8.4.3 Emulating the third telos of nature

Integrated Product Policy

The three tele governing all living elements of ecosystems (self-maintenance, development and self-realization; replication and renewal; and service to other organisms, to other species or to the whole of nature) contribute to the resilience and sustainability of ecosystems (Faber et at. 1995). Imitating them might help us to enhance the resilience and sustainability of economic systems, and for this, economic entities would have to be metaphorically treated as organisms (in line with the theoretical foundations of industrial ecology). The third telos is related to interconnectedness which, although it exists in an economy, is rarely acknow­ledged, mainly because it is difficult to depict. Input-output analysis can serve to depict it and, for this reason, among others, it is widely applied in ecological economics and industrial ecology. In nature, interconnectedness translates into the diversity of organisms and the degree of interactions among them. This further involves communication and information sharing. In the case of product chains, this includes both enhancing communication linkages and improving the information absorptive capacity (ability to interpret that information) of the members of those chains (discussed in section 4.3).

Furthermore, the interconnected and sophisticated ‘web of life’ in nature principally relies on the exchange of services. Indeed, this is no less true in the case of an economy, where ‘goods which are “consumed” really only render certain services’, as Ayres and Kneese (1969: 284) noted. Thus, all consumption decisions are driven by the search for function or utility (as depicted in subsec­tion 5.3.1 on functional thinking). Enhancing cooperation and communication between various stakeholders has been addressed in the IPP, but it needs further development.

Thus, instead of focusing on creating markets for environmentally friendly prod­ucts, the IPP should rather promote functional thinking and consequently, again, the idea of ‘reasonable’ consumption. ‘Reasonable’ means being able to identify those consumption options that are most favourable from the point of view of the long-term well-being of the ecosystem on which the economy ultimately depends. Thus, making consumption ‘reasonable’ should also make it sustainable. Eventually, this would lead to the transformation of the economy towards being service- (or func­tionality-) based, rather than being product-based (already argued also by other EU institutions, as mentioned in section 2.5). In this regard, the IPP should link to con­cepts such as product-service systems (PSS, see subsection 5.5.1).

In the case of products the consumption of which cannot be avoided or sub­stituted with services, proper end-of-life management should be ensured, so that their wastes are managed in an environmentally sound way. This requires increasing the diversity of industrial organisms and, especially, creating niches to deal with waste materials that have so far been left out of the economic process, and as such constituted a source of pollution. To support such a devel­opment, another paradigm shift should take place product life-cycles should not be perceived as unidirectional but as cyclic, as are life-cycles in nature ( as argued in subsection 3.3.1 and Chapters 4 and 5).

Finally, the above strategies should be complemented with relevant product innovation and improvement. More environmentally friendly (durable and func­tional) products will satisfy consumer needs more efficiently and, thus, fewer will be necessary. Also, the IPP should require that products are designed in such a way that they would suit use by a community, a rental (or leasing) company or another PSS-type of organization, and not only by an individual (thus increasing the interconnectedness within the system). Finally, if markets for green products are to be promoted (as suggested in the IPP), they should serve as a replacement for traditional markets, rather than exist alongside them.