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Environmental Transformation of the U.S. Economy
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03/09/07
Article Index
Filed under: The Green Wave, Sust. Purchasing, Sustainable Finance, Sust. Manufacturing, Sust. Infrastructure
Posted by: Brian Kuehl @ 7:42 am

Click on the article title to jump directly to the article.  We encourage you to leave comments or add information to the articles by clicking the “comment” button located at the end of each article.

Sustainable Infrastructure
NEW: Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink: Adding Water to the Sustainability Equation, Betsy Otto, American Rivers

NEW:  Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions, Chris Lotspeich, The Second Hill Group

NEW:
Living Buildings and the Competitive Advantage of High Performance, Brandon Smith, Cascadia Region Green Building Council

Sustainable Manufacturing

Green Chemistry: Turning the Ship, John C. Warner, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Green Chemistry

Life Cycle Assessment: A Tool for Sustainable Manufacturing, Tom Swarr, United Technologies Corporation; Jim Fava, Five Winds International

The Quest for a Manufacturing Model that is Sustainable, Mike Bertolucci, Interface Research Corp.

Thinking Like an Ecosystem,  Reid Lifset, Journal of Industrial Ecology

Sustainable Finance

Turning the Ship: Transforming the Everyday, Peter Liu, New Resource Bank

Sustainable Investing and Portfolio 21, an interview with Carsten Henningsen, Progressive Investment Management

Green Energy 3.0: This Time, It Is Different, Jackson W. Robinson, Winslow Management Company

Green Insurance Products, Stephen G. Bushnell, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company

Sustainable Purchasing
Providing Incentives to Coffee Suppliers to Produce High Quality, Sustainable Coffee, Ben Packard, Starbucks Coffee Company

Talking Until You’re Green in the Face: Environmental Communications Comes to the Fore, Don Millar, The Element Agency

On the Power of Purchasing and the Potential of 1%, Terry Kellogg, 1% For The Planet

Promoting Green Products and Services: Cure for Asthma and Global Warming?, Arthur B. Weisman, Green Seal, Inc.

Power of Local Government Dollars, Michelle Wyman, International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, USA (ICLEI-USA)

The Green Wave
Climate Change as a Driver of US Market Behavior, Truman Semans, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Ford Motor Company and the Green Wave, Dan Esty, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

Has the Era of Green Business Finally Arrived?, Joel Makower, GreenBiz.com

Turning the Ship: Environmental Transformation of the U.S. Economy, Brian Kuehl, Harvard Loeb Fellow and The Clark Group, LLC

2 comments
03/05/07
Green Chemistry - Turning the Ship
Filed under: Sust. Manufacturing
Posted by: Brian Kuehl @ 2:39 pm

By John C. Warner, Director, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Green Chemistry

Green Chemistry has been around for nearly 15 years now. In the early 1990’s a group of scientists at the EPA, championed by Paul Anastas, put forth a bold new approach to pollution prevention. The general recognition was that, while various laws and regulations were serving the public to
protect human health and the environment, there was not a lot known or
understood about the “science” of pollution prevention from the
perspective of design. It was observed that many technologies were
being developed and applied to protect the environment by controlling
the exposure of hazardous materials.

Up until this time however, the unspoken assumption was that chemistry HAD to necessarily be hazardous and dangerous, and the only way to accomplish pollution prevention was to incorporate procedures to trap and contain these hazardous and dangerous chemicals. Back when I was an 18 year old undergraduate student considering various career choices, I once asked a chemistry professor “Is chemistry dangerous? If I go into the field of chemistry, will I be placing myself at risk?” I remember their answer crystal clear 26 years later: “Yes, and if you are asking yourself questions like that, perhaps you should choose a different career.”

