Constructing sustainable biofuels: Governance of the emerging biofuel economy

Robert Bailis, Jennifer Baka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


In recent decades, new modes of governance have emerged in which an array of non-nation-state actors (NNSAs) drive norms and behaviors related to the production and consumption of goods and services with potentially large environmental and social impacts. These modes of governance are evident in the governance of biofuels, where intergovernmental organizations, national and subnational governments, corporations, and civil society organizations have recently developed an array of standards, metastandards, and codes of conduct attempting to define the conditions in which crops can be grown, processed, and used as fuel. Although the field is populated by dozens of efforts, a few binding state-sponsored regulations appear to dominate the major markets for biofuels in the United States and European Union. Nevertheless, existing regulations were heavily influenced by NNSAs. Further, several state-derived modes of governing take the form ofmetastandards that permit standards developed by NNSAs to be used in their place, resulting in a hybrid system of state and nonstate governance regimes. The regimes taking shape attempt to minimize the negative impacts of biofuel production in numerous ways; for example, by introducing penalties for production associated with direct and indirect land use change, crediting for the coproduction of livestock feed, and encouraging biofuel production on marginal lands. However, these issues are plagued by contradictions, raising questions about how sustainability is defined and assessed in the context of biofuel governance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)827-838
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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