Bio-based materials vs renewable: what is the difference?

Renewable materials are materials that can be replenished or regenerated in a relatively short period of time. According to definitions from the European Committee of Standardization, a “renewable material” means a material that is composed of biomass and can be continually replenished. Related to this, a material can be called “rapidly renewable” when it has a harvest cycle of ten years or less (Materials – Sustainability ( Leather is therefore renewable.

Renewable materials are often preferred over non-renewable materials, such as fossil fuels, because they can be replenished more quickly and do not contribute to the depletion of Earth’s resources.


Bio-based materials are materials derived from biomass such as plants, animals or other (once) living organism. Biobased materials are a way to achieve higher renewability. Biobased materials are often preferred over non-biobased materials, such as petroleum-based plastics, because they are likely to have a lower carbon footprint and may be more environmentally friendly. Biobased materials keep the earth in balance (taking and giving back) whereas petroleum-based materials only take from the earth.

Is bio-based or renewable always more sustainable?

In summary, renewable materials are materials that can be replenished quickly, while biobased materials are materials that are derived from living organisms or their byproducts. Both renewable and bio-based materials can be sustainable, but they are not the same thing.

For example, wood is a renewable material but if using it contributes to deforesting, it is not environmental friendly. It is thus important to always look further than just the renewability and bio-based level. The overall sustainability of a product could be evaluated by looking at its life cycle and if possible, quantitatively measured by a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

More information on LCA can be found in our sustainability Q&A document.

biobased materials

Examples of biobased materials in leather

What biobased materials can be used to replace petrochemicals? Royal Smit & Zoon uses a wide range of classical and new innovative readily renewable / bio-based ingredients for its products. For example vegetable oils or vegetable origin products, such as wheat flour, lecithin, synthetic lanoline from biobased materials, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, soy bean oils, and molasses. Also pectins from sugar beet pulp are suitable as bio-based ingredients in the production of leather. 

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Th importance of bio-based materials for circularity

Bio-based or renewable materials are very important for closing the carbon cycle (circularity). Plants transform atmospheric CO2 into biomass, which is later transferred to animals. The bio-based content of products keeps previously absorbed carbon from re-entering the atmosphere as green house gas emissions thus helps to close the carbon cycle. In contrast, the production as well as the decomposition (by for example incineration) of fossil-based materials has a high contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Learn more and download our whitepaper ‘Renewability of materials in the leather value chain’.

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