The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry:

  1. Prevention.  It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed.
  2. Atom Economy. Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.
  3. Less Hazardous Chemical Synthesis.
    Whenever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.
  4. Designing Safer Chemicals.  Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of the function while reducing toxicity.
  5. Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries.
    The use of auxiliary substances (solvents, separation agents, etc.)
    should be made unnecessary whenever possible and, when used, innocuous.
  6. Design for Energy Efficiency. 
    Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized.  Synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure.
  7. Use of Renewable Feedstocks.  A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practical.
  8. Reduce Derivatives.
    Unnecessary derivatization (blocking group, protection/deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes) should be avoided whenever possible.
  9. Catalysis. Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents.
  10. Design for Degradation.
    Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their
    function they do not persist in the environment and instead break down into innocuous degradation products.
  11. Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention.
    Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for real-time in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.
  12. Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention. Substance and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions, and fires.
Anastas, P. T.; Warner, J.C. Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, Oxford University Press: New York, 1998.

Green chemistry challenges this basic assumption. Green chemistry suggests that materials CAN be made that are inherently safe and non-toxic.

Green Chemistry looks at the risk equation [Risk = Hazard x Exposure]
and identifies the design chemists as taking a primary role in
pollution prevention by designing materials that are benign in the
first place, thus reducing or eliminating the need for exposure
controls. For sure, it is not going be easy. But once recognized as in
fact possible, the unleashed creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of
chemists and materials scientists can certainly accomplish this task.
The 12 principles of green chemistry were written as a set of
guidelines for molecular designers. Consideration of these principles
during the design stage of the innovative process allows chemists to
anticipate down stream, “real world” implications of their choices.

Scientists in industry and academia working in the field of green chemistry have risen to the challenge of designing safer products and materials. Early on, industry recognized the enormous financial benefits to adopting green chemistry technologies. A quick and naïve glance at green chemistry technologies might make this seem surprising [we have been somewhat conditioned in our society to equate pollution prevention with added expense]. But when one considers all of the tangential costs
associated with dealing with hazardous materials, it becomes
immediately obvious that the benefits are quite real and tangible.

Using hazardous materials has a cost impact on:

Storage
Transportation
Treatment
Disposal
Regulatory Costs
Liability
Worker Health and Safety
Corporate Reputation
Community Relations
New Employee Recruitment

The US Environmental Protection Agency has administered a recognition program for the past 11 years called “The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge”. This program celebrates technologies from corporations and individuals that demonstrate the integration of green chemistry into market savvy products. As of this writing there have been over 55 awards given out. The reader is directed to the website of the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute to learn of these technologies.

The question that must be asked then is: “What is taking so long?” If the
demand from consumers and regulatory agencies is increasing at a steady
pace, why are technological developments not keeping pace?  The answer to this question in part, is somewhat simple and shocking. Most
scientists are not trained to make nontoxic and environmentally benign
products. PhD Programs around the country [and the world] in chemistry
and the materials sciences are for the most part void of any training
in toxicology or mechanisms or environmental harm. To be sure, there
are subdisciplines within the sciences where students are trained to
assess and measure impacts of hazardous materials on human health and
the environment. But these students go on to careers in environmental
protection, and health and safety operations and are ultimately
responsible for dealing with and containing hazardous materials after
they become present. Green Chemistry focuses on training the actual
molecular designers, who have an opportunity to avoid creating the
hazardous materials in the first place. We have a long way to go; there
are a lot of inventions that are going to be necessary for us to get to
a truly sustainable world. But we have to start somewhere.

Emerson said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. I think we are in this type of a situation. For both ethical and economic reasons, nontoxic and environmentally benign products are clearly preferable. Society is demanding safer products. Industry wants to make safer products. Students passionately want to learn how to
design safer products. We just need to equip these students with the
skills they need, stand back and let them invent a sustainable world.

