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Industrial Ecology - Key Concepts

Updated: May 21, 2020


a) Systems Analysis:

Industrial ecology is a higher order systems approach to framing the interaction between industrial and ecological systems. There are various system levels viz. Product systems, Corporate or institutional systems, Individual product life cycle stages. A systems view enables manufacturers to develop products in a sustainable fashion. Central to the systems approach is an inherent recognition of the interrelationships between industrial and natural systems.

In using systems analysis, one must be careful in defining the scope. If the scope of a study is too broad the results become less meaningful; when too narrow they may be less useful.

b) Material and Energy Flows and Transformations:

A primary concept of industrial ecology is the study of material and energy flows and their transformation into products, byproducts, and wastes throughout industrial systems. The consumption of resources is inventoried along with environmental releases to air, water, land, and biota.

Environmental Impact Reduction:

a) Pollution Prevention:

Pollution prevention is defined by the U.S. EPA as “the use of materials, processes, or practices that reduce or eliminate the creation of pollutants at the source.” It refers to specific actions by individual firms, rather than the collective activities of the industrial system.

b) Waste Minimization:

Waste minimization is defined by the U.S. EPA as “the reduction, to the extent feasible, of hazardous waste that is generated or subsequently treated, sorted, or disposed of.” Waste reduction at source shall reduce the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant entering in to the environment (including recycling, treatment or legal disposal method).

c) Total Quality Environmental Management (TQEM):

Based on well established principles from Total Quality Management, TQEM integrates environmental considerations into all aspects of a firm’s decision-making, processes, operations, and products. All employees are responsible for implementing TQEM principles. It is a holistic approach, albeit at level of the individual firm. TQEM can be used to monitor, control, and improve a firm’s environmental performance.

d) Cleaner Production:

Clean Production or Green Technology term (coined by UNEP in 1989), is widely used in Europe. It is a system of production and consumption, which incorporates a preventive approach to environmental protection. It is characterized by three principles: precaution, prevention, and integration.

Along with environmental impact reduction, other benefits can include cost savings, response to regulatory or consumer pressure, and health and safety concerns.However, Industrial Ecology has a broader goal; to reduce the overall, collective environmental impacts caused by the totality of elements within the industrial system.

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