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'Industrial Ecology' - Post COVID19 Industrial Scenario & Challenges for EHS Personnel

Updated: May 21, 2020

We all agree that the post COVID19 will not be a “Normal” but a “New Normal”. As far as the EHS function in the Industries is concerned, the “New Normal” will be focussed on ‘Human Hygiene’. The other areas of EHS viz. Environment, Workplace exposures are going to get the back seat. More over EHS expenses have already been stamped as ‘Non-productive’. No one speaks about it but the EHS officer knows that his proposed budget has been axed.

While industries are struggling to survive, no one can be blamed in the current situation. However, if there is something which will help to improve Productivity & Profit and at the same time address Pollution & Workplace exposure.. Well it will be great for Industry & EHS. Is there anything really? Yes, the hope is “Industrial Ecology”. This is a comprehensive concept with principles of LCA and techniques of mass balance. In this concept, a seamless flow & transformation of Materials & Energy is considered. In simple words it is an integrated approach for Manufacturing process i.e. Production & Waste.

‘Industrial ecology’ is an emerging field. The development of ‘Industrial ecology’ is an attempt to provide a new conceptual framework for understanding the impacts of industrial systems on the environment. Further it aims to reduce the environmental impacts of products and processes associated with industrial systems, with an ultimate goal of sustainable development.

One goal of ‘Industrial ecology’ is to change the linear nature of our industrial system, where raw materials are used and products, by-products, and wastes are produced, to a cyclical system where the wastes are reused as energy or raw materials for another product or process.

By quantifying resource inputs and the generation of residuals and their fate, industry and other stakeholders can attempt to minimize the environmental burdens and optimize the resource efficiency of material and energy use within the industrial system.

Historical Development:

Industrial ecology’ is rooted in systems analysis and can be traced to the work of Jay Forrester at MIT in the early 1960s and 70s; he was one of the first to look at the world as a series of interwoven systems. Using systems analysis, they simulated the trends of environmental degradation in the world, highlighting the unsustainable course of the then-current industrial system.

In 1989, Robert Ayres developed the concept of industrial metabolism: the use of materials and energy by industry and the way these materials flow through industrial systems and are transformed and then dissipated as wastes. By tracing material and energy flows and performing mass balances, one could identify inefficient products and processes that result in industrial waste and pollution, as well as determine steps to reduce them.

In early 1994, The National Academy of Engineering published ‘The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems’. It identifies tools of 'Industrial ecology', such as design for the environment, life cycle design, and environmental accounting. It also discusses the interactions between 'Industrial ecology" and other disciplines such as law, economics, and public policy.

'Industrial ecology' is being researched in the U.S. EPA’s Futures Division and has been embraced by some corporates. The National Pollution Prevention Center for Higher Education (NPPC) promotes research on ‘Industrial ecology’ as the systems approach in developing pollution prevention.

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