More Information:

Green Chemistry Textbooks:
Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, by Paul Anastas and John Warner, 1998, Oxford University Press
Introduction to Green Chemistry, by Albert Matlack, 2001, CRC Press.
Green Chemistry: A Teaching Resource, by Dorothy Warren, 2002, Royal Society.
Ionic Liquids: Industrial Applications for Green Chemistry, by R. Rogers and K. Seddon, 2002, ACS Books.
Green Chemistry: An Introductory, Text by Mike Lancaster, 2002, Springer-Verlag
Handbook of Green Chemistry and Technology, by James Clark and Duncan Macquarrie, 2002, Blackwell.
Agricultural Applications in Green Chemistry, by William Nelson, 2005, ACS Books.
Green Organic Chemistry, by Ken Doxsee and James Hutchison, 2003, Brooks/Cole
Green Reaction Media in Organic Synthesis, by Mikami Koichi and Giuseppe Bertola, 2005, Blackwell.
Green Chemistry, by Pietro Tundo et al., 2007, John Wiley

Representative examples of international Green Chemistry organizations:
American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute
Royal Society’s Green Chemistry Network

Australia’s Centre for Green Chemistry

Canadian Green Chemistry Network

Italy’s Interuniversity Consortium

India’s Green Chemistry

Legislative Actions in Green Chemistry
HR 1215: Green Chemistry Bill

Michigan Executive Directive 2006-06

Representative Stories of Green Chemistry and Economic Benefits in the Press
“Green Chemistry Takes Root” USA Today

“Making it Easier to BE Green” Boston Globe

“Chemistry Goes Green” E.Journal.Com

“The Right Chemistry” American Prospect

“Green Chemistry: Back To The Future” CBS News, Christian Science Monitor

“Green Chemistry Hitting the Market” NPR’s Marketplace

Representative Corporate Websites:
Pfizer
Rohm & Haas
Dow
Lilly
Abbott

Merck
Glaxo Smith Kline

Radio Shows on Green Chemistry
2006_09_19 Open Source with Christopher Lydon, “Green Chemistry”
2006_10_27  Environmental News with Meghna Chakrabarti, “Bay State Seeds Green Chemistry”

2007_02_06 Corporate Watchdog – Sanford Lewis, “The Promise of Green Chemistry”

1 comment
03/01/07
Life Cycle Assessment: A Tool for Sustainable Manufacturing
Filed under: Sust. Manufacturing
Posted by: Brian Kuehl @ 9:02 am

By Tom Swarr, Manager, Environmental Programs, United Technologies Corporation and Jim Fava, Managing Director, Five Winds International

Companies have traditionally set environmental goals to reduce wastes from manufacturing operations year to year- less is better. However, goals based on pounds alone can not distinguish between a large operation and a sloppy operation. Life cycle assessment is a tool that takes a holistic view of the full product system, from extraction to final disposal, or preferably reuse or recycle, to understand how to deliver the desired functionality with the minimum impact. The genesis of life cycle assessment can be traced to Coca Cola Company studies of packaging conducted in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Harry E. Teasley, Jr. conceived of a study that would quantify the energy, material, and environmental consequences of the entire life cycle of a package from the extraction of raw materials to final disposal to better understand the potential impacts of a proposed switch from returnable glass bottles to disposable plastic bottles.

Improved methodologies and data access
There has been considerable progress in advancing the methodology since those early studies. Today, instead of mechanical calculators or cumbersome decks of computer punch cards, practitioners can choose from among numerous user- friendly commercial software packages that greatly simplify building LCA models, e.g. SimaPro and GaBi. Reduced cost packages are typically available for students and educators. Simplified programs, such as BEES are available free online. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and its partners have created the U.S. Life-Cycle Inventory (LCI) Database. This summer, the Swiss Center for Life Cycle Inventories will be releasing ecoinvent v2.0, a compilation of some 3,500 unit processes. Impact assessment methodology is being developed to include more impact categories. Land use in LCA has just been added as a new subject category in The International Journal of Life Cycle Analysis. The UN Environmental Programmes, in partnership with the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry launched the life cycle initiative in 2002 to identify available data sources and impact assessment methodologies, assess needs for further development, and provide guidance for expanding the sound and consistent application of LCA methods. Despite these advances, there is a sense that LCA has had limited application in policy or business decision making processes.

Application in making difficult decisions
There are numerous efforts underway to expand the role of LCA in guiding difficult decisions to balance the conflicting goals of economic development, environmental protection, and social equity. Green building initiatives lead the way in using life cycle measures to influence purchasing decisions in an attempt to create market pressure for more sustainable manufacturing. The US Green Building Council is evaluating how to incorporate LCA into the LEED rating system. Green Globes is an on-line tool for designers and property owners and managers assess and rate existing buildings against best practices and standards.

