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Open Access Open Badges Original article

Social sustainability in certification schemes for biofuel production: an explorative analysis against the background of land use constraints in Brazil

Anna Mohr1 and Linda Bausch2*

Author Affiliations

1 GLOKAL Kompetenzzentrum Nachhaltigkeit im Globalen Wandel, Hochschule Bremen, Neustadtwall 30, Bremen 28199, Germany

2 Department Bioenergie in Kooperation mit dem Department Bioenergiesysteme des Deutschen Biomasseforschungszentrums gemeinnützige GmbH (DBFZ), UFZ - Helmholtz Zentrum für Umweltforschung, Torgauer Straße 116, Leipzig 04347, Germany

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Energy, Sustainability and Society 2013, 3:6  doi:10.1186/2192-0567-3-6

Published: 21 March 2013



This article examines the scope of voluntary certification schemes, based on the sustainability criteria of the European Renewable Energy Directive for biofuel production in the context of social sustainability and land use issues in Brazil. Possibilities and limitations of such certification schemes are discussed against the background of the rapid-changing Brazilian agricultural sector.


Brazil was chosen as a case study being both one of the first countries where ethanol certification projects are implemented and a potential certified ethanol-exporting country. To capture social effects concerning land use connected to an increased ethanol production, semi-structured expert interviews were conducted within an explorative approach in São Paulo in the years 2011 and 2012. The study addresses the following question: what is the scope of certification concerning social sustainability in the light of a rising demand on agricultural land?


An increasing demand for biofuels and other agricultural goods, as cash crops, leads to a concentration process of agricultural production. Land price hikes in infrastructural well-connected agricultural areas and the uneven distribution of land in Brazil are leading to newly arising negative effects on social sustainability. We assume that certification schemes have a limited scope in the above mentioned environments.


As the scale of certification schemes is based on production-chain-governance, indirect and macro effects concerning social sustainability in Brazil cannot be addressed by this instrument. Hence, there is a strong need for comprehensive public regulation on land use issues on a national and international level in order to flank land use concentration in dynamic agricultural sectors, such as the Brazilian one.

Voluntary certification schemes; Social sustainability; Land use dynamics; Ethanol; Brazil