Study Shows Adoption of Bonsucro Sustainability Standard Can Halve Sugarcane Industry GHG Emissions

Danielle Morley, CEO at Bonsucro

A new study published in PNAS journal finds widespread adoption of the Bonsucro Sustainability Standard could halve GHG emissions from sugarcane production.

A scientific study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, led by University of Minnesota, in collaboration with the Coca-Cola Company and other organisations1, reveals how global adoption of Bonsucro’s voluntary sustainability standard (VSS) could halve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (51%) in sugarcane production. With GHG emissions at the highest levels in history, the report highlights Bonsucro’s ability to provide scalable solutions to tackle climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The peer-reviewed study modelled the impacts of adopting the Bonsucro Standard across the sugarcane sector and found huge potential for environmental benefits, including how universal adoption would dramatically increase production yields in parts of the world, whilst reducing total production area (24%), water use (65%) and nutrient loading (34%)

This report uses Bonsucro as a case study. With climate change affecting every country and sugarcane demand expected to double, this scientific study suggests globally consistent sustainability standards like Bonsucro, offer an effective roadmap to reducing negative impacts of sugarcane production.

“This world-class research provides evidence Bonsucro’s Standard is an effective framework for addressing the negative effects of climate change” said Danielle Morley, CEO at Bonsucro. “Crucially, it shows that application of Bonsucro’s Standard leads to increased sugarcane yields, generating confidence in the Standard for producers and buyers of sugarcane products including sugar, ethanol and molasses. As a science-based, metric standard scheme, Bonsucro is committed to continuous improvements and will use the study to inform the revision of the Standard this year.”

The study’s authors hope their work informs individual consumers, large-scale buyers, and the agriculture industry alike. “This type of analysis is needed to advance sustainable consumption and production outcomes towards achieving sustainable development goals.” added Dr. Derric Pennington, a Fellow of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and corresponding author on the study. “We showcase the potential global environmental benefits of sustainability standards and certification schemes while remaining realistic and comprehensive.”

One such large buyer is the Coca-Cola Company, which partially funded the study. Ulrike Sapiro, Senior Director of Water Stewardship & Sustainable Agriculture at The Coca-Cola Company, commented: “The Coca-Cola Company is committed to sourcing sustainable agricultural ingredients and we are working with our suppliers to demonstrate progress through Voluntary Sustainability Standards, such as Bonsucro for sugarcane. We are very pleased that this study demonstrates Bonsucro’s potential of creating significant positive impacts for the environment and ecosystems, which is critical for further uptake by farmers and industry.”

The research has also found support from civil society. Alex Bjork, Director, Private Sector Engagement at World Wildlife Fund – US said: “This report demonstrates that the Bonsucro standard can have a positive environmental impact if implemented more widely, and that sustainability standards can play a role in helping society and business meet demand without depleting biodiversity.”

William Smith, lead author of the study and Assistant Professor, Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies at University of Arizona added: “Considering the effects of anthropogenic climate change on the success of these voluntary imposed regulations is a critical next step, because we know anthropogenic climate change is a major threat to sustainable development. Ideally, VSS should also increase resilience to such threats”.


The report assumes 100% compliance with Bonsucro’s standard criteria. Bonsucro certification allows members to comply with 80% of the non-core sustainability criteria, these results therefore highlight the ideal contribution Bonsucro certification would make to the environment and livelihoods throughout sugarcane’s global industry.

In collaboration with Bowdoin College, University of Arizona, University of Göttingen, University of Hawaii, Natural Capital Project, Rainforest Alliance, World Wildlife Fund and The Coca-Cola Company.