Companies are exploring ways to use LCA methods to create competitive advantage. The Product Sustainability Roundtable is a group of global corporations that meets 2 -3 times per year to informally benchmark product- oriented environmental management practices. Participants represent multiple functions from within the companies to share what works- and what does not- in efforts to integrate life cycle thinking into practice.

BASF is using technical conferences, third- party reviews, and offering training sessions and consulting services to brand its eco- efficiency analysis. The company worked through a cross sector partnership to create a center of excellence in Latin America, the Espaço ECO Foundation to promote implementation and dispersion of the eco-efficiency analysis.
The UNEP/ SETAC life cycle initiative has launched its Phase II programs to more effectively link LCA studies of production systems with corresponding sectors of consumption- such as buildings, transport, food, and energy. The program recognizes that there cannot be sustainable manufacturing without sustainable consumption, and seeks to build institutional capacity to make better use of the tools and methodologies that already exist.

EU initiatives around integrated product policy, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive and the Energy- using Products Directive or  are another strong incentive for companies to develop practical methods to address these emerging requirements. The European platform on life cycle assessment is designed to support business and policy making decisions.

There is progress on better integration of economic and social factors. A SETAC working group is developing a code of practice for life cycle costing. Researchers are developing quantified measures for the social dimension modeled on the WHO’s disability adjusted life years (DALYs).  Quality- of – life adjusted years (QALYs) are determined using quantified measures longevity, health, autonomy, safety and security, equal opportunity, and participation. Furthermore, a working group on identification of social impacts has begun within the UNEP/ SETAC Initiative. Sustainability impact assessment methodology is being developed to better understand the complex trade- off of costs and benefits resulting from international commerce.

Opportunities and barriers
In a recent editorial, Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, former Director Division Technology, Industry and Economics , UNEP suggested that LCA and life cycle management are approaches that could help society develop policies for long lasting economic growth built on sound environmental practices that preserved critical life supporting ecosystems. She cited the need for “validated metrics, for more transparent and reliable data collection and, in general, for consistency.”
The application of LCA and life cycle thinking to the complex problem of sustainability attempts to provide both an objective measure of “What is” and a sound, scientific basis for deciding “What should be.” The conflicting demands of metrics to support learning and continuous improvement and metrics to support accountability and compliance may be the primary obstacle to successful integration of LCA into business and policy decision- making.

This conflict can be illustrated by the early studies at Coca Cola. LCA helped justify the transition from reusable glass bottles to single use disposable plastic bottles, because reduced transport impacts associated with lighter weight helped offset the impacts of plastic bottles. Yet most of us environmental advocates would argue you should select reusable packaging over disposable packaging. Other LCA studies on packaging showed advantages of steel cans over aluminum cans, but aluminum took over the market because consumers preferred the convenience of the pull tabs, a feature that steel cans could not match.

Rapid innovation continues to throw out new externalities. CFCs eliminated toxic and flammable refrigerants, but damaged the ozone layer. Automobiles eliminated the health risks of horse manure, but imposed new health effects from air pollution. Sustainability is a complex issue characterized by uncertainty and ignorance. Flexibility to adapt as we learn is critical to effective integration of LCA methods into routine practice. LCA is its present form can give us information on the various trade- offs between lead- free and traditional lead- base electrical solders. However, LCA cannot tells us how the market will find new uses for lead no longer used as solder.

The need for flexibility and dynamic modeling conflicts with the normative perspective of corporate responsibility. External stakeholders want standardized metrics with verifiable audit trails to support corporate environmental claims. Common measures that facilitate comparison are necessary for accountability. Attempting to extend these accountability requirements into internal business decision- making processes development practices is not compatible with the current pace of change in the global economy. It is important that we do not become so focused on finding the “right” answers that we forget to make sure we are asking the “right” questions. A more productive approach for the integration of LCA is to extend the flexible, learning- based metrics out to inform social and economic policy. This would require a level of trust between the civil society and business that is significantly higher than what currently exists.

