Industrial Ecology-Only Needed in the North?
Buen, Jorund, International Journal of Economic Development
The predominant focus within Industrial Ecology research and industrial practice has almost exclusively been on the industrialised North. This paper first seeks explanations for this. Then, an analytical framework for conditions influencing industrial-ecological innovation capacity in countries in the South is presented and discussed. Next, several developments are pointed to that may possibly lead away from the Northern bias within industrial-ecological research and practice. This is followed by arguments for why industrial-ecological principles may advantageously be employed in the South to a larger extent than what is currently the case, and how this may contribute to the further development of industrial ecology as a discipline. Finally, future research challenges within this subfield of industrial ecology will be discussed.
Research and industrial practice within industrial ecology today still focuses much more on the industrialised North than the developing South (1, 2). It is also far more concerned with our responsibility towards future generations than of today's problems of global distributive justice. This article will first attempt to explain why this is so. Then, a number of developments will be pointed to that may further increase the focus on the South within industrial-ecological research and practice. This is followed by arguments for why industrial-ecological principles may advantageously be employed in the South to a larger extent than now, and how this can contribute to the further development of industrial ecology as a discipline. Finally, future research challenges within the field of industrial ecology in a North-South perspective will be discussed.
The article thus points to the fact that it is still a considerable distance between the potential for a holistic approach to environmental problems embodied in industrial-ecological principles, and industrial ecological research and practice today. However, this should be regarded as a challenge to the discipline of industrial ecology, rather than a capitulation to an impossible task (3). Indeed, there is evidence that the discipline is already taking the challenge seriously (see Ch. 2 below).
2. Industrial ecology and the countries in the South
There is still disagreement both among researchers and industry representatives about what principles and practices are actually included in industrial ecology. While most researchers and practitioners would agree that the unit of analysis is material and energy flows, views differ widely as to (den Hond 2000):
1) whether industrial ecology should restrict itself to describing these material and energy flows, or engage in analysing the systems for managing them, or even suggest improvements to these systems; and
2) what the system boundaries should be (regardless of whether a limited or extensive approach is chosen under point 1).
Because industrial ecology is a new concept, the discipline is so far a collection of very different terms and strategies with different scope, rather than a clearly defined and unitary theory specifying clear strategies for its industrial implementation (O'Rourke et al. 1996). It is possible to carve out a set of fundamental characteristics of industrial ecology (see below). However, this does not prevent different actors from claiming that everything from incremental improvements in existing (environmentally harmful) products in a limited geographic area, to radical change in the global industrial system in an environmentally friendly direction, fall within industrial ecology.
This article rests on a broad interpretation of industrial ecology, which includes both physical, biological, chemical, organisational and institutional aspects of material and energy flows, as well as the flows' transboundary character. Focusing only on material and energy flows within a strictly defined and limited ecosystem is very useful; however, such an approach needs to be accompanied by studies acknowledging the global character of many material and energy flows, and the distributive aspects of these.
In the first textbook in industrial ecology, Graedel and Allenby (1995) describe industrial ecology as "the science of sustainable development", a view shared by many of the pioneers within the field (4). Graedel and Allenby have also proved the most cited definition of industrial ecology, which clearly shows that a holistic approach to energy and environmental questions forms part of the fundament for industrial ecology (Graedel and Allenby 1995, my emphases):
"Industrial ecology is the means by which humanity can deliberately and rationally approach and maintain a desirable carrying capacity, given continued economic, cultural and technological evolution. The concept requires that an industrial system he viewed not in isolation from its surroundung systems, but in concert with them. It is a systems view in which one seeks to optimize the total materials cycle from virgin material, to finished material, to component, to product, to obsolete product, and to ultimate disposal. Factors to be optimized include resources, energy, and capital."
