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Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Development

Updated: May 21, 2020

The objective of industrial ecology is to promote sustainable development at the global, regional, and local levels. Sustainable development has been defined by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development as “meeting the needs of the present generation without sacrificing the needs of future generations.”

The key principles of sustainable development are a) sustainable use of resources, b) preserving ecological and human health, c) and the promotion of environmental equity.

a) Sustainable Use of Resources:

Industrial ecology should promote the sustainable use of renewable resources and minimal use of nonrenewable ones. Industrial activity is dependent on a steady supply of resources and thus should operate as efficiently as possible. Hence, depletion of nonrenewables and degradation of renewables must be minimized in order for industrial activity to be sustainable in the long term.

b) Ecological and Human Health:

Human beings are one component in a complex web of ecological interactions and their activities cannot be separated from the functioning of the entire system. Human health is dependent on the health of the other components of the ecosystem, ecosystem structure and function. It is important that industrial activities do not cause catastrophic disruptions to ecosystems or slowly degrade their structure and function, jeopardizing the planet’s life support system.

c) Environmental Equity (Intergenerational and Intersocietal):

Intergenerational: Depleting natural resources and degrading ecological health in order to meet short-term objectives can endanger the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Intersocietal: Inequities also exist, as evidenced by the large imbalance of resource use between developing and developed countries. Inequities also exist between social and economic groups within a country or region. Low income and ethnic communities are often subject to much higher levels of human health risk associated with certain toxic pollutants.

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