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Industrial ecology? A surprising, intriguing expression that immediately draws our attention. The spontaneous reaction is that "industrial ecology" is a contradiction in terms, something of an oxymoron, like "obscure clarity" or "burning ice". Why this reflex? Probably because we are accustomed to considering the industrial system as isolated from the Biosphere, with factories and cities on one side and nature on the other, as well as the recurrent problem of trying to minimise th impact of the industrial system on what is "beyond" it: its surroundings, the "environment". As early as the 1950's, this end-of-pipe angle was the one adopted by ecologists, whose first serious studies focused on the consequences of the various forms of pollution on nature. In this perspective on the industrial system, human industrial activity as such remained outside the field of research. Industrial ecology explores the opposite assumption: The industrial system can be seen as a certain kind of ecosystem. After all, the industrial system, just as natural ecosystems, can be described as a particular distribution of materials, energy, and information flows. Furthermore, the entire industrial system relies on resources and services provided by the Biosphere, from which it cannot be dissociated. (It should be specified that "industrial", in the context of industrial ecology, refers to all human activities occurring within modern technological society. Thus, tourism, housing, medical services, transportation, agriculture, etc. are part of the industrial system.) Besides its rigorous scientific conceptual framework (scientific ecology), industrial ecology can also be seen as a practical approach to sustainability. It is an attempt to address the question, "How can the concept of sustainable development be made operational in an economically feasible way?" Industrial ecology represents precisely one of the paths that could provide concrete solutions. Governments have traditionally approached development and environmental issues in a fragmented and compartmentalised way. This is illustrated in the classical end-of-pipe strategy for the treatment of pollution, which has proven to be quite useful, but not adequate to make an efficient use of limited resources, in the context of a growing population with increasing economic aspirations. Thus, industrial ecology emerges at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear that the traditional pollution treatment approach (end-of-pipe) is not only insufficient to solve environmental problems, but also too costly in the long run.
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Industrial ecology: a new perspective
on the future of the industrial system
Suren Erkman
Institute for Communication and Analysis of Science and Technology (ICAST), Geneva
So far, there is no standard definition of in-
dustrial ecology. However, in order to avoid any
confusion, we would like to specify what is meant
here by “industrial metabolism” and “industrial
“Industrial metabolism” refers to the materials
and energy flows of the industrial system. It is
studied with an essentially analytical and de-
scriptive approach (basically an application of
materials-balance principles), aimed at under-
standing the circulation of the materials and
energy flows (and stocks) linked to human ac-
tivity, from their initial extraction to their in-
evitable re-integration, sooner or later, into the
overall bio-geochemical cycles [1–5].
Industrial ecology goes further: the idea is first
to understand how the industrial system works,
how it is regulated, and its interactions with the
Biosphere; then, on the basis of what we know
about ecosystems, to determine how it could be
restructured to make it compatible with the
way natural ecosystems function [6–10].
Whatever the definitions may be, all authors more
or less agree on at least three key elements of the
industrial ecology perspective:
a) it is a systemic, comprehensive, integrated view
of all the components of the industrial econ-
omy and their relations with the Biosphere.
b) it emphasises the biophysical substratum of
human activities, ie, the complex patterns of
material flows within and outside the industrial
system, in contrast with current approaches
which mostly consider the economy in terms of
abstract monetary units, or alternatively on en-
ergy flows.
c) it considers technological dynamics, ie, the
long-term evolution (technological trajecto-
Industrial ecology? A surprising, intriguing ex-
pression that immediately draws our attention. The
spontaneous reaction is that “industrial ecology” is a
contradiction in terms, something of an oxymoron, like
“obscure clarity” or “burning ice”.
Why this reflex? Probably because we are accus-
tomed to considering the industrial system as isolated
from the Biosphere, with factories and cities on one side
and nature on the other, as well as the recurrent prob-
lem of trying to minimise the impact of the industrial
system on what is “beyond” it: its surroundings, the
“environment”. As early as the 1950’s, this end-of-pipe
angle was the one adopted by ecologists, whose first seri-
ous studies focused on the consequences of the various
forms of pollution on nature. In this perspective on the
industrial system, human industrial activity as such
remained outside the field of research.
Industrial ecology explores the opposite assumption:
The industrial system can be seen as a certain kind of
ecosystem. After all, the industrial system, just as nat-
ural ecosystems, can be described as a particular distri-
bution of materials, energy, and information flows.
Furthermore, the entire industrial system relies on re-
sources and services provided by the Biosphere, from
which it cannot be dissociated. (It should be specified that
“industrial”, in the context of industrial ecology, refers
to all human activities occurring within modern tech-
nological society. Thus, tourism, housing, medical serv-
ices, transportation, agriculture, etc. are part of the in-
dustrial system.)
Besides its rigorous scientific conceptual framework
(scientific ecology), industrial ecology can also be seen as
a practical approach to sustainability. It is an attempt
to address the question, “How can the concept of sus-
tainable development be made operational in an eco-
nomically feasible way?” Industrial ecology represents
precisely one of the paths that could provide concrete
Governments have traditionally approached devel-
opment and environmental issues in a fragmented and
compartmentalised way. This is illustrated in the clas-
sical end-of-pipe strategy for the treatment of pollution,
which has proven to be quite useful, but not adequate to
make an efficient use of limited resources, in the context
of a growing population with increasing economic aspi-
rations. Thus, industrial ecology emerges at a time when
it is becoming increasingly clear that the traditional pol-
lution treatment approach (end-of-pipe) is not only in-
sufficient to solve environmental problems, but also too
costly in the long run.