Sustainable development is based on both the principle of distributive justice today, and the principle of intergenerational equity. Indeed, in their pioneering article on industrial ecology in Scientific American, Frosch and Gallopoulos (1989: 106) state that "[a]n ideal industrial ecosystem may never be attained in practice, but both manufacturers and consumers must change their habits to approach it more closely if the industrialized world is to maintain its standard of living--and the developing nations are to raise theirs to a similar level --without adversely affecting the environment." However, within industrial ecology, the notions of equity and justice are absent--and it is by no means certain that these ever will be present (5). As mentioned above, industrial ecology seeks inspiration from natural ecosystems. Contrary to what is the case in social systems, concepts like equity and justice are absent in ecosystems. However, the fact that industrial ecology does not focus on equity and justice does not render developments in the South irrelevant for industrial ecology.
Industrial-ecological research and practice today have much in common with ecological modernisation, which is a generic term for descriptions and analyses of established government and economic actors response to pressure for action in environmental matters (6). Within ecological modernisation, environmental challenges are regarded as possibilities, not symptoms of a crisis. It is deemed possible to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, by developing and employing more environmentally friendly technological and economic means. In this way, it becomes possible to reach economic growth goals and solve environmental problems simultaneously (Cohen 1997: 109, Pepper 1999). Such solutions are sought through co-operation between relevant actors rather than radical institutional change.
There is clearly a potential for more fundamental processes of change in industrial ecology principles than what is the case with ecological modernisation. Ehrenfeld (1997) emphasises connectedness, community and co-operation as central concepts in industrial ecology. In many ways, today's societal system, with a fragmented and reductionist bureaucracy, and emphasis on individualism and competition, is the very opposite of these concepts (7). Furthermore, the use of concepts within industrial ecology research is to a much larger extent than ecological modernisation influenced by conditions characterising natural ecosystems.
In a contribution regarded as essential within the industrial-ecological research community, Ehrenfeld (1994) claims that what he calls the industrial ecology paradigm is based on the following fundamental elements:
1. The globe is a closed ecological system. Development of the character and scale of today is not compatible with long-term ecological survival. The goal is therefore regarded to be to optimise material cycles --both in terms of capital-, energy- and resource use--from raw material via processed material and product to waste product. Design for the environment is also central in this regard. Such an optimisation is also believed to lead to increased competitive power.
2. Human society and the ecosystem have been developed in a close relationship with each other. Nature has intrinsic value, visualised through economic activity, and human beings therefore have an ethical and moral responsibility towards nature.
3. Sustainahility means that human and natural capital is maintained intact independently of each other. In other words, industrial ecology often operates with a "strong" definition of sustainability. A "weaker" definition would only require that the sum of human and natural capital is kept intact.
4. Policy. Economic activity based on services, not goods, is given priority. Quality of life is emphasised rather than living standards. Taking technological realism as a point of departure, the precautionary principle, including a conscious product policy and life-cycle assessment, should be employed to meet uncertainty.
As shown in point 1 above, the central idea of industrial ecology research is that industrial activity should mimic the natural ecosystem as much as possible. The linkage between the company and its role in a local "ecosystem" within the framework of a closed global ecosystem is at the core of most industrial ecology thinking (8).
Several contributions within the field of industrial ecology discuss how much the technology's environmental effectiveness needs to improve in order to maintain environmental quality in an area given that other factors contributing to total environmental damage increase --the so-called Factor X problem (Jansen 1994, Brattebo 1996, von Weiszacker et al. 1997, Allenby 1999: 22-33). The most important of these factors are usually deemed to be population growth and increased welfare (the increase in the number of accessible goods per person).
Therefore, is it peculiar that most industrial ecology research in practice concentrates on a very small part of the global ecosystem, namely the well-developed, industrialised countries in the North. In addition, this the part of the whole where modern industry after all has come farthest in the direction of copying the natural ecosystem, where population problems are the smallest, and where the gap between desired and actual welfare is at a minimum (9).
Very few material cycles are limited to countries in the North. Quite on the contrary: as a consequence of globalisation, North and South no longer only share the atmosphere, the biosphere and the oceans, but are also both part of a "global metabolism". Extraction of virgin materials, production, transport, consumption and disposal of a product take place in different locations around the world. As a large share of these processes take place in the South, the objective of optimising material cycles will be difficult to achieve without focusing more on problems related to such processes in the South. Many will claim that this already happening today, as products produced and consumed in the North are subject to life-cycle assessments. However, I argue that it is unfortunately not that simple (see Ch. 0).
