Background: Bioethanol is produced mainly from sugar cane and corn. In the last years it has been subject of debate due to the effects in food prices and land use change. The use of lignocellulosic materials for bioethanol production, such as agroindustry, forestry and municipal residues, wood or dendroenergetic species, has been proposed as a sustainable way for producing this biofuel. The design of a sustainable process for producing bioethanol requires a methodological approach whereby economical, environmental and social criteria are systematically integrated from the early stages of process design. Results: Until now a methodology for guiding the design of a sustainable process for bioethanol production is not available, and there are just a few studies on this subject. Moreover, with the recent global concerns on climate change, developed technologies have been confronted with additional requirements to validate their sustainability. In this sense, the inclusion of sustainability criteria on process design becomes necessary for defining a systematic methodology to select the most appropriate operations in the process stages to achieve a sustainable bioethanol production. Conclusions: A description of the stages for the production of bioethanol from lignocellulosic materials is provided in this review and the main findings in relation to the more important sustainability indicators are presented.