Review article
SWISS MED WKLY 2001;131:531–538 ·
Peer reviewed article
lecture”, Assem-
blée annuelle de
la Société Suisse
de Pneumologie,
Geneva, March 30,
Industrial ecology in a nutshell
ries) of clusters of key technologies as a crucial
(but not exclusive) element for the transition
from the current unsustainable industrial sys-
tem to a viable industrial ecosystem of the
In short, industrial ecology aims at looking at the
industrial system as a whole. Industrial ecology
does not address just issues of pollution and envi-
ronment, but considers as equally important, tech-
nologies, process economics, the inter-relation-
ships of businesses, financing, overall government
policy and the entire spectrum of issues that are
involved in the management of commercial enter-
prises. As such, industrial ecology can provide a
conceptual framework and an important tool for
the process of planning economic development,
particularly at the regional level [11–15]. Also, in-
dustrial ecology may offer options, which are not
only effective for protecting the environment but
also for optimising the use of scarce resources.
Thus, industrial ecology is especially relevant in
the context of developing countries, where grow-
ing populations with increasing economic aspira-
tions should make the best use of limited resources
Industrial ecology
Industrial ecology: earlier attempts
Industrial ecology has been manifest intu-
itively for a very long time. There is little doubt
that the concept of industrial ecology existed well
before the expression, which began to appear spo-
radically in the literature of the 1970’s. In fact, and
not surprisingly, scientific ecologists had for a very
long time intuitively regarded the industrial sys-
tem as a subsystem of the Biosphere. This line of
thought has, however, never been actively investi-
gated. Several attempts to launch this new field
have been made in the last couple of decades, with
very limited success. The industrial ecology con-
cept was indisputably in its very early stages of de-
velopment in the mid-1970’s, in the context of the
flurry of intellectual activity that marked the early
years of the United Nations Environment Pro-
gram (UNEP).
The expression re-emerged in the early 1990’s,
at first among a number of industrial engineers
connected with the National Academy of Engi-
neering in the United States. Every year in Sep-
tember, the popular scientific monthly Scientific
American publishes an issue on a single topic. In
September 1989, the special issue was on “Manag-
ing Planet Earth”. The issue featured an article by
Robert Frosch and Nicholas Gallopoulos, both
then at General Motors, called “Strategies for
Manufacturing” [16–18].
In their article, the two authors offered the
idea that it should be possible to develop industrial
production methods that would have considerably
less impact on the environment. This hypothesis
led them to introduce the notion of the “industrial
ecosystem”. Projections regarding resources and
population trends “lead to the recognition that the
traditional model of industrial activity in which
individual manufacturing processes take in raw
materials and generate products to be sold plus
waste to be disposed of should be transformed
into a more integrated model: an industrial ecosys-
tem. (...) The industrial ecosystem would function
as an analogue of biological ecosystems. (Plants
synthesise nutrients that feed herbivores, which in
turn feed a chain of carnivores whose wastes and
bodies eventually feed further generations of
plants.) An 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 industrialised world is to main-
tain its standard of living – and the developing na-
tions are to raise theirs to a similar level – without
adversely affecting the environment.” (p. 106)
However, as Robert Frosch indicated during
his lecture, “Towards an Industrial Ecology”, pre-
sented before the United Kingdom Fellowship of
Engineering in 1990: “The analogy between the
industrial ecosystem concept and the biological
ecosystem is not perfect, but much could be gained
if the industrial system were to mimic the best fea-
tures of the biological analogy.” (p. 272) [19].
In contrast to preceding attempts, Frosch and
Gallopoulos’s article sparked off strong interest.
There are many reasons for this: the prestige and
wide readership of Scientific American, Frosch’s
reputation in governmental, engineering and busi-
ness circles, the weight carried by the authors be-
cause of their affiliation with General Motors, and
the general context, which had become favourable
to environment issues with, among other features,
discussions around the report of the United Na-
tions World Commission on Environment and
Development (the “Brundtland Commission”),
published in 1987. The article manifestly played a
catalytic role, as if crystallising a latent intuition in
many people, especially those in circles associated
with industrial production, who were increasingly
seeking new strategies to adopt with regard to the
environment. Although the ideas presented in
Frosch and Gallopoulos’s article were not, strictly
speaking, original, the Scientific American article
can be seen as the source of the current develop-
ment of industrial ecology (for details, see: [20]).
Today, industrial ecology is being pursued with
unprecedented vigour. It is gaining recognition
not only in business communities, but in academic
and government circles as well. In 1997, the Jour-
nal of Industrial Ecology (MIT Press) was
launched, and in early 2001, the International So-
ciety for Industrial Ecology was founded [21, 22].
From a practical point of view, one of the first
analogies that comes to mind is of an “industrial
food chain”. Just as in natural ecosystems, where
certain species feed on the waste or organisms of
other species, one can imagine a similar process of
waste recovery between various economic entities.
