A Work in Progress for Sustainably Connecting the Environment, Economy, Government, and
Image taken from Pollution Issues.com
The main rationale behind this literature review is to discover what industrial ecology is, its
shortcomings, advantages, and its importance in politics, economics, planning, and society. By
duplicating nature’s “closed-loop” system of handling waste, industrial ecology can bring
sustainability in all sectors of modern civilization (Lowe 1992, 418). Several forms of industrial
ecology exist, but only the most general ones are discussed in this literature review. They are:
Sustainability as a framework of industrial ecology
Descriptive vs prescriptive models
Life Cycle Assessment/Analysis (LCA)
Total Cost Assessment/Analysis (TCA)
Life Cycle Cost Assessment/Analysis
Design for Environment (DfE)
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Most publications in this literature review focus on what industrial ecology has achieved,
how it can be accomplished, where it has failed, and how to avoid shortcomings. Filled with rich
information of recommendations in many peer-reviewed articles, industrial ecology is a concept
that has mixed between successes and failures throughout industrialized and developing
countries. Case study analyses on industrial ecological practices are addressed in this literature
review and include the countries of Demark, China, and the United States of America. Several
political, economic, and social factors have all played significant roles in industrial ecology’s
developmental outcomes, which are all instrumental to its success.
SUSTAINABILITY AS A FRAMEWORK OF INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY
Industrial ecology is primarily composed of various frameworks that all focus on the
centralized theme of sustainability. It is claimed that the industrial sector and its structure
simultaneously affects and is impacted by its environment (Lowe 1992, 418). Thus, the main
purpose of industrial ecology is to restructure the industrial sector from being dichotomous to the
global natural environment to being in accord with the global ecosystem (Lowe 1992, p. 418).
Industrial ecology’s cornerstone roots from the concept of biological ecology where nature
utilizes resources in a cyclic-like function (e.g. producers, primary consumers, secondary
consumers, tertiary consumers, scavengers, decomposers, and detritivores) which could
theoretically solve problems of resource scarcity and environmental pollution in industrial
practices (Tiejun 2010, 442). Through both analytical and systemic functions, industrial ecology is
an attempt of reaching global carrying capacity of the human species (Lowe and Evans 1995,
48). An example of an analytical function would involve the measurements on the impacts a
systemic function has had on the environment (Seager and Theis 2002, 226-227). Industrial
ecology, however, primarily functions on the premise of imitating the best practices from
biological systems (Boons and Bass 1997, 80). Therefore, an example of a biological-systemic
function could take the form of holistic communities (industry, residential, public, and
commercial) involved in a well-organized, cooperative and symbiotic system to reduce
environmental impact (Ehrenfield 2004, 825).
MAIN THEMES AND DEBATES:
DESCRIPTVE VS PRESCRIPTIVE MODELS
Many concepts in industrial ecology were uniformly described by various authors.
However, the categorization and the definitions for some of those concepts were missing or had
been assumed to be one single article, when in fact they were separate. A prime example of
the disarray in concept, definition, and categorization occurred with the LCA tool of industrial
metabolism, which will be explained in further detail ahead. Fortunately, Seager and Theis (2002)
took the time to publish a journal article that attempted to clear the mass confusion. Their
organizational structure of terms and definitions set forth a logical structure of the multi-
dimensional concepts industrial ecology brings forth. Therefore, Seager and Theis (2002, 226-227)
separated Industrial ecology into two different models. They are: descriptive and prescriptive.
Descriptive models describe the way things are and do not make recommendations on the way
things should be (Seager and Theis 2002, 226-227). An example of a descriptive model in
industrial ecology is a Life Cycle Analysis (Seager and Theis 2002, 226-227). Prescriptive models
explain how things should be done and an example of a prescriptive model would be systems
analysis (Seager and Theis 2002, 226-227).
Under the descriptions of LCAs and systems analysis exists a diversity of methodologies to
their applications. These methodologies and applications of LCA and systems analysis are
introduced and defined under the explanation of the model (LCA or systems analysis) itself. If it
weren’t for Seager and Theis (2002) and their introduction of a two-branched categorization of
industrial ecology, this literature review would have been scattered with a variety of simple and
complex models and theories.
Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
Life Cycle Analysis is a descriptive system and a tool in industrial ecology that assesses
the environmental impacts of a particular product from its origins of extraction, production,
consumption, and to the disposal and/or recycling of the product. LCAs are also used to make
mitigation measures. (Boons and Bass 1997, 82). However, they are mainly applicable to
industrial metabolism where thermodynamic properties in the form of entropy and exergy are
measured (Seager and Theis 2002, 226 and Ehrenfield 2004, 827). There are usually four steps to
conducting research with LCAs: scoping (intents, purpose, and focus), inventory analysis
(estimating the resources needed for life and death/repurpose of a product), impact
assessment (environmental effects), and improvement assessment [mitigation measures]
(Seager and Theis 2002, 227).
Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) A Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) has been produced
by systems engineers to measure the costs behind all points of a system or product from
extraction/design, manufacturing/production, distribution, use, maintenance, and disposal. It is
very similar to an LCA, but it focuses on costs as opposed to environmental impact. LCCA is
currently used as a complement to LCAs and can measure environmental impacts based on
costs (Utne 2009,335).
Total Cost Assessment (TCA) A Total Cost Analysis is used to measure all possible
(uncertain and certain) costs to make informed decisions in an industrial firm. TCAs include, but
are not limited to: litigation, remediation for toxic spills, company image, employee misbehavior,
or disposal costs (Seager and Theis 2002, 230). TCAs are similar to LCAs in the event that it
measures as many impacts as possible, except more in the perspective of keeping a company
prosperous and void of overbearing costs in operations.
Industrial Metabolism Industrial metabolism is applied to LCAs in the form of measuring
thermodynamic properties. Those thermodynamic properties are in the form of exergy. Exergy is
a binding of the first and second laws of thermodynamics that allows the availability of energy
to perform work to be measured (Ayre 2004, 426 and 428 and Seager and Theis 2002, 230).
Exergy can be found in the following forms: pressure, heat exchange, chemical, kinetic, and
potential (Seager and Theis 2002, 230).
Industrial metabolism is used to bridge LCA and systems analysis through
thermodynamics. With the knowledge of how much energy needs to be used in order to
perform work, quantifiable measurements can be made monetarily, thus, applications to a
structure (policy, reduction of environmental impacts, cost reductions, etc) can also be created
(Seager and Theis 2002, 230 and Ehrenfield 2004, 827).
It must be noted that in light of the research conducted in this literature review, industrial
metabolism and industrial ecology were interchangeably defined (Ayre 2004, 426 and Seager
and Theis 2002, 226). For example, (Ayre 2004, 426) describes industrial ecology and industrial
metabolism as the same thing, “in recent years, another protodiscipline, Industrial Ecology (or
Industrial Metabolism) has emerged.” Lowe and Evans (1995, 48) on the other hand, termed
industrial metabolism as a tool and subset of industrial ecology, “some policy-makers and
industrial managers are using IE-based tools, such as dynamic input-output models, industrial
metabolism analysis and design for environment.” Seager and Theis (2002) unmarried the two
concepts and made industrial metabolism a sub-category of industrial ecology like Lowe and
Evans (1995) had done to make a clear distinction between the two due to their different levels
Systems analysis is a prescriptive model and an apparatus in industrial ecology that
focuses on enhancing or making organizational structure, decision making, and relationships
between stakeholders sustainable and efficient (Seager and Theis 227). Systems analysis
conventionally utilizes a quantitative model to measure the structure of a system being used in
industrial ecology in the form of some unit (a monetary unit would be an example). The structure
is a chain of relationships in coordination and cooperation between or within stakeholders in the
form of (but not limited to) firms, residents, and government all focused on an objective [e.g.
reducing the cost of manufacturing, minimizing environmental hazards, policy framework,
resource management plans, or all] (Seager and Theis 228 and Ehrenfield 2004, 827).