In point 2 in Ehrenfeld's categorisation above, emphasis is put on the mutual interplay between human beings and nature. It must be assumed that this interplay is present in other countries than those of the industrialised North, and that human beings' moral responsibility for nature thus also pertains to activity taking place in these areas.
Similarly, it is difficult to limit the "strong" definition of sustainability in point 3 above to countries in the North only. If human and natural capital is to be maintained intact independently of each other in the North, while nature is sacrificed at the benefit of economic and industrial development in the South, such a principle will not be worth the paper on which it is written.
The main policy-related challenge for business and government actors both in the North and the South is to provide people--or the consumers if you want--in the South service-based economic growth. Such a strategy can, and should, be based on technological realism and the precautionary principle.
Although industrial ecology is a dynamic and new field, it is possible to discern some core activities characterising industrial ecology (10). This does not change if we take countries in the South as a point of departure. The first main characteristic is a systems perspective in space and time. The spatial dimension points to the value of giving equal attention to all stages in a product's value chain, while the time dimension directs attention towards the need for a long-term perspective. Dematerialisation--the decoupling of material input and economic growth--is the second characteristic of industrial ecology. It is not enough to keep material inputs constant while gross national product (GNP) increases, given that we are talking about a society that already has an environmental and/or resource problem.
The third characteristic is the emphasis placed on network-related initiatives and co-operative solutions. This is based on the insight that a company alone can do little in terms of furthering sustainable development, while much more results can be obtained through co-operation, for example by triggering processes of change in other companies. The principle of extended producer responsibility (see Ch. 0 below) can be derived from this perspective.
In addition, industry often emphasises competitive power as a central element in industrial ecology. Researchers acknowledge the economic motive as a driver for change, but do not consider its position as so central as the other elements mentioned above. Industrial ecology must be based on government-industrial partnerships, but the key goal is macro level environment and resource gains.
The overall impression of a brief review of the literature on industrial ecology in the South is one of fragmentation and insufficiency (11, 12). Isolated contributions can be found in most research fields within industrial ecology--encouragingly enough, both from researchers in the South and the North--especially from the last 3-4 years. However, among the few studies conducted on questions related to the South, many are in the outer edge of what is usually regarded as industrial ecology research and practice. Most studies are also conducted in newly industrialised countries (NICs), or in relatively well-developed areas in other countries (e.g. China's coastal areas).
A search in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, regarded as the central journal within the field of industrial ecology, only produces three articles that explicitly address industrial-ecological practice in the South (Hamner 1997, 1998; Beukering and Duraiappah 1998). All these focus on Asia or specific Asian countries; searches on South-America and Africa produce no result. There are, as far as I have been able to see, no articles that explicitly discuss which barriers that must be overcome in order to realise in the South the potential that lies in the industrial-ecological principles described above.
The exception to the rule of a lack of attention to countries in the South in industrial-ecological literature are contributions on cleaner production (see van Berkel et al. 1997 for a discussion of the relationship between cleaner production and industrial ecology). Some regard cleaner production as a distant relative (or forefather) of the industrial-ecological family, but the term has developed considerably since U.S. environmental authorities launched it in 1982 as a description of methods for waste minimisation and improved resource utilisation. Today, the product to an increasing extent is becoming the centre of attention, in contrast to the focus on production and technology that prevailed until about 1990 (13). Erkman and Ramaswamy (2000: 1) describe industrial ecology as the application of cleaner production on the system …
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Publication information: Article title: Industrial Ecology-Only Needed in the North?. Contributors: Buen, Jorund - Author. Journal title: International Journal of Economic Development. Volume: 3. Issue: 2 Publication date: April 2001. Page number: 1+. © Southern Public Administration Education Foundation 2007. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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