Industrial Ecology


Industrial ecology seeks to link together industrial processes so that one process makes use of the by-products of another that would otherwise go to waste. In this way resources are used more productively, less hazardous waste and other pollution is generated, and material, energy and water throughput is minimised.

The design of products can facilitate industrial ecology, by allowing used products to be easily broken down and their componenets reused.


Closed-Loop Systems

Source: Industrial Ecology. Wikipedia

Industrial ecology is the shifting of industrial process from linear (open loop) systems, in which resource and capital investments move through the system to become waste, to a closed loop system where wastes become inputs for new processes.

[With industrial ecology] industrial systems behave like ecosystems, where the wastes of one [industrial process] are the resource for another [industrial process], thus reducing use of raw materials, pollution, and saving on waste treatment.

Waste as a Raw Material

Source: Strategies for Manufacturing (PDF). Robert A. Frosch and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos. University of Coimbra. (Originally published in Scientific American, 261.3, 1989)

Waste from one industrial process can serve as the raw materials for another, thereby reducing the impact of industry on the environment.

Industrial Ecology Resources

Source: African American Environmentalist Association (http://www/

This is a link to the heading above: Industrial Ecology Resources.

Changing Industry to Improve the Environment

Source: Industrial ecology. Earthbeat, ABC, 2002.1.12

Industrial ecology is about changing industry so it improves the environment rather than degrading it and designing incentives that make it more cost competitive to fix problems than create them.

Integrating Environmental Concerns and Economic Activities

Source: International Society for Industrial Ecology

Industrial ecology looks for innovative solutions to complicated environmental problems, by better integrating environmental concerns and economic activities.

History of Industrial Ecology

Source: A History of Industrial Ecology. International Society for Industrial Ecology

In 1989, an article by Robert Frosch and Nicholas Gallopoulos in Scientific American, “Strategies for Manufacturing”, suggested the need for "an industrial ecosystem" in which "the use of energies and materials is optimized, wastes and pollution are minimized, and there is an economically viable role for every product of a manufacturing process." Frosch and Gallopoulos envisioned a more integrated model of industrial activity that would be environmentally sustainable on a global level.

Industrial ecology examines local, regional and global uses and flows of materials and energy in products, processes, industrial sectors and economies and focuses on the potential role of industry in reducing environmental burdens throughout the product life cycle. 

Industrial ecology asks us to “understand how the industrial system works, how it is regulated, and its interaction 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.”

The field encompasses a variety of related areas of research and practice, including:

Land Use Planning for Waste Re-use

Source: Industrial Ecology. Australian Government

Land use planning can be applied to ensure that industrial developments are placed in areas where they will have a minimal environmental and community impact. Zoning laws can also be designed to encourage symbiotic, or complementary industries, to be sited in the same areas.

"Industrial ecology parks" can facilitate improved recycling of outputs from one industry by other industries, rather than those outputs simply being treated as waste and sent to landfill. Such recycling reduces waste and increases profits, not only for the creator of outputs, but also the buyer.

This design also reduces transport costs and the environmental effects of transport. The environmental impacts of transport and specifically road transport in metropolitan areas are particularly high. It has been calculated that on commercial arterial roads, diesel powered vehicles account for 52.5% of nitrogen oxide emissions and 82.5% of particulates in exhaust emissions, despite only accounting for 14% of vehicle trips on these roads.

Stricter planning in the original development of individual industrial sites can also encourage the incorporation of cleaner production practices. Better initial plant design can promote energy efficiency, for example, in using heat from one process for other processes. Such planning should be required for significant new developments, through environment impact statements which consider and incorporate cleaner production design principles.

Businesses applying for works approval under the Victorian Environment Protection Act 1970 must provide a waste management plan, which identifies waste minimisation options at the design stage, before they build their facilities. Works approval applications must also demonstrate that at the very least, commonly available technologies are being used to minimise wastes, and, where priority or hazardous wastes are being generated, that best available technology will be applied.

Land-Use Planning for Waste Re-use - Breweries

Source: Industrial Ecology. Australian Government

Gunter Pauli, Director of the Zero Emissions Research Initiative, Japan, gives the following example for recycling brewery waste products, which shows that zoning and land-use laws can be effectively designed to encourage recycling and reduction of waste:

" ...when a brewery wishes to dispose of its spent grain, it has to transport this residue over miles and miles at a high cost. If mushroom farming could be established next to the beer brewery, then we would have a most efficient production facility... But the zoning laws...prohibit farming activities in an industrial zone." " ...when one realises that four tons of spent grain is enough to generate one ton of mushrooms, then it is clear to anyone that if you are a beer brewer, you are actually in the mushroom business as well. And the residual waste of one ton of mushrooms is sufficient to feed 100 pigs per year and pork is sold on the market for US$3 a kilogram...The dung from the pigs is equivalent to the energy of 3 gallons of gasoline per day, that is, some 5 000 litres of petroleum per year, free of charge...the waste residue is then dropped through gravity forces in algae ponds and from thereon in fish ponds which are flooded with nutrients so that 50% of the pond is covered with floating gardens, growing some two tons of rice per year"


Source: The Industrial Ecology Agenda. Resource Optimization Initiative

The principal objective of Industrial Ecology is to reorganize the industrial system (including all aspects of human activity) so that it evolves towards a mode of operation that is compatible with the biosphere and is sustainable over the long-term.