Design for Environment (DfE) Design for Environment is the application of the mitigated
component of an LCA for a particular product where environmental impacts are reduced
[lower energy usage, reduced utilization of materials for production, greenhouse gas emissions
reduction, reduction in water usage, increased recyclability rate, etc] (Lowe 1992, 420). DfE,
however, has been found to have another definition in the sense that it solely focuses on
pollution prevention. “DfE utilizes pollution prevention approach to ensure that, during the
earliest stages of a new process or product (the design stage), the environmental impacts are
elucidated and incorporated into the development of technology” (Anastas, and Breen 1997,
98). DfE’s key trait is nonetheless, whether pollution prevention or LCA, reducing environmental
impacts. Ultimately, DfE is considered a systems analysis because as Lowe (1992, 420) explains
“DfE offers systems analysis tools to integrate decision making across all environmental
implications of a product” and “enables designers to consider traditional design issues of cost,
quality and efficiency as part of the same decision system.”
Eco-Industrial Parks (EIPs) An EIP is a form of systems analysis and is claimed to be
exemplary of what industrial ecology attempts to holistically achieve (Lowe 1992, 420). EIPs are
industrial parks that function in a symbiotic relationship where multiple firms or other buildings
(residential or governmental) are using and recycling waste and emissions in a connected web.
EIPs must utilize clean and responsible production and are designed, constructed, engineered,
and architected in a sustainable manner (Roberts 2004, 1001). Cooperation and collaboration
and sharing of knowledge and technologies are critical to a successful EIP (Roberts 2004, 1001).
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Extended Producer Responsibility is a
governmental policy framework that makes industry primarily responsible for the proper disposal
of their manufactured material. In other words, whoever is a producer, designer, or merchant of
products, they are required to take it back and sustainably deal with the discards. Most
importantly, producers are the most responsible with the handling of products and all parties
involved in the production of a material must take into consideration of DfE principals. EPR has
been adopted as a policy in the European Union as the Integrated Product Policy (Ehrenfield
2004, 829 and CPSC 2008).
MAIN THEMES AND DEBATES:
CASE STUDIES OF SUCCESS AND FAILURES IN INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY
Since EIPs are the most frequently discussed, researched, and practiced in industrial
ecology peer-reviewed articles, they will be used to describe the benefits and drawbacks of
industrial ecology in the form of various case studies around the world.
Denmark and China’s Successes in Industrial Ecology
In Kalundborg, Denmark a functioning and successful EIP was produced where waste
and energy exchanges exist between an electric power generating plant, a biotechnology
plant, an oil refinery, a fish farm, local city administration, a plasterboard factory, sulfuric acid
producer, a sulfuric acid manufacturer, cement firms, agriculture and horticulture activities, and
district heating utilities (Lowe 1992, 420 and Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 454).
Steam generated from the power plant is transferred over to the fish farm, to the district,
the oil refinery, and the biotechnology plant (Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 454-455 and Lowe and
Evans 1995, 49). The power plant produces electricity from the combustion of the waste gas
created by the oil refinery and coal, but also utilizes energy from its own steam production
(Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 454-455 and Lowe and Evans 1995, 49). Sludge created by the fish farm
and pharmaceutical production of fertilizers and yeasts are both utilized by agricultural and
horticultural farms (Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 454-455 and Lowe and Evans 1995, 49). The electric
power generated plant produces fly ash through the combustion of gas from the oil refinery and
coal (Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 454-455 and Lowe and Evans 1995, 49). The fly ash is then collected
and shipped over to a cement manufacturer and the plasterboard company for use (Gibbs and
Duetz 2003, 454-455 and Lowe and Evans 1995, 49). Gypsum is also generated from the power
plant through desulfurization activities and is also sent to the plasterboard company (Gibbs and
Duetz 2003, 454-455 and Lowe and Evans 1995, 49). Additionally, excess refinery gas is used by
the wallboard firm and recovery of sulfur from the oil refinery is also used as fuel for the power
plant. (Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 454-455 and Lowe and Evans 1995, 49).
Approximated calculations have been generated in Kalundborg’s activities. Roughly 2.9
million tons of waste is exchanged on an annual basis with reductions of water usage by 25%, 19
x 103 tonnes of oil usage, and a decrease of 30 x 103 tonnes of coal usage (Gibbs and Duetz
2003, 455 and Lowe and Evans 1995, 50).