Thus, the concept of “eco-industrial parks” (EIP)
was born in the early 90s. EIPs are areas in which
companies co-operate to make the most of re-
source use, namely by mutually recovering the
waste they generate (the waste produced by one
enterprise is used as raw material by another).
However, the notion of “park” should not be
considered in the sense of a geographically con-
fined area: an eco-industrial park can very well en-
compass a neighbouring city, even a remote enter-
prise, especially if the latter is the only one around
capable of recovering a rare type of waste impos-
sible to process at other factory sites. Hence the
new term, “eco-industrial networks”, where parks
represent a particular case, is appropriate. The no-
tion of eco-industrial parks (or networks) is quite
different from traditional waste exchange pro-
grams. Indeed, it involves a systematic recovery
process of overall resources in a given region. It
does not merely recycle waste on an ad hoc basis.
Around 50 eco-industrial parks projects are
presently under way in various parts of the world,
mostly in North America, Western Europe and
Asia [23–29].
One idea that fits in with the notion of eco-in-
dustrial parks is that of “industrial biocoenoses”. In
biology, the concept of “biocoenosis” refers to the
fact that, in ecosystems, various species of organ-
isms always meet according to characteristic pat-
terns of association. Just as in natural ecosystems,
there are “key species” in industrial biocoenoses.
Power plants, for instance, are an obvious “key
species”. All kinds of different eco-industrial com-
plexes could develop around power plants (coal,
oil, gas, nuclear), given the degree of flow of mat-
ter involved and the enormous quantity of energy
wasted as heat.
Once the best possible associations are deter-
mined, including the most appropriate combina-
tions of various industrial activities, the concept
can then be extended to industrial complexes. In-
stead of building an isolated sugar cane production
unit, one should attempt, from the outset, to plan
an integrated complex whose objective is to use all
the flows of matter and energy linked to sugar cane
processing in the best possible way. In this in-
stance, a number of units could be attached a
paper mill, a distillery, a thermal power station
in order to recover all the different by-products
of sugar cane. A variety of possibilities come to
mind: “pulp-paper” complexes, “fertiliser-cement”
ventures, “steelworks-fertiliser-concrete” partner-
ships, etc. Granted, there are examples of partial
and spontaneous complexes that have been around
for a long time. However, the main focus now
should be on developing these complexes in a more
explicit and systematic way [30].
Therefore, the main challenge is to reorganise
the industrial system in depth, in order to help the
system evolve toward a sustainable long-term
operating mode compatible with the Biosphere. In
concrete terms, four challenges must be met
within the framework of industrial ecology:
1) Waste and by-products must systematically
be exploited:
Just as in the food chain processes of natural
ecosystems, we must create networks of resource
and waste use in industrial ecosystems, so that all
the residues become resources for other enter-
prises or economic entities (through eco-industrial
networks). Traditional recycling is only one aspect
in a series of matter flow recovery strategies.
2) Loss caused by dispersion must
be minimised:
In industrial countries today, human con-
sumption and use often cause more pollution than
actual manufacturing does. Products such as fer-
tilisers, pesticides, tyres, solvents, etc., are entirely
or partially dispersed into the environment as they
are used. Therefore, new products and services
must be designed that minimise dispersion or at
least eliminate its harmful effects.
3) The economy must be dematerialised:
The objective here is to minimise total matter
(and energy) flows while making sure equivalent
services are provided. Technical progress makes it
possible to obtain a greater amount of service from
a smaller amount of matter, namely by producing
lighter objects or by replacing matter (a few kilos
of fibre optics allows for more telecommunications
throughput than a ton of copper cable). However,
dematerialisation is not as simple as it may seem:
less massive products may also have shorter life
spans and will therefore ultimately consume more
resources and generate more waste. Furthermore,
dematerialisation does not necessarily apply to
consumption goods only, but also in large part to
the industrial system’s heavy infrastructure, such as
buildings, roads, transportation networks, etc. [31–36].
Two possible dematerialisation strategies are cur-
rently being debated:
a) relative dematerialisation, which makes it pos-
sible to obtain more services and goods from a
given quantity of matter (also referred to as
resource increased productivity);
b) absolute dematerialisation, which strives to re-
duce the flow of matter circulating within the
industrial system in absolute terms (the latter
challenge is much more daunting than relative
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The industrial ecology agenda
Recently, there has been a surge of interest on the
issue of dematerialisation in the context of the so-
called “New Economy”, or “Internet based econ-
omy”. There have been many claims that the In-
ternet and associated emerging information tech-
nologies contribute to the dematerialisation of the
economy. However, this is far from proven, in par-
ticular because of the well known “rebound effect”.
The huge number of electric and electronic de-
vices needed to run the information economy place
a growing demand on the supply of electricity,
which, at least for countries like the US, implies
digging more coal. Another example: electronic
commerce might diminish the need for shopping
malls, but in San Francisco, there has been already
an increase in traffic jams linked to the rise in num-
bers of fast deliveries by courier services. At this
stage, in fact, it would be fair to acknowledge our
ignorance of the real impact of new information
technologies on resource consumption, with seri-
ous research in the field just in its infancy [37–40].