The strategy for implementing the concepts of Industrial Ecology is often referred to as eco-restructuring and can be described in terms of four main elements:

Industrial Metabolism

Source: Waste Not. Natural Capital.

Industry ingests energy, metals and minierals, water, and forest, fisheries, and farm products. It excretes liquids and solid waste - variously degradable or persistent toxic pollutants - and exhales gases, which are a form of molecular garbage.

[In living systems, biological materials can be easily broken down and reused by organisms to build themselves.] Twenty years from now, our forests and descendants will not be built from pieces of polystyrene cups, Sony walkmen, and Reebok cross-trainers. The components of these goods do not naturally recycle.

Optimising the Total Materials Cycle

Source: Industrial Ecology: Concepts and Approaches. LW Jelinski, TE Graedel, RA Laudise, DW McCall and CKN Patel. PNAS, 1992.2

Industrial ecology is a new approach to the industrial design of products and processes and the implementation of sustainable manufacturing strategies. An industrial system is viewed not in isolation from its surrounding systems but in concert with them. Industrial ecology seeks to optimize the total materials cycle from virgin material to finished material, to component, to product, to waste product, and to ultimate disposal.

Avoiding Future Remediation

Source: Industrial Ecology. CKN Patel, PNAS, 1992.2

Industrial ecology addresses production, use, and disposal technologies. It seeks to reduce the resources devoted to potential remediation in the future. This cradle-to-reincarnation production philosophy includes industrial processes that are environmentally sound and products that are environmentally safe during use and economically recyclable after use without adverse impact on the environment or on the net cost to society. Needed: an industry-university-government round table to set the strategy and agenda for progress.

Designing Waste for Reuse

Source: Industrial Ecology: A Philosophical Introduction. RA Frosch, PNAS, 1992.2

By analogy with natural ecosystems, an industrial ecology system, in addition to minimizing waste production in processes, would maximize the economical use of waste materials and of products at the ends of their lives as inputs to other processes and industries. Problems to be solved include the design of wastes along with the design of products and processes, the economics of such a system, the internalizing of the costs of waste disposal to the design and choice of processes and products, the effects of regulations intended for other purposes, and problems of responsibility and liability.

Shaping Industrial Metabolism with Price Signals

Industry as a Metabolic Activity. B Smart, PNAS 1992.2

The environment and the economy are not separate systems but intertwined to form a complex natural and social setting. The human-designed economic system depends on natural resource inputs, and in turn its metabolic wastes can overload the ecological system, threatening the long-term survivability of both.

We must harness the metabolism of the industrial world to the realities of the natural one by recognizing the immense value of depletable natural resources and ecosystems. Considering these resources as "cheap" or "free" encourages their overuse. We need to price these resources at their true longterm value.

If we can send our metabolic industry the economic signals it can understand, we can retrofit our human economic system to live in harmony with the natural ecosystem of which we are a part. Corporations will respond naturally, quickly, and efficiently to such signals.

Corporate metabolisms, like those in nature, react to stimuli, collect and use resources, and grow or perish based on how effectively they compete. Corporate management recognizes and responds naturally and efficiently to cost and price signals. Through them it selects resources and converts them into useful products. The efficiency with which this is done is measured by profit, the lifeblood of the corporation and its means of growth. Profit thus provides a discipline on corporate behavior, encouraging efficient performers, and, by its absence, weeding out others.


Agent Based Models of Industrial Ecosystems. RL Axtell, CJ Andrews, MJ Small. Rutgers University,

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 83.3, 1992.2. Includes several articles on industrial ecology.

Explanatory Factors for Eco-Efficient Behavior of Firms. Seong-Jai Kim, Rutgers University, 2002.8


Journal of Industrial Ecology

Resource Optimization Initiative - Industrial Ecology promises to be a new exciting platform for planning - for regional development and for business. Such plans are built on an understanding of the flow of material and energy in a defined system and not just on the basis of monetary indicators. Such a system of planning is particularly relevant in developing countries, where resources are often priced according to the ability of the citizens to pay rather than on the basis of market forces.