between different EU countries. As a result of the fourth study, a wood products simulation model was created and tested to estimate how an improved cascade use of harvested wood can mitigate climate change using Germany as study case.

Work Package 3 Sustainable Companies and Products focused on the application of SIA methods and tools for improving company sustainability and communication of sustainability impacts of company practices and products. The work package comprised of 5 ESRs’ specific research projects on the following themes: adapting Sustainability Impact Assessment to enterprise management, integrating environmental impacts management to enterprise resource planning services, developing synthetic impact indicators for resources use, proposing tools and pathways for eco-efficient transport of wood and for the climate change impact assessment of SME’s products. The research topics within WP3 have been handled through the recollection of expectations of the enterprises, the analysis of existing practices, some theoretical developments from methods and tools existing in other domains and the testing of the implementation on companies. Finally, the selected research objectives have touched on management and organizational practices in the field of sustainability management in the economic activities of forest-wood chains and the development of practical sustainability impact assessment pathways and tools for the companies. Concepts and approaches for helping economic actors to practically implement sustainability development in the sector have been elaborated. The results highlights include: Lessons on how firms can make decisions in an increasingly complex and uncertain world to better manage unintended consequences of actions in their business; a social impact assessment of community energy based on analysis of best evidence and practice; a study of eco-efficient timber transport solutions in the French region of Limousin, revealing strong potentials for collaboration on logistics but little to no support among the actors, who are competing for the wood resources; an application of the simplified parametric modelling approach to simplify product LCAs for SMEs with limited resources for environmental assessments.

The research training component was divided into four different WPs as follows:
WP4 Sustainability Impact Assessment Methods Training consisted of altogether five modules, which trained the ESRs in holistic sustainable systems thinking and provided them with theoretical and practical understanding of SIA methods and tools.
WP5 Life Cycle Assessment and Carbon Accounting Training focused on the quantification of environmental impacts of forest and bioenergy value chains as an important component of SIA. It included seven training modules altogether.
WP6 Sustainable Companies and Products Training included four modules which focused on the application of SIA methods and indicators in practical applications to communicate company and product performance against sustainability targets. These modules provided the ESRs with insights into the science-practice interface with concrete examples of applications of SIA methods in regular company practices.
WP7 Complementary Skills Training covered training in skills required from future experts working in international, multidisciplinary teams, looking for solutions to complex problems. The modules included an overview of international agreements and EU policies governing sustainability issues, information management skills, and communication training to enhance the ESRs’ presentations skills.

CASTLE organized a successful open science conference “Towards a Sustainable Bioeconomy — Innovative Methods and Solutions for the Agriculture and Forest Sectors” with 80 participants and a science-policy-practice interaction day on the timely topic of “Cascade use of biomass”. Information on the conference is presented with other project outcomes on the CASTLE website