Perhaps one of the best ways to dematerialise
the economy is to emphasise the service rendered,
to market the product’s use rather than the prod-
uct itself. From the Industrial Revolution on, our
economic system has been organised in such a way
as to maximise production. Within the context of
industrial ecology, the objective is to prioritise use,
in other words to evolve toward a genuine service-
oriented society. The goal involves strategies such
as durability (extending the useful life of a prod-
uct), renting rather than owning, selling use rather
than the actual product. To illustrate the point, a
manufacturer of photocopiers who sells the “pho-
tocopying” service rather than the machine itself,
will run a more profitable operation if the photo-
copier, of which he retains ownership, requires as
little matter inputs as possible, has the longest pos-
sible useful life, is easily recyclable, etc. (as in the
case of Xerox) [41].
4) Energy must rely less on fossil
From the beginning of the Industrial Revolu-
tion, hydrocarbon compounds from fossil fuels
(coal, oil, gas) have been a crucial element, a vital
substance in powering the engines of industrial
economies. However, carbon-based fossil fuels are
also at the root of many problems: increasing
greenhouse effect, smog, oil spills, acid rain, etc.
Therefore, we must make hydrocarbon consump-
tion less harmful (by recovering carbon gasses
emitted by combustion) and encourage the move
toward energies that requires less fossil fuels (re-
newable energy, energy savings). In abstract terms,
the “energy” function must be separated from its
“fossil carbon” substratum [42, 43].
Industrial ecology
A concrete example: the Industrial Symbiosis in Kalundborg
As a matter of fact, industrial ecology is already
more than a nice theoretical idea: the “Industrial
Symbiosis”, which has evolved during the last
three decades in the small city of Kalundborg, in
Denmark, offers the best evidence that such an ap-
proach can be very practical and economically vi-
able. Kalundborg, located 100 km. West of Copen-
hagen, can be seen as a successful example of an in-
dustrial complex minimising pollution and opti-
mising the use of various resources.
As summarised by Colin Francis [44], the his-
tory of Kalundborg really began in 1961 with a
project to use surface water from Lake Tissø for a
new oil refinery in order to save the limited sup-
plies of ground water. The city of Kalundborg took
the responsibility for building the pipeline while
the refinery financed it. Starting from this initial
collaboration, a number of other collaborative
projects were subsequently introduced and the
number of partners gradually increased. By the end
of the 1980’s, the partners realised that they had
effectively “self-organised” into what is probably
the best-known example of a working industrial
ecosystem, or to use their term an industrial sym-
This industrial ecosystem today consists of six
main partners:
Asnæs power station – part of SK Power Com-
pany and the largest coal-fired plant producing
electricity in Denmark.
Statoil – an oil refinery belonging to the Nor-
wegian State oil company.
Novo Nordisk a multi-national biotechnol-
ogy company that is a leading producer of in-
sulin and industrial enzymes.
Gyproc – a Swedish company producing plas-
terboard for the building industry.
The town of Kalundborg, which receives ex-
cess heat from Asnaes for its residential district
heating system.
Bioteknisk Jordrens a soil remediation com-
pany that joined the Symbiosis in 1998.
In addition, several other companies participate as
recipients of materials or energy. The status of the
industrial symbiosis in 1999 is shown in figure 1.
Thanks to the Symbiosis, the reduction in the
use of ground water has been estimated at close to
2 million cubic metres per year. However, in order
to reduce overall water consumption by the part-
ners, the Statoil refinery supplies its purified waste
water as well as its used cooling water to Asnæs
power station, thereby allowing this water to be
“used twice” and saving additionally 1 million
cubic metres of water per year.
Asnæs power station supplies steam both for
Statoil and Novo Nordisk for heating in their
processes and, since it is therefore functioning in a
co-generation mode, it is able to increase its effi-
Excess gas from the operations at the Statoil
refinery is treated to remove sulphur, which is sold
as a raw material for the manufacture of Sulphuric
acid, and the clean gas is then supplied to Asnæs
power station and to Gyproc as an energy source.
In 1993 Asnæs power station installed a desul-
phurisation unit to remove sulphur from its flue
gases, which allows it to produce calcium sulphate
(gypsum). This is the main raw material in the
manufacture of plasterboard at Gyproc. By pur-
chasing synthetic “waste” gypsum from Asnæs
power station, Gyproc has been able to replace the
natural gypsum that it used to buy from Spain. In
1998 approximately 190,000 tons per year of syn-
thetic gypsum were available from the power sta-
Novo Nordisk creates a large quantity of used
bio-mass coming from its synthetic processes and
the company has realised that this can be used as a
fertiliser since it contains nitrogen, phosphorus
and potassium. The local farming communities use
more than 800,000 cubic metres of this liquid fer-
tiliser each year as well as over 60,000 tons of a
solid form of the fertiliser.
Finally, residual heat is also provided by Asnæs
power station to the district heating system of the
town. The system functions via heat exchangers so
that the industrial water and the district heating
water are kept separate.
The investment needed to put the different
material and energy exchanges in place has been
estimated at $75 million. This is the cost of the 18
projects established up to and including 1998.
Keeping in mind that each exchange is based on a
separate contract between the two partners in-
volved, revenues can be estimated as coming from
selling the waste material and from reduced costs
for resources. The partners estimate that they have
“saved” $160 million so far. The payback time of a
project is less than 5 years on average. Therefore
a clear lesson is that a more rational utilisation of
resources is not only good for the environment,
but it can also save money [45, 46].
