Collaborating constructively for sustainable biotechnology

Nicholas E Matthews, Carrie A Cizauskas, Donovan S Layton, Laurence Stamford, Philip Shapira

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Tackling the pressing sustainability needs of society will require the development and application of new technologies. Biotechnology, emboldened by recent advances in synthetic biology, offers to generate sustainable biologically-based routes to chemicals and materials as alternatives to fossil-derived incumbents. Yet, the sustainability potential of biotechnology is not without trade-offs. Here, we probe this capacity for sustainability for the case of bio-based nylon using both deliberative and analytical approaches within a framework of Constructive Sustainability Assessment. We highlight the potential for life cycle CO2 and N2O savings with bio-based processes, but report mixed results in other environmental and social impact categories. Importantly, we demonstrate how this knowledge can be generated collaboratively and constructively within companies at an early stage to anticipate consequences and to inform the modification of designs and applications. Application of the approach demonstrated here provides an avenue for technological actors to better understand and become responsive to the sustainability implications of their products, systems and actions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19033
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date13 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • constructive sustainability assessment
  • sustainability
  • biotechnology
  • synthetic biology

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Biotechnology


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