The Kalundborg EIP was not initially planned as an EIP, but developed to an EIP overtime
through collaboration between companies after realizing that they could reduce costs of
production. Environmental advantages that were produced were not intentional, but were
included as an addition to the wide range of benefits (Heeres, Vermeulen, and Walle 2004, 986).
The Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) is one of the top three
EIPs in China. Developed in December 1984, TEDA has formed symbiotic relationships between
81 companies and organizations. TEDA is a combination of resource recovery facilities,
biotechnology, electronics, utilities, and automobile-related businesses. Of the 81 exchanges, 9%
of them were for energy, 15% was for water, and 76% for materials (Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010,
In TEDA, a water technologies company collects sewage water, treats and filters it, and
then supplies the water to an artificial wetland, energy and automotive industries, and a
landscaping company (Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010,192, 195-197). Co-generation plants in TEDA
are principally used to produce steam for heating of several firms. Existing coal fire power plants
and a caustic soda plant are used for heating purposes either directly or through steam
production for companies to use (Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010,192, 195-197). Landscaping and
agricultural activities receive soil from sediments of the nearby bay, sludge from the caustic
soda company, and fly ash from the coal fired heating plant (Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010,192,
195-197). Floor tiles from a flooring company were produced from bottom ash and haydite also
produced from the thermal power plants, which are treated by a hazardous waste facility (Shi,
Chertow, and Song 2010,192, 195-197). A cluster of electronic companies exist in TEDA and
exchange lead solder matter, cathode ray tube glass, waste oil, and silver (Shi, Chertow, and
Song 2010,192, 195-197). Food companies in TEDA supply animals in nearby farms with food
scraps, a starch company transfers its starch excess to produce coal starters for a briquette
company, and soy beans, lecithin, and fatty acid remains are distributed to other food firms
(Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010,192, 195-197). Fertilizers are produced from a pharmaceutical
company and utilized by local farmers. Automobile clusters recycle scraps in the form of various
metals and batteries between each other (Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010,192, 195-197). The
remaining sectors exchange wood scraps for wood, printing products and fuel and pottery
companies send excess gypsum to a cement company (Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010,192, 195-
In 2006, some of the benefits of TEDA are as such: over 3,700 tons of food residuals
converted into animal feed, 1.26 million cubic meters of reclaimed water was bought and used
by factories, and 5,115 tons of lead refuse were recycled into 3,094 tons of lead alloys (Shi,
Chertow, and Song 2010, 196).
Unfortunately, an aggregate of 11 symbiotic relationships discontinued, but the
remaining 70 were still functioning as of 2009. Some of the failures of the exchanges were due to
lack of clean production, increasing prices in exchanges, environmental liability, and
bankruptcy (Shi, Chertow, and Song 2010, 197).
The United States of America‘s Shortcomings in Industrial Ecology
Symbiosis information for EIPs in the United States could not be found. Therefore, more
research must be conducted to find the valuable relationships and quantifiable benefits the
United States EIPs may have. However, three EIPs have been identified as Fairfield, Brownsville,
and Cape Charles (Heeres, Vermulen, and Walle 2004, 988-989). Costs for the respective EIPs
were the following: $62 million, $250,000, and $7.5 million. Environmental benefits could not be
quantified, but Fairfield is projected to create 2,500 jobs within a decade starting from 2004 and
Cape Charles had created 395 jobs in 2004 (Heeres, Vermulen, and Walle 2004, 988-989).
