Certified Sustainability

Hand touches the leaves of a plant

Two main goals of lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reducing our dependency on fossil reserves form the cornerstone for the accelerated shift towards a bio- and circular economy. The growing consumer demand for actions against environmental pollution and depletion of already limited natural resources has resulted in an update of policies and regulatory requirements (Climate Neutrality, Plastic Strategy, Green Deal, Circular Economy Action Plan etc). Within this framework, there is a growing market demand for decarbonised, sustainable, and circular materials accelerated further by leading brand owners committing to ambitious sustainability targets. In case of complex supply chains there is the need to establish a credible connection between sustainability information on products and alternative feedstock used for their production. To ensure sustainability, traceability, and feedstock identity along these complex supply chains, industry leaders like Eni have opted for the ISCC PLUS certification, which is a part of the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) Scheme. And Eni's chemical company, Versalis has already obtained this certification for production from bio-naphtha and chemical recycling (pyrolysis oil) to expand their range of certified sustainable products.

Understanding the scope of the ISCC system

ISCC system is a multi-stakeholder initiative that has more than 170 members. It provides solutions for the implementation and certification of sustainable, deforestation-free, and traceable supply chains of:

  • agricultural and forestry raw materials;
  • waste and residue raw materials (includes both post-consumer and post-industrial waste);
  • renewable materials of non-biological origin;
  • recycled materials and fuels.

And ISCC PLUS is a trusted standard designed for the Circular Economy and Bio-economy. It is a voluntary certification for markets that are not addressed by specific regulations like Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), such as:

  • biofuel markets outside EU and bioenergy;
  • food and feed;
  • chemicals/technical applications.

Within ISCC PLUS, the whole upstream supply chain, up to the production of the sustainable feedstock, is entirely certified by ISCC.

ISCC PLUS Standard: key facts

The bio-based chemicals industry spurred the initial growth of ISCC PLUS. More recently, the number of ISCC PLUS certificates has grown rapidly from less than 300 at the end of 2019 to more than 900 (as of June 2021), which is largely because of the accelerated transition towards a circular economy for plastics and chemicals. Across the full supply chain from point of origin of the initial raw material via the petrochemical and chemical industry to converters and brand-owners, it verifies correct data on: sustainable volumes; raw material categories; claims. ISCC also provides the option to adapt ISCC PLUS certificates to specific market requirements through voluntary add-ons such as GHG emissions.


Raw material categories and types of feedstock covered:

  • bio-based: bio-based feedstocks derived from biomass, whereas biomass refers to the biodegradable fraction of products. Example: corn, sugarcane;
  • bio-circular: bio-based feedstocks derived from waste and residues of biological origin from agriculture, forestry, and related industries including fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste. Example: tall oil, straw;
  • circular: feedstocks include material derived from the mechanical and/or chemical processing of recyclable waste materials of non-biological origin (fossil-based) that has not been landfilled or energetically used. Example: mixed plastic waste, CO2;
  • renewable: feedstocks cover materials of non-biological origin, derived from a process using renewable energy sources other than biomass, in which the input feedstock must not contain usable energy. 

Chain of custody concepts

The following two options exist within ISCC:

Physical Segregation Mass Balance Approach
Sustainable certified and non-certified bio-based or fossil materials are physically segregated in the production process throughout the supply chain Mixing of sustainable, unsustainable, or fossil material in the production process but separated in bookkeeping
Advantage: Allows for stronger claims like 100% certified sustainable material Advantage: Possible to attribute the calculated share of bio-based and/or circular feedstock on an equivalent basis to one or more outputs

ISCC mass balancing options and calculations:

Option Approach Principle
Mass Determination Attribution Approach Free attribution to one or several outputs
Energetic Determination Attribution Approach Free attribution to one or several outputs
Trace-the-Atom Molecular Approach Determination based on chemical reaction
12C/14C Analysis Measurement Measurement of sustainable share

Calculation Guidelines:

  • only related to sustainable material;
  • maximum time-frame of 3 months allowed;
  • must be site- and scope-specific;
  • sustainability characteristics stated in bookkeeping: raw material category and type of product; country of origin of the raw material; waste/residue status of the raw material (differentiation if the raw material is a post-consumer or post-industrial waste); add-ons applied (every individual add-on or set of add-ons applied requires separate bookkeeping) such as information on GHG emissions (voluntary under ISCC PLUS). 

This comprehensive certification, therefore, builds up credibility and acceptance for both, B2B partners and consumers and is being widely used for reporting under regulatory frameworks or voluntary initiatives.

Earlier this year, Versalis obtained the ISCC PLUS certification, which marks an important step towards the launch of certified sustainable products in the market. To learn more about their plastics circularity roadmap, I recently caught up with Alessandra Colombo, Head of Circular Economy & Sustainability at Versalis.

Q: When was the ISCC Plus certification process initiated at Versalis and what is the current status?

A: We started the process of identifying the most appropriate certification scheme in 2019 carrying out a detailed assessment. After an in-depth review, we selected ISCC PLUS together with RINA as the third-party certification body, whose team was of great help in understanding this new certification and managing the related activities.

The certification process started off early in 2020 and within the year, i.e. by December 2020, Versalis obtained the ISCC PLUS certification to produce from bio-naphtha and chemical recycling (pyrolysis oil).

The goal is to complete the certification process for all our plants in Italy and abroad by the end of 2021.

Q: What were the key deciding factors that made you choose this voluntary certification scheme?