We — civil society and business — are in this together. How do we promote an atmosphere of trust where we can openly share information to create the “lasting economic growth built on sound environmental practices that preserved critical life supporting ecosystems” envisioned by Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel?

Resources:
BASF Eco-efficiency Analysis
BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability)
EU Integrated Product Policy
European platform on life cycle assessment
Green Globes Environmental Assessments for Buildings
International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
NREL U.S. Life Cycle Inventory Database
Product Sustainability Roundtable
Sustainability impact assessments
Swiss Center for Life Cycle Inventories
UNEP/ SETAC Life Cycle Initiative
US Green Building Council LEED

2 comments
02/28/07
The Quest for a Manufacturing Model that is Sustainable
Filed under: Sust. Manufacturing
Posted by: Brian Kuehl @ 10:23 am

By Mike Bertolucci, President, Interface Research Corporation, Emeritus

Sustainable manufacturing: oxymoron or emerging reality?  It is a question Interface has been struggling to answer for more than 12 years.  

No doubt the linear, Take-Make-Waste model of the prototypical company of the 20th Century based on the assumption of limitless resources and sinks into which to dump wastes and products at the end of their useful lives is a preamble to environmental collapse.  And, the engine which is driving atmospheric greenhouse gas increases at an unprecedented rate.
       
For some “the sky is falling”, for others “the sand is cool around their neck”.  For a growing number of companies the opportunity to deliver value to their shareholders and indeed for future generations is at hand.
       
In 1994, Ray C. Anderson the then founder and CEO of Interface was struck by what he calls “a spear in the chest”, an epiphany of sorts after reading Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce. Ray describes Interface’s climb up the metaphorical Mt. Sustainability in his book, Mid Course Correction published in 1998.  I came along in the middle of that time line to help carve out the technical transformation needed to materialize that dream.  Ray and I along with a team of others, created a vision of what a truly sustainable company might look like and what the requirements on material sourcing and manufacturing processes would be, in fact what a prototypical manufacturing company of the 21st Century would look like and how it would operate.  
       
First it would generate no more waste or emissions than could be rapidly assimilated in nature and would therefore not create toxic pools doing harm to the biosphere.
       
It would not be extractive of limited and finite resources for its material and energy demands to produce its products and grow at a rate compatible with the demands of its shareholders and environment within which it operates.
       
It would be cyclic in all its material flows, recycling its own products and others compatible with its business requirements, and it would drive its manufacturing processes with renewable energy, either directly sourced or supported through green energy offset programs, also called renewable energy credits (REC’s).
       
This manufacturing company would be sensitive to the needs of its associates and the communities in which it operates.
       
If done correctly it should be constantly reducing its environmental footprint, driving toward zero, growing market share with its products and reducing all operating costs related to virgin raw materials, energy consumption and transportation.  Inescapable corollaries  to these objectives are the growth in renewable energy use and the reduction in green house gas emissions over the full life cycle of it products (Creation to Resurrection).
       
One paradigm from the 1st Industrial Revolution (which we are trying to overthrow) is operative in the Interface Model: “What gets measured gets done”.  Our metrics are the backbone supporting our manufacturing teams’ creative charge up the mountain over the last 12 years.
       
Globally, Interface has cumulatively avoided over $300 million in waste through our QUEST, (Quality Using Employee Suggestions and Teamwork), programs.

Reduced the total energy consumption per square meter of modular carpet tile production by 41 %

Reduced the total absolute tons of green house gas emissions of our world wide operations by 56 %
   
Diverted over 90 million pounds of carpet from landfills through our ReEntry recycling initiative.

All while increasing the value of our company to its shareholders as its stock price has rebounded from under $2.00 per share in 2003 to over $16.00 in Feb. 2007.
      
End of story?  Of course not.  Our drive toward creating a sustainable company and reaching the top of Mt. Sustainability by 2020 is only half over.  Wish us luck.   

