This is the fourth post in a series covering BSR at the Rio+20 Summit. The first post reflects on accomplishments in CSR over the past 20 years, and the second discusses corporate strategies for human rights. The third post explores BSR's Future of Fuels initiative. The fifth post compares Rio+20 and the G20 Leaders' Summit.

As government representatives gather to discuss the future of sustainability at Rio+20, there’s no dodging the fact that world energy demand is rising rapidly—some experts project a 50 percent increase by 2035—and that this growth will put unprecedented pressure on our planet. In the past, people have relied on governments to take the lead for global challenges, but we must now seek more collaborative, wide-reaching solutions.

When addressing fuel sustainability, most of the key players—companies, governments, and NGOs—tend to work in isolation, resulting in one-sided plans. Sustainability impacts of fuel production and use are multifaceted and go beyond environmental concerns: Economic development, labor, human rights, and social impacts must also be taken into account.

BSR’s Future of Fuels initiative brings together companies, governments, and NGOs to discuss and formulate a holistic roadmap for the global supply of transportation fuels going forward. Initially, Future of Fuels has focused on North America, but while meeting at a side event during the Rio+20 Summit, we’ll engage with South American representatives, who represent the supply side of fuels. Their interest: expanding the biofuels market.

The overall potential and actual benefits of biofuels over fossil fuels still must be proved, however. There are concerns about human rights and labor violations in the supply chain, for example. The rights of indigenous peoples, a particularly acute issue in South America, could be at risk. Additionally, large-scale cultivation without sustainable practices will negatively affect water, land, and biodiversity, as current agricultural approaches often do.

There is hope that more advanced, second-generation (and beyond) biofuels may offer greater benefits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and that strategic placement of biofuel crops in locations that are not water-restricted may decrease their environmental impacts. Furthermore, biofuel cultivation can offer greater economic and social benefits, if labor protections are in place. (We will cover the potential of biofuels, among other topics, in an upcoming Future of Fuels report.)

Although current biofuels are not the silver bullet for the future sustainability of fuels, they can offer one part of a broader solution. South American companies will join us in Rio to examine how we can begin to make progress in sustainability and efficiency, and to make the case for biofuels, such as sugar cane-based ethanol. We welcome the opportunity to bring together cross-sector players to co-develop solutions to one of our biggest global challenges: how to meet our insatiable need for fuel while protecting and perpetuating environmental, social, and economic benefits.