We all understand the concept of a hybrid vehicle. Unlike an electric vehicle (EV) that is totally powered by electricity, a hybrid vehicle runs on both fossil fuels and electricity. Hybrid vehicles were commercialized before EVs and have stayed popular ever since. Although hybrid vehicles are not totally powered by sustainable energy sources or totally pollution-free, people still support them because less fossil fuel is used when compared to traditional vehicles.
In a similar vein, the world is continuously moving toward circular-based manufacturing, transitioning products away from linear manufacturing. As such, we should embrace change and accelerate the change process. At the macro level, if some recycled, bio-based or renewable resources are being used along the value chain, we should capture that value and reward and encourage that action so more companies will be willing to participate. It is the same rationale behind people’s preference for hybrid vehicles rather than traditional ones.
This is where the mass balance approach comes in. With it, we can start to better encourage the use of more sustainable materials and push toward circular-based manufacturing.
The Mass Balance Approach
The mass balance approach is basically a transparent book-keeping process. Here's an example: A company sells 10 tons of bio-based, mass-balance-certified raw materials to a manufacturer; the manufacturer receives the bio-based feedstock and then adds it directly to its existing production. Among all outputs, the manufacturer could claim 10 tons of the product is made with bio-based resources. That 10 tons of product will then be sold to a converter for further processing. The converter could then pass the 10 tons’ mass-balance-certified processed product to a brand owner.
With the assumption that the whole value chain is engaged with mass balance, we can see sustainable raw materials flow along the value chain, and the volume is accurately recorded.
Benefits of the Mass Balance Approach
One major benefit of the mass balance approach is the practicality of its implementation. The implementation cost is low (both financially and timewise), as there is no physical segregation of the sustainable product. The product is directly integrated into the existing production system.
Mass balance is a bridge. When our society is truly circular, a tracking system will no longer be needed, as all production value chains will be fully sustainable and circular. Meanwhile, mass balance will be a practical approach to fill the gap. We should embrace it and encourage more companies and brand owners to participate in such a value-tracking exercise. Sustainability is fundamentally a collective action, and the success rate relies highly on the level of engagement.
Moving Toward Mass Balance
As mentioned, the mass balance approach aims to track the portion of sustainable material used and produced. It is a transparent book-keeping record that captures the sustainable value flowing along the value chain. As it is not a segregation system, some people challenge that there is still fossil-fuel-based material being used and that mass balance is solely a recording process.
Yes, it is true that mass balance is an integrated approach that aims to record the proportion of sustainable content flowing in the value chain. When we have achieved an ideal fully circular society, mass balance will not be needed. However, before the ideal world becomes a reality, we need some drivers to bring us there.
Innovative technologies and products, harmonized infrastructures and policies, changes to product designs and human behaviors and more are all catalysts to circularity. Most importantly, this can all only be successful if the level of engagement is high. Circularity cannot be achieved by just a small group of manufacturers and consumers. An easy-to-adopt approach could help and encourage participation in a value chain that contributes to the future of circularity.
Implementing a Mass Balance Approach
The implementation of mass balance can be simple and comes with minimal costs. Without any additional capital investment, there is also no need to alter your existing production line. After participating in this certification, what you only need is a clear, transparent and accurate record of the input of sustainable or bio-attributed materials used, as well as a record showing the equivalent volume declared soled. This approach is basically a drop-in solution.
If you plan for a product or production process that is mass-balance-certified, take a look at an ISCC Plus Certification. ISCC is a globally applicable sustainability certification system and covers all sustainable feedstocks, including agricultural and forestry biomass, circular and bio-based materials and renewables.
Why Should You Consider a Mass Balance Approach?
Because we need your support.
Again, circularity is fundamentally a collective action. If we can encourage more companies to use more sustainable materials, we are closer to our common circularity goal. For tools like mass balance, it is not a solution to circularity; it is one of the enablers.Natalia Scherbakoff is a member of Forbes Technology Council.
Get more insights from Scherbakoff’s thought leadership by reading her posts published on Forbes.com.