While initially hailed to be the silver bullet for tackling climate change, reducing oil dependency and
providing an opportunity for rural development especially in poorer regions, severe criticism concerning
the environmental and social performance of bioenergy has been raised recently. One potential
solution for this problem that is increasingly discussed now is the certification of bioenergy.
In the wake of this discussion, a broad range of certification initiatives emerged during the last
years. However, this issue is predominantly debated in terms of the environmental implications.
Accordingly, governmental approaches to this issue often neglect the need for including social aspects
into sustainability principles and criteria, most prominently here the EU Renewable Energies
Directive (RED). Non-state voluntary certification initiatives, by accounting for the social implications
of increased bioenergy production, could therefore be seen as complementary governance
instruments that are able to fill the void left by state regulations in this respect.
After briefly addressing the reasons why state regulations tend to neglect social aspects concerning
this matter, this paper seeks to explore whether voluntary bioenergy certification schemes could
really be able to fulfill these hopes and provide the solution for the missing consideration of social
criteria for sustainable bioenergy. And how could these private non-state initiatives do so in a politically
and democratically legitimate way? So as to deal with these issues from a scientific perspective,
a distinct analytical framework to evaluate the legitimacy of private governance is presented.
Based on this framework, five voluntary bioenergy certification schemes are selected and their
consideration given to its social dimension is examined. In order to address the characteristics of
our conception of non-state legitimacy, the actor constellations behind these certification initiatives
are analyzed with a view to determine the structural representation of social interests. Furthermore,
we also give attention to the control and accountability mechanisms incorporated into the certification
schemes that are supposed to safeguard the common welfare-orientation of the initiatives. The
results of this analysis shed some light on the particular challenges and bottlenecks of ensuring social
sustainability via non-state voluntary certification systems in the bioenergy sector. In the concluding
chapter, these results are put into perspective and a more general discussion on the potential
of non-state voluntary governance approaches regarding the social dimension of environmental
governance are presented.
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