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Asn s
Power Stat
of Kal undborg
Water Water
& Yeast
d Wate
Figure 1
Material flows in the
Kalundborg industrial
ecosystem (status
1999). (Source:
Colin Francis, ICAST,
adapted from Jørgen
Christensen, Symbio-
sis Institute, 1999.)
A new way of managing companies
Finally, industrial ecology leads to two major
consequences for the management of companies.
On the one hand, it challenges the traditional
exclusive emphasis on the product alone. Gener-
ally, a company’s talents and energy are devoted to
selling products. Waste management and environ-
mental issues are left to a single, more or less mar-
ginal department. Today, waste recovery opera-
tions and the improvement of material flows mo-
bilised by the enterprise must be given as much im-
portance as selling goods.
On the other hand, traditional management
has turned “competitiveness” into a dogma, espe-
cially in highly competitive market environments.
Industrial ecology, however, reminds us that in ad-
dition to competitive relationships, we need to fos-
ter an over-the-fence management system, where
enterprises collaborate to ensure optimal resource
management. Enhancing overall matter and en-
ergy flows should eventually lead to increased
performance and heightened competitiveness, a
reason why small and medium-sized businesses
should seize the opportunity and put industrial
ecology into practice. Indeed, industrial ecology is
not just for a small number of large companies that
can afford the luxury to uphold new practices with-
out raking in immediate profits. Everyone can
Furthermore, increased performance is one of
the central arguments put forward by “eco-effi-
ciency”, a term coined in 1992 by Frank Bosshardt,
one of the top executives of Anova (the holding
company which belongs to the Swiss industrialist
Stephan Schmidheiny, initiator of the Business
Council for Sustainable Development). Basically,
eco-efficiency suggests an approach very similar to
that of industrial ecology. The main difference is
that eco-efficiency remains centred on an individ-
ual enterprise’s strategy, whereas industrial ecol-
ogy also aims for product enhancement and re-
covery on a larger scale: enterprise networks, re-
gions, and ultimately the entire industrial system
[47, 48].
Industrial ecology
Nanomedicine and the evolving industrial system
Industrial ecology focuses on the long-term
evolution of the entire industrial system, and
strives to reach its objective by using a dual ap-
proach: a rigorous one in terms of theory (scien-
tific ecology) and an operational one (prescribing
economically viable concrete steps). Environmen-
tal problems, therefore, are only one of the many
issues which industrial ecology tries to deal with.
Among these issues, the emergence and diffusion
of new “pivotal” technologies (as they are some-
times called), deserve particular attention espe-
cially nanotechnology. Potentially, nanotechnol-
ogy (or rather nanosystems) could profoundly
transform the entire economy, including all indus-
trial activities and subsequently their environmen-
tal impacts [49–53].
In short, nanotechnology can be defined as the
ability to manipulate and control matter at the
level of molecules and atoms. The capacity to as-
semble molecules and atoms in a precise and con-
trolled way could permit the manufacture of ob-
jects with almost no “production waste”, since only
the desired atoms and molecules would be used.
Nanotechnology would also make possible a whole
range of new “smart” materials with many useful
properties, thus preventing the release of pollu-
tants during the use of products (for example, by
minimising corrosion and degradation) and at the
end of their life as well (such products would be se-
lectively degradable and reusable under specified
conditions). Combining nanotechnology and bio-
technology would also allow the development of
manufacturing processes at ambient temperature
and pressure, in contrast with today’s high pressure
and high temperature industrial processes that
consume large quantities of energy and raw mate-
rials, usually under dangerous conditions [54].
Benefits of nanosystems for the environment could
be very substantial – with, however, new risks also
[55, 56].
Nanosystems are likely to transform medicine
very significantly, as appears from the few papers
published so far in the fast emerging field of
nanomedicine [57–64]. Some theoretical specula-
tions clearly offer a flavour of science fiction, for
example “respirocytes” proposed by Robert Frei-
tas [65], but the field is receiving growing recog-
nition [66]. Nanomedicine is of outmost impor-
tance not only in itself, but in the perspective of
industrial ecology as well. Indeed, nanomedicine
could have tremendous impacts not only on health,
but also on the global environment, for a simple
reason: in theory, nanomedicine would allow a
growing world population to live much longer
and moreover in good health. This implies a po-
tentially large increase in the consumption of re-
sources and generation of waste, a daunting chal-
lenge for the design of future viable industrial
Besides, it should be strongly emphasised that
the most crucial aspect of such technological de-
velopment is not nanotechnology per se, but its
convergence with the science and technology of
self-replication. This convergence may lead to to-
tally new kinds of artefacts: physical nanosystems,
ie, very small “robots” (nanorobots, typically the
size of a bacterium or even less), which would
be autonomous, self-learning, self-repairing, self-
replicating, and self-evolving [67–69].
