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Improving bio-literacy

  • Kes McCormick
Publishing year: 2008
Language: English
Document type: Conference paper

Abstract english

Expanding bio-energy can help to fight climate change and improve energy security. The bio-energy industry in the EU is booming. Much of this success is based on the supportive EU directives and strategies that are stimulating national policies and innovation processes. However, the bio-energy industry is being confronted with a number of interconnected challenges that threaten its reputation, legitimacy and long-term progress. These include:

• Debates in the popular media and political spheres on sensitive issues, such as the production of first generation biofuels and the impacts on biodiversity/rainforests and if such fuels can really contribute to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. There are also questions being raised about second generation biofuels, food versus fuels, and large-scale plantations of energy crops.

• There remains a need for coherent and progressive national policies across member states to continue to stimulate growth in the bio-energy industry. While the EU has a large number of supportive policies and measures for bio-energy, only a handful of member states are following this lead. Greater efforts by member states are required to meet EU targets and goals.

In a democracy, government and industry depend on informed citizens and consumers to drive responsible and significant solutions. But on the issue of bio-energy in the EU, most citizens are not well-informed (Rohracher et al. 2004; Caserta & Smedile 2003). At the same it is difficult for the general public to recognise misleading information and ideological viewpoints in the media. That’s why greater bio-literacy among the general public is critically needed to support (and adapt if necessary) the bio-energy industry.

Bio-literacy refers to the knowledge, understanding and legitimacy of bio-energy among the general public as well as opinion-formers (such as journalists in the popular media). This paper argues that improving bio-literacy will require a communication strategy that goes beyond conventional approaches, such as leaflets, conferences, academic articles and basic websites. For example, the internet and the emergence of web 2.0 applications offer extraordinary opportunities to communicate and interact.

This paper utilizes knowledge from the (limited) literature on bio-energy, public perceptions and communication, as well as experiences and observations from EU projects and conferences on bio-energy. These projects and conferences often apply conventional approaches to communicate research results and share information. However, the impact of these approaches is questionable. The purpose of this paper is to critically evaluate and discuss 4 main questions. These include:

1. What is the current understanding of bio-energy among the general public?

2. What are the key lessons from experiences with communication on bio-energy?

3. What are the emerging “hot” topics in the media for the bio-energy industry?

4. What communication channels can be utilised to inform EU citizens and opinion-formers about bio-energy?


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Bioenergy
  • Biomass
  • Biofuels
  • Communication


Sustainable Innovation Conference
Malmö, Sweden
Kes McCormick
E-mail: kes [dot] mccormick [at] iiiee [dot] lu [dot] se

The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE)

Lund University P.O. Box 196, 22100 Lund, Sweden
Visiting Address: Tegnérsplatsen 4,Lund

Telephone: + 46 46 222 00 00 Fax: + 46 46 222 02 10