A: The chemical industry is evolving rapidly and environmental considerations are at the core of every decision. It is important to drive innovation in the industry while increasing the sustainability and circularity of processes and products. We, at Versalis, wish to play an important role in this transition and also in contributing to the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Feedstock diversification is one of the key pillars of circular economy development and our aim is to find the right balance between renewables and secondary raw materials. It is equally important for us to monitor and demonstrate product sustainability throughout the supply chain.

Therefore, ISCC PLUS, with its solid and well-documented rules was an obvious choice! Also, the fact that a growing number of companies are opting for the ISCC PLUS certificate lends further credibility and makes it a trusted standard across the value chain. This certification ensures traceability throughout the complex supply chain and provides our customers and consumers complete transparency w.r.t. the sustainability claims.

Q: Which product categories does this certification apply to?

A: The ISCC Plus certification covers our comprehensive product portfolio i.e. monomers and intermediates –ethylene, propylene, benzene, styrene, butadiene, and polymers– polyethylene, styrenics, and elastomers produced with sustainable raw materials from bio-naphtha and chemical recycling (pyrolysis oil). These certified grades do not differ in their physical and mechanical properties versus virgin grades derived from fossil-based raw materials. This allows their use as drop-in replacements by our customers because they do not require any additional tests or investment.

Q: Can you explain the difference between the new labels bio attributed, bio-circular attributed and circular attributed?

A: The term attributed comes from the attribution approach, which is one of the options under ISCC's mass-balancing model. It follows the principle of free attribution to one or several outputs and using this approach, the product is allocated with specific sustainability characteristics. Further, based on the type of feedstock, we created these 3 labels that support our endeavors to have transparent and credible claims for our customers and consumers.

Etichetta Materia prima
Bio-attributed Bionafta ottenuta da olio vegetale
Bio-circular attribuited Bionafta ricavata da rifiuti organici
Circular attribuited Olio da pirolisi prodotto tramite riciclo chimico di rifiuti di plastica misti

D: Per quando è previsto il lancio sul mercato di questa gamma di prodotti certificati?

R: Alcuni prodotti ottenuti utilizzando la bionafta sono già disponibili in commercio da febbraio 2021 e prevediamo di produrre maggiori volumi di qualità bio-attribuita e bio-circolare attribuita nel corso dell’anno.

A partire dal 2022, puntiamo a lanciare sul mercato anche i nostri prodotti circolari attribuiti. Inizieremo con piccole quantità ma prevediamo un aumento progressivo grazie al nostro impianto dimostrativo di riciclo chimico a Mantova.

D: Quali sono le principali sfide per raggiungere la sostenibilità della filiera? Come possono essere affrontate?

R: Attualmente sul mercato ci sono diverse etichette e dichiarazioni di sostenibilità e purtroppo vediamo esempi di greenwashing e mancanza di trasparenza. Il nostro obiettivo principale è di offrire ai consumatori prodotti sicuri e sostenibili, di cui possano fidarsi completamente. Dobbiamo garantire e promuovere la trasparenza lungo l’intera catena del valore.

Per raggiungere questo obiettivo, occorre:

  • Creare maggiore consapevolezza tra i vari stakeholder;
  • Rafforzare la cooperazione lungo la catena del valore e le partnership B2B;
  • Indurre terze parti indipendenti e credibili a certificare tali prodotti.

D: Che ruolo può avere Versalis nella promozione di prodotti circolari e decarbonizzati?

R: Versalis si è completamente allineata al piano di completa decarbonizzazione di Eni entro il 2050 e il nostro viaggio verso la circolarità della plastica è già iniziato. In qualità di membro attivo della Circular Plastics Alliance, abbiamo assunto volontariamente alcuni impegni in linea con la nostra strategia circolare:

  • l'integrazione di materie prime alternative, comprese le fonti rinnovabili e le materie prime seconde, evita l’esaurimento delle riserve fossili. Inoltre, grazie ai progressi conseguiti nel campo del riciclo chimico con il Progetto Hoop®, possiamo promuovere la circolarità della plastica tenendo i rifiuti di plastica misti lontano dalle discariche e dagli inceneritori;
  • per stabilire l’impatto ambientale di processi nuovi e innovativi e dimostrare la loro effettiva sostenibilità, stiamo effettuando studi dettagliati dell’analisi del ciclo di vita (LCA). Organizzazioni terze certificate verificano questi studi per garantire la piena trasparenza in merito alle dichiarazioni sui nostri prodotti;
  • abbiamo anche optato per l'Aggiunta volontaria Emissioni di gas serra nel quadro di ISCC PLUS, che ci consente di includere nella dichiarazione di sostenibilità informazioni relative alle emissioni di gas serra del prodotto;
  • per favorire l’ulteriore sostenibilità della filiera, organizziamo sessioni di formazione e condividiamo le migliori pratiche con i nostri clienti e gli stakeholder del settore a valle.

Grazie a queste azioni e iniziative, auspicabilmente presto svolgeremo un ruolo cruciale nella transizione verso un’economia sostenibile e circolare per la plastica.


As the industry looks to achieve ambitious sustainability targets in the coming years, traceable and credible handling of sustainable material will be of utmost importance. All stakeholders have a critical role to play in offering their customers credible claims verified by trusted independent certification organizations like ISCC. Versalis' newly added ISCC PLUS-certified products represent a significant step in this direction and their growing sustainable product range enables consumers to shift to certified circular and decarbonised solutions. This paves the way for developing a sustainable growth model.

The author: Sreeparna Das

An independent consultant and published writer with a Master’s degree in Chemistry and 12 years of experience in the specialty chemicals industry. She specializes in mapping innovative solutions that support circular economy principles.

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