3 comments
02/26/07
Thinking Like an Ecosystem
Filed under: Sust. Manufacturing
Posted by: Brian Kuehl @ 7:13 am

By Reid Lifset, Editor, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Associate Director, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

In his famous book on conservation, The Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold urged that we “think like a mountain”.  As the pioneer in wildlife management and the U.S. wilderness system, Leopold was drawn to articulate the connection between people and the land.  In modern technological society, that metaphor must be extended—we need to think like an ecosystem.

The emerging field of industrial ecology seeks to do just that.  Seeing the efficacy with which natural systems cycle resources, industrial ecology explores the “biological metaphor,” asking in what ways can environmental goals be accomplished through lessons drawn from nature.  

The field dates its self conscious beginnings to a 1989 article, “Strategies for Manufacturing” in Scientific American by Frosch and Gallopolous.  The leadership of Frosch, then the head of R&D for General Motors, was soon complemented by workshops and books organized by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and prescient support from the AT&T.  Equally important was the joining of an extensive Northern European community of researchers, managers and activists working on similar concepts under the rubric of cleaner production.

The result is a growing global research community that systematically examines local, regional and global materials and energy uses and flows in products, processes, industrial sectors and economies. It focuses on the potential role of industry in reducing environmental burdens throughout the product life cycle from the extraction of raw materials, to the production of goods, to the use of those goods and to the management of the resulting wastes. Industrial ecology encompasses:

•    material and energy flows studies (”industrial metabolism”)
•    technological change and the environment
•    dematerialization and decarbonization
•    life cycle planning, design and assessment
•    design for the environment
•    extended producer responsibility (”product stewardship”)
•    eco-industrial parks (”industrial symbiosis”)
•    product-oriented environmental policy
•    eco-efficiency.

The field began to take on an institutional identity with the establishment of the Journal of Industrial Ecology, a peer-reviewed international quarterly owned by Yale and published by MIT Press as well as a professional and scientific society, the International Society for Industrial Ecology.

Given this august parentage and the ambitious agenda, the name of the field, “industrial ecology” may seem odd, even oxymoronic. Indeed, the name is intended to be evocative—and provocative—in several ways. The underlying idea is that the entities that have been major sources of environmental damage can be converted into agents for environmental improvement. Industries design and produce goods, and so they possess the tools and technological expertise needed to create environmentally informed products and manufacturing processes. That is what motivates the word “industrial.”

The word “ecology” is intended in at least two senses. First, it refers to the fact that the flow of industrial resources can be compared to the flow of resources in nonhuman, “natural” ecosystems—with the implication that the industrial flows can become just as efficient.

The second reason for the word “ecology” is to place human industrial activity within the context of the larger ecosystems that support it. Traditionally, manufacturing has been regarded as beginning when raw materials enter a factory and ending when the finished product is shipped. But industrial ecology expands that view to include an understanding of the sources of the raw materials, the effects of their extraction, and the fate of products after their useful lives have ended, what is increasingly called the product life cycle perspective.

Much of industrial ecology is motivated by an impulse to approach environmental problems from a systems perspective, so as to avoid gaps and unintended consequences.  This impulse is often manifested in careful, even fierce attention to the quantification of stocks and flows of materials and energy at many scales.  Materials flow analysis (MFA) provides a foundation for examining carefully and comprehensively the biophysical phenomena and human activities that are at the core of environmental problems. This tracking of resources is yet another dimension of the biological metaphor—borrowing approaches from ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry.

The pursuit of a systems approach is embodied the frequent and conspicuous use of a life-cycle perspective, i.e., examining products, materials, services and facilities from “cradle to grave”.  This in turn results in strategies more often associated with European and Japanese environmental policy than in the US: extended producer responsibility (product take-back), design for environment, eco-labeling, green procurement, and environmental supply chain management. On the scientific side, life-cycle assessment (LCA) is the tool that is used to characterize the resource inputs and outputs of pollution and waste across an entire life cycle.

In actual fact, a great deal of the practice of industrial ecology has revolved around environmental assessment—investigating the relative environmental merits of products, technologies, choices of materials and so on.  This has generated a rich, albeit complex, body of knowledge and technique regarding “green” choices.

