4 Industrial ecology

Integrated Product Policy

4.1 Introduction

In this chapter, I discuss the area of industrial ecology, which is based on the metaphor that compares industrial systems to ecosystems. According to the concept of industrial ecology, industrial systems should strive to follow the same principles that govern natural systems in order to imitate their higher overall efficiency. Like ecological economists, industrial ecologists perceive the economy as embedded in the Earth’s ecosystem, which is another reason for the economy to follow natural principles. Indeed, as we shall see in this chapter, industrial ecology is closely related to ecological economics, but more focused on industry and products. To continue this line of thought, the following chapter takes a closer look at two specific tools usually associated with industrial ecology – life-cycle assessment (LCA) and eco-design. These indicate how the principles of industrial ecology reviewed in this chapter apply directly to prod­ucts.

So far, the potential application of industrial ecology as a basis for policy making seems to have been underestimated. Allen by (2002: 61) suggested that the reason for this has been that ‘the theoretical foundations upon which robust industrial ecology policy structures could be based do not yet exist’. With this chapter, I aim to contribute to establishing such foundations, by presenting the IPP as potentially the first policy to be based on industrial ecology. Also, I would like to contribute to more general discussions on the use of industrial ecology as a basis for policy making. Indeed, in his analysis of the institutional­ization of industrial ecology, Ehrenfeld (2004b) looked at the adoption of this field in academia, industry and government. He concluded that the application of industrial ecology at the government level is becoming relatively significant, especially in the EU, with its emphasis on extended producer responsibility (EPR) and the IPP as the principal examples. Therefore, a better understanding of industrial ecology is crucial, so that its potential benefits as a foundation for policy making can be fully exploited.

To satisfy the above objectives, the chapter is structured as follows. In section 4.2, I introduce the concept of industrial ecology by providing its defini­tions and goals and briefly analyse the place of products in this field. I then proceed to the discussion of the theoretical foundations of industrial ecology in section 4.3. Although there is unanimous agreement that industrial ecology sug­gests that industrial systems should mimic their natural counterparts, rarely are more detailed and thorough discussions carried out regarding which ecosystem principles industry should follow. Although my analysis is not complete, I hope that it constitutes a valuable input into future discussions on the subject. A number of implications for the IPP are derived in this section. In section 4.4, I present the principal applications of industrial ecology as they have emerged (or have been absorbed) within this field, most of which can be exercised within the IPP framework. Before proceeding to a summary and conclusions (section 4.6), I explain why industrial ecology should be treated as a subset of ecological eco­nomics (section 4.5). Although some industrial ecologists refer to the links with ecological economics, just as some ecological economists do in the other direc­tion, the exact relationship between the two fields has not yet been established. I attempt to do this because it is essential from the point of view of this book to see industrial ecology and ecological economics as a coherent body of know­ledge.