There is no doubt that the time has come to
prepare for the coming era of nanosystems, as ac-
knowledged in the first “Guidelines on Molecular
Nanotechnology” recently released by the Fore-
sight Institute [70]. Hopefully, such guidelines will
help to ensure that nanosystems (along with other
technological developments) will contribute to the
ultimate goal of industrial ecology, namely pro-
moting a more sophisticated and “elegant” indus-
trial system, one capable of creating more wealth
and better living standards with less harmful im-
pacts on the Biosphere [71].
Prof. Suren Erkman
Institute for Communication and Analysis
of Science and Technology (ICAST)
P.O. Box 474
CH-1211 Geneva 12
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Industrial ecology
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... In accord with S. Erkman are defines four key principles of the IE [5]: ...
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The transition to the circular economy is a basic principle of the policy of the European Union, it is the chance for a cleaner world, an ideal world with “zero waste”. This document analyzes the implementation degree of circular economy in Romania through 10 monitoring indicators defined by European Commission in ”Measuring progress towards the circular economy in the European Union—Key indicators for a monitoring framework”, released in January 2018. In order to understand the paper, it was considered necessary to define the indicators with reference to the targets proposed by the European Union. The analysis of the stage of implementation of the circular economy in Romania was made by using the data published by Eurostat. Methodologically, a comparative study was carried out between the level of implementation of circular economy indicators in Romania and the EU and the position occupied by Romania among the member states was identified for each of these 10 circular economy monitoring criteria. Each indicator is analyzed and the causes and motivations that led to the obtaining of the mentioned values are identified. The results of the study show that Romania is in the upper part of the hierarchy for certain indicators, contributing to the achievement of EU targets. It also identifies the causes that delay performance in others, indicating future solutions, necessary to be adopted to remedy the situation. Implementing the circular economy requires long-term vision, political determination and consistency, and, last but not least, funding. In these directions, governmental measures must be taken to increase performance at the national level. In conclusion with an economy that is not sufficiently strong, and affected as it is by the current crises, Romania is moving forward on the path of transitioning to a circular economy.
... Tagle Zamora / Carrillo González (Bruel, Kronenberg y Bertrand, 2018), como el funcionamiento de los sistemas productivos en analogía con los ecosistemas naturales (Graedel, 1994), y el objetivo de la desmaterialización de la economía (Erkman, 2001). Mediante la EC se pretende mantener los recursos naturales que se utilizan en la manufactura durante el mayor tiempo posible para extraer su máximo valor y poder reutilizarlos el número de veces que sea posible. ...
Full-text available
Objetivo: definir el estado actual del manejo de residuos sólidos urbanos en León, Guanajuato. La unidad de análisis es el Sistema Integral de Aseo Público del municipio. Metodología: el estudio es de corte cualitativo. La información se obtuvo de entrevistas en profundidad a los actores de la gestión de residuos complementado con información pública y artículos especializados. Resultados: el modelo para el manejo de los residuos de León está creando condiciones para la valorización de éstos y el desarrollo de mercados en un sentido muy inicial de economía circular. Las cifras oficiales de la generación per cápita de residuos muestran una reducción de 38% en 2020 con respecto a 2009, dando cuenta de una aproximación hacia los objetivos del desarrollo sostenible. Valor: se analiza el manejo de residuos sólidos urbanos en un municipio bajo la perspectiva de economía circular. Limitaciones: el estudio no consideró a profundidad la aportación de los pepenadores. Conclusiones: el organismo operador da prioridad a mantener sus finanzas sanas antes que impulsar un proyecto consistente de economía circular que coadyuve mejor con los objetivos del desarrollo sostenible.
... Erkman, 1997). Certains principes que l'écologie industrielle devrait suivre sont décrits par (S. Erkman, 2001). Premièrement, dans une écologie industrielle, les déchets d'une entreprise doivent être utilisés par une autre, changeant le paradigme relatif au déchet qui devient une ressource ; les produits doivent être conçus de manière à minimiser leurs effets nocifs, à garantir une qualité égale ou supérieure de produits et services offerts, tout en minimisant l'utilisation de matériaux tout au long du cycle, et enfin, à réduire l'utilisation de combustibles fossiles. ...