Mostly recently, industrial ecologists have worked to extend the core concepts in the field.  A growing cadre of researchers now use input-output analysis, a form of economic analysis originally developed by Nobel Laureate Wassily Leontief, to capture, in a more thorough way, the indirect effects of production and consumption choices.  The use of input-output analysis holds out the promise of making LCA and related forms of green assessment more comprehensive and thus more reliable, because it can incorporate resource use and pollution effects throughout the entire economy, rather than just a particular production/supply chain.  These analytical advances are likely to change our understanding of what makes for a green product and lead to some surprises.

In a different vein, one stage of the product life cycle, consumption, is attracting greater attention as policymakers and researchers realize that consumption drives much of the economic activity that in turn produces our environmental challenges.  In some ways, this represents merely an elaboration of long standing approaches in the field; after all consumption is part of the product life cycle.  At the same time, efforts to understand what constitutes sustainable consumption require a larger dose of social science than has traditionally been part of this field.

The study of consumption seeks to go beyond bromides and platitudes above over-, unequal and unfulfilling consumption to meld an understanding the social drivers of what we buy and use with a careful quantitative analysis of the environmental implications of those choices.  For examples of what this has yielded, see the special issues of the Journal of Industrial Ecology on consumption and on priorities for environmental product policy.

Perhaps the most conspicuous success story in industrial ecology to date is an industrial district in Kalundborg, Denmark. The area is home to a cluster of industrial facilities that exchange by-products, or what would otherwise be called wastes—including petrochemical gases, cooling and waste water, steam, and scrubber and fermentation sludge—in a network of cooperative relations that began in 1972 and has grown ever since.  Kalundborg thus became a prime example of “industrial symbiosis.” The term is an explicit analogy to the mutually beneficial relations found in nature.

For several years, Kalundborg was both an icon and a lonely example of one.  Early attempts to replicate the networks of by-product exchanges and resource sharing in the US and elsewhere foundered, but more recently industrial symbiosis has gained traction.  Important examples in Australian minerals industry and a Chinese sugar-paper-alcohol complex have been documented.  

Perhaps more important, China has adopted the notion of the circular economy (循环经济xun huan jing ji) —the term connotes the cycling of resources and closing of materials loops so central to industrial ecology—as a central tenet of its environmental policy.  This strategy encompasses initiatives at many scales from the individual firm to networks of firms to entire cities or provinces.  It includes programs to stimulate the application of industrial symbiosis to the multitude of industrial parks that are the location of much of China’s rapidly growing industries.  Similar efforts to create “eco-industrial parks” in Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are underway.

The organizers of this forum asked me to address the barriers to industrial ecology.  In some cases, they are legal as when some forms of recycling or by-product reuse are made prohibitively expensive by regulation.  More challenging, however, are the social, psychological and political obstacles. Taking a systems view of environmental problems is often daunting and doesn’t lend itself to sound bites.  Many of the changes impose costs on industry or consumers and thus generate political opposition. Equally important, over a decade’s worth of research and debate have made it clear identifying what is “green” product or technology is fraught with both values and technical ambiguities.  “Good science” does not provide a ready or uncomplicated answer to many of these questions.

The elements of industrial ecology are increasingly well known throughout the world.  Most environmental professionals have heard of design for environment, LCA, or eco-industrial parks.  Those concepts have been adopted by related frameworks and promoted under other names.  In that sense industrial ecology, like a species in a dynamic ecosystem (or perhaps a set of self genes to push the metaphor in another direction) has succeeded in spreading its seed widely.

6 comments
01/28/07
Welcome!
Filed under: The Green Wave, Sust. Purchasing, Sustainable Finance, Sust. Manufacturing, Sust. Infrastructure
Posted by: Tracy Parsons @ 12:04 pm

Welcome to the official Blog of Turning the Ship: Environmental Transformation of the U.S. Economy.

Starting February 5, 2007 our contributors will be posting their articles here. For detailed information about the program, please visit www.turningtheship.com

5 comments