Industrial Ecology

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Industrial ecology aims to reduce the environmental impact of industry by examining material and energy flows in products, processes, industrial sectors, and economies. Industrial ecology provides a long-term perspective, encouraging consideration of the overall development of both technologies and policies for sustainable resource utilization and environmental protection into the future. It emphasizes opportunities for new technologies and new processes, and those for economically beneficial efficiencies. Industrial ecology draws on and extends a variety of related approaches including systems analysis, industrial metabolism, materials flow analysis, life cycle analysis, pollution prevention, design for environment, product stewardship, energy technology assessment, and eco-industrial parks.

Greater material efficiency, the use of better materials, and the growth of the service economy can contribute to the "dematerialization" of the economy. Resources that are cheap, abundant, and environmentally benign may be used to replace those that are expensive, scarce, or environmentally harmful. Such a substitution can be seen in the many important changes in energy sources that have occurred over the past century. As the energy sources have shifted from wood and coal toward petroleum and natural gas, the average amount of carbon per unit energy produced has decreased significantly, resulting in the "decarbonization" of world energy use.

Another strategy for reducing environmental impact is the substitution of services for products, meaning that customers do not seek specific physical products, but rather the services provided by those products. For example, an integrated pest management service might provide crop protection rather than selling pesticides. The service thus saves money by using only as much pesticide as needed.

Another industrial ecology strategy is to use waste products as raw materials. These efforts often come into conflict with concerns about hazardous materials in the wastes, such as the concern that trace metals in ash from



Symptoms associated with building-related health problems are commonly referred to as sick building syndrome. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers describes a building in which more than 20 percent of its occupants report building-related illness as a sick building. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; dryness of mucous membranes and skin; erythema; mental fatigue; headaches; airway infections; coughing; hoarseness; wheezing; nausea; dizziness; and unspecific hypersensitivity. It is difficult to identify specific causes of the problem. The complaints reported by the occupants of "sick buildings" are generally nonspecific in nature and, therefore, it is very hard to establish a causal relationship between symptoms and pollutants present in the building.

industrial metabolism flow of resources and energy in an industrial system stewardship care for a living system

Industrial Ecology _


plasterboard road construction road construction

pig farmers

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Contaminated Building Reuse Architecture

fermentation sludge local farmers fermentation sludge local farmers power plants recycled in fertilizer may contaminate soil. However, in some cases, such waste reuse can be successful. In the industrial district in Kalund-borg, Denmark, several industries, including the town's power station, oil refinery, and plasterboard manufacturer, make use of waste streams and energy resources, and turn by-products into products.

There are many examples of technological innovations that have had significant environmental benefits. An important example is the replacement of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) with new compounds in order to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. Other examples are the elimination of mercury in batteries, and the elimination of lead in gasoline, paint, and solder.

The challenge of industrial ecology is to understand how technological and social innovation can be harnessed to solve environmental problems and provide for the well-being of the entire world. see also Chlorofluoro-carbons (CFCs); Industry; Lead; Life Cycle Analysis; Recycling; Reuse.


Frosch, R.A., and Gallopoulos, N.E. (1989). "Strategies for Manufacturing." Scientific American 261(3):144-152.

Graedel, T.E., and Allenby, B.R. (1995). Industrial Ecology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Socolow, R.; Andrews, C.; Berkhout, F.; and Thomas, V., eds. (1994). Industrial Ecology and Global Change. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Internet Resource

Journal of Industrial Ecology. MIT Press. Available from

Valerie M. Thomas

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