La lutte contre le réchauffement climatique et la réduction des tensions dues à l’utilisation des ressources requièrent des changements drastiques quant à la façon dont l’humanité interagit avec l’environnement et comment elle doit concevoir et gouverner les systèmes énergétiques à l’avenir, autrement dit comment arriver à des systèmes durables. La mise en œuvre de cette transition touche notamment les territoires infranationaux où sont localisées la majeure partie de la production des déchets et de la pollution mais également plusieurs ressources dont l’exploitation peut contribuer à l’atteinte d'objectifs ambitieux de décarbonation et de durabilité. Cela place les collectivités locales comme des acteurs incontournables dans cette transition, qui sont davantage pris en compte dans la définition des politiques visant la décarbonation des systèmes énergétiques. En France, la déclinaison de la politique énergétique vers ces territoires atteint une étape importante avec la loi relative à la Transition Energétique pour la Croissance Verte de 2015 car elle invite ces derniers à contribuer à la décarbonation du pays en favorisant la mobilisation des ressources énergétiques locales, renouvelables, en leur donnant davantage de compétences pour le faire. La France envisage également de passer à une économie circulaire, laquelle vise à instaurer un système de consommation et production plus durable, en transformant les déchets en ressources qui seront réutilisées dans le système économique, minimisant ainsi la consommation de ressources et la production de pollution. Pour tous ces enjeux à relever pour construire demain, l’utilisation d’outils de modélisation prospective s’avère déterminante en ce qu’elle permet de répondre aux différentes questions qui émergent dans la poursuite de solutions énergétiques durables et neutres en carbone. Dans ce contexte, l’objectif de ce travail de thèse réside dans l’étude de systèmes énergétiques locaux, en particulier de la région française SUD PACA et des options qui s’offrent à elle pour assurer une transition énergétique et d’économie circulaire. Dans un premier temps, les enjeux énergétiques considérés par des outils de modélisation énergétique ont été discutés au cours du temps en montrant comment singulièrement ces modèles ont convergé vers l’étude de la transition énergétique tant au niveau mondial que national et, en particulier, comment ces études s’appliquent de plus en plus aux systèmes énergétiques de territoires infranationaux. Puis, nous avons mis en évidence le rôle croissant pris par les collectivités territoriales dans la définition et la mise en œuvre de politiques énergie-climat-environnement, en nous concentrant en particulier sur le cas de la France. Malgré l’intérêt croissant porté par les gouvernements, les scientifiques et les entreprises au concept d’économie circulaire comme stratégie pour faire face aux problématiques d’épuisement des ressources, un consensus fait défaut quant à ses principes, objectifs et définition. Pour y contribuer, nous proposons une définition intégrant les aspects clés qui ont été mentionnés dans différentes études concernant ce concept. Finalement, en nous appuyant sur le modèle de prospective TIMES SUD PACA que nous avons construit, nous montrons que les collectivités territoriales sont déterminantes pour atteindre les objectifs de décarbonation nationaux et internationaux, à travers la mobilisation de leurs ressources et l'adoption de politiques de décarbonation ambitieuses adaptées à leur contexte économique et démographique. Pour se faire, l’économie circulaire est un levier incontournable, mais elle doit être accompagnée d’une allocation stratégique de leurs ressources : par exemple dans le cas de la région SUD PACA, destiner l’hydrogène aux poids lourds et à la production de gaz de synthèse, ce dernier devant alors n’être alloué qu’aux secteur industriel, ou encore prioriser la récupération de chaleur dans le secteur résidentiel-tertiaire.
... A circular economy promotes reuse and encourages industrial symbiosis, transforming the by-products of an industry or waste arising from consumption into raw material that will be reinserted into the supply chain [4]. Thus, an industry cannot be seen as a separate system, as the integration between the biological and technical systems causes decisions about production and consumption to take into account inputs and outputs in a circular and integrated manner [12,13]. The objective of a circular economy is to ensure that materials remain for as long as possible in the production and consumption processes, because even in more efficient supply chain systems there will always be waste generation, which must be eliminated or mitigated by symbiotic relationships with other chain actors [10,14]. ...
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This article aims to describe the current state of research on plastic waste management as a circular economy practice at the end of the supply chain. The methodological strategy chosen was a systematic literature review. The articles selected from the Web of Science and Scopus databases were screened, and the research corpus consisted of 201 articles published in journals between 2014 and 2021. The results present 13 study categories, showing topics such as pyrolysis, business models, Industry 4.0, and energy generation. The insertion of Industry 4.0 technologies is still in its initial stages, comprising mainly the generation of inputs to reuse waste for 3D printers’ materials. Regarding energy generation, the insertion of processes such as pyrolysis for fuel generation stands out. The proposed discussion in this article suggests a circular ecosystem in which wastes follow a reuse flow according to their properties; incineration can be an option depending on the stage and benefits generated from the removal of plastic waste from the ecosystem. The highlighted issue is the scalability of the developed processes in the research, which is only possible if the state, universities, and civil society integrate efforts in the construction of a circular ecosystem infrastructure for waste management.
... La economía circular surge en el marco de la economía verde, impulsando la idea de la desmaterialización de la economía (Tibbs, 1992;Erkman, 2001;Carrillo, 2013), tiene como antecedentes la visión de la economía en bucles (Stahel y Reday-Mulvey, 1981), así como el concepto de sistema económico circular de Pearce y Turner (1995), que surge bajo una vieja idea manejada por Kenneth E. Boulding en 1966, quien hizo una analogía del planeta como si este fuera una nave espacial en la cual tanto los insumos como la capacidad de asimilación de residuos es limitada. Boulding señaló desde aquellos años que, para aproximarse a la sustentabilidad y garantizar la supervivencia del planeta, era indispensable dar un giro al modelo productivo vigente y reducir tanto el uso de recursos naturales como la generación de residuos (Boulding, 2012). ...
Full-text available
p> Objetivo : analizar las características del contexto que están impulsando la adopción de un enfoque circular en los nuevos modelos de negocio, reconociendo el papel fundamental que juega el consumidor en esta tendencia. Diseño metodológico : se basó en la revisión de artículos, informes y blogs que exponen el debate de la economía circular, se consultaron encuestas publicadas sobre el comportamiento de los consumidores. Para el análisis se identificaron las características que explican las tendencias y los patrones que inciden en la decisión de comprar en empresas con modelos sustentables y circulares. Resultados : se constata que los consumidores, en particular las generaciones jóvenes, son altamente sensibles a la narrativa de la crisis ambiental y a las tendencias que surgen en las redes llevándolos a adoptar estilos de vida que definen su decisión de compra, lo cual ha influido como un elemento determinante en la transición de los negocios hacia modelos sustentables y de economía circular. Limitaciones de la investigación : insuficiente información al ser un tema relativamente nuevo, los casos que se encuentran están dispersos y poco sistematizados. Hallazgos : la edad de los consumidores es clave para las decisiones de compra, los jóvenes son los que principalmente optan por alternativas de productos sustentables al ser más susceptibles a la influencia del discurso predominante y a la opinión de otros consumidores en las redes. Las empresas están realizando cambios en sus modelos para transitar hacia la economía circular, en atención a estos nuevos consumidores.</p
... For one thing, the industrial system is the core of IE that determines the scale and the intensity of development and provides the corresponding development elements of the ecosystem. For another, the ecosystem is the carrier of IE that provides the space for industrial development and determines the upper threshold of interaction (Erkman, 2001). That is to say, there is a close coupling relation between the industrial system and the ecosystem. ...
Full-text available
Industrial ecology (IE) was defined as a dynamic evolution process characterized by the coupling coordination relationship between ecological efficiency and industrial efficiency. This paper used data envelopment analysis and technique for order preference by similarity to ideal solution method to explore the spatiotemporal evolution of ecological efficiency and industrial efficiency in China’s loess plateau region (LPR) from 2006 to 2017. Based on the definition, LPR’s IE development and spatial correlations were studied separately using coupling evaluation model and social network analysis. Findings include: Although eco-efficiency and industrial efficiency were mutually promoted, and both have improved during the study period, LPR’s human-earth relation was still facing uncertainties. There were significant disparities in industrial efficiency, ecological efficiency, and IE levels among cities. The evolutionary patterns of cities were classified as coordinated development mode and professional development mode. The IE interactive network was characterized by “scale-free” and “small world,” where provincial capitals and big cities functioned as growth poles and intermediaries. The correlations of IE brought challenges as well as favorable conditions for setting up a cross-regional coordination mechanism. This paper provided a new perspective to understand IE and a “quantity and structure” driven development idea for policymakers.
This chapter aims to synthesize some of the current issues of the circular economy and circular business models. Based on the international literature, the chapter highlights aspects such as the conceptual theoretical approaches of the circular economy and circular business models, interconnecting the principles of the circular economy, the difference between the linear and the circular economy, the circular economy and the sustainable development, the supply chain within the circular economy, possible business models of the circular economy, advantages and limitations in the successful implementation of the circular economy and supporting sustainability, other aspects of the circular economy and sustainability. The covered topics are based on the studies conducted by specialists and also present some author opinions on the sustainable development and circular economy. The chapter ends with the authors' conclusions on the impact of the circular economy and circular business models in the actual ecological context, launching possible future research topics for specialists.
In the foreseeable future wild capitalism (neoliberalism) will be over because the unlimited growth and the monstrous inequalities that this economic model produces across the whole world is absolutely incompatible with planetary boundaries and the carrying capacity of the planet we inhabit. That is the main lesson of the Anthropocene. So what kind of model will replace neoliberalism? In this chapter I summarise some alternatives formulated by social scientists and movements, and refer to the Kingdom of Bhutan, which happens to be a real-life example, not based on any model but on the philosophical principles of Buddhism, which informs social practice, thinking and customs in that country. From my perspective, the name of the model to be established is unimportant; what matters is that neoliberalism must be terminated, otherwise humanity risks extinction. On the other hand, as seen on previous pages, IR theory has several dimensions in accordance with the different components of the subsystems that are part of the international system. The economic subsystem is a fundamental component of them, since the production of goods, services and trade is an indispensable part of satisfying human needs.
Full-text available
The maximum rate of global ecophagy by biovorous self-replicating nanorobots is fundamentally restricted by the replicative strategy employed; by the maximum dispersal velocity of mobile replicators; by operational energy and chemical element requirements; by the homeostatic resistance of biological ecologies to ecophagy; by ecophagic thermal pollution limits (ETPL); and most importantly by our determination and readiness to stop them. Assuming current and foreseeable energy-dissipative designs requiring ~100 MJ/kg for chemical transformations (most likely for biovorous systems), ecophagy that proceeds slowly enough to add ~4°C to global warming (near the current threshold for immediate climatological detection) will require ~20 months to run to completion; faster ecophagic devices run hotter, allowing quicker detection by policing authorities. All ecophagic scenarios examined appear to permit early detection by vigilant monitoring, thus enabling rapid deployment of effective defensive instrumentalities.
Crystalline bacterial-cell-surface-layer (S-layer) proteins can assemble into large-scale, coherent, two-dimensional arrays on solid supports, air–water interfaces and lipid films. S-layers can be patterned by deep ultraviolet radiation and, after reinforcement, used as high-resolution resists in silicon technology. S-layers might also be used as, for example, immobilization matrices for biologically functional molecules or templates in the formation of ordered arrays of nanoparticles, which are required for nanoelectronics and nonlinear optics. As an alternative to soft polymer cushions, S-layers can also be used as stabilizing and supporting structures for lipid membranes.
Being digital was supposed to mean less demand for hard energy.