Several restraints have been identified in US EIPs from excelling. Government control
through finance, NGOs and public restraints, lack of industrial initiation, lack of collaboration
between firms, autonomy from government, and absence in environmental concern all played
individual, but binding roles in the slow development of United States’ EIPs. Further, the United
States EIPs don’t have a leading contributor of exchanges, which is also known as a local
champion or anchor tenants. Local champions are essentially the main industries that bind
entire systems together. Denmark practices the function of local champions and is the major
factor contributing to their success (Heeres, Vermulen, and Walle 2004, 991-992 and Gibbs and
Deutz 2005, 462). Ironically enough, however, is the fact that Denmark initially did not intend on
having environmental benefits through industrial ecology. The concept of industrial ecology was
not entirely known by the Kalundborg pioneers and, thus, their primary motive was economically
based (Heeres, Vermeulen, and Walle 2004, 986). An economically focused EIP was considered
to be problematic in the U.S., but not in Denmark. Stringent government regulation could be the
leading contributor to the sluggish expansion and progress of US EIPs since two-thirds of the
projects initiated were almost fully funded by the government, and therefore, controlled and
retrained from cooperation and collaboration between the firms (Heeres, Vermeulen, and Walle
2004, 990). The Dutch’s projects, however, were initiated and mainly ran by the industries
themselves with the government simply assisting and providing some of the funding (Heeres,
Vermeulen, and Walle 2004, 990).
MAIN THESES AND DEBATES:
SECTORS AND THEIR ROLES IN INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY
Main Themes and Debates- Sectors and their Roles in Industrial Ecology
Industrial ecology can have major impacts on several sectors in cities. Therefore, a closer
examination must be taken to understand the relationships between these two themes.
Government In industrial ecology, government is included in a variety of factors for the
successes in industrial ecology. As a regulation requirement in extended producer responsibility
for example, government must hold industry responsible in applying design for environment
practices, increasing accessibility in accepting refuse from the public, and conducting proper
disposal practices for the products that they manufacture, design, or sell (Lowe 1992 420.
Ehrenfield 2004, 829, and California Product Stewardship Council 2012).
Industrial ecology holds government accountable to incentivize industrial ecology
programs. An eco industrial park (EIPs) is an example where government should provide means
for funding. However, it has been advised that government should only fund EIPs by half (50%)
because the ultimate goal for the EIP is to self-sustain itself through collaborative and
cooperative measures (Heeres, Vermeulen, and Walle 2004, 991). Government, in this case, can
be a major restrictor of innovation, economic sustainability, and can obscure the goals the EIPs
intend on achieving (Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 458-460 and Heeres, Vermeulen, and Walle 2004,
It has been acknowledged that government’s policy-making lifecycle is analogous to a
life cycle analysis (LCA): initiation, scope, selection, implementation, evaluation, and
termination. However, policy’s greatest shortcoming, streamlined with industrial ecology, is that
its only greatest achievement is during initiation where issues are identified. Recommendations
are made to policy makers to closely study several industrial ecology case studies at once and
select the benefits while ridding of the faulty components of them to create a well-informed and
educated industrial ecology policy that is reflective of their own locality (Lifset 2005, 2 and Salmi
and Olli 2007, 99).
Economics/Industry Industrial ecology has the word ‘industry’ in it and is based on
transforming current economic frameworks of industry into one that copies nature’s cyclic
function of ‘closing loops,’ recycling of waste (produces no waste), or sustainability. However,
industry has no primary producer like nature does via photosynthesis through solar energy, but in
reality requires natural resources, labor, and money (Ayres 2004, 425, 428, and 431). Unrecycled
wastes in ecological functions occur all the time in nature, such as coal, oil, and iron formations
(Ayres 2004, 425, 428, and 431). If it does not work in nature, then all industrial wastes cannot
always be economically recycled either. There is much dissimilarity between neoclassical
economics the world currently functions under when it’s compared to nature, and thus, puts
many fundamental ideologies of industrial ecology into question such as putting monetary value
into exergy and defining formal forms of capital and labor (Ayres 2004, 425, 428, and 431). On
the other hand, there has been success in Denmark’s eco-industrial parks where cost savings
were substantial by using systems analysis and life cycle analysis (Gibbs and Duetz 2003, 455 and
Lowe and Evans 1995, 50).
Planning It has been claimed that the absence of adequate planning and design in
eco-industrial parks (EIP) leads to missing opportunities in reducing costs. If environmentally
conscious planning and design practices are implemented, energy efficiency and conservation
and water conservation can be achieved (Grant 1997, 76, 77, and 78). Following Kalundborg,
Denmark as a leading example, cities can plan for eco industrial parks in existing industrial parks
that produce extensive quantities of waste heat which can be distributed to other firms and to
residential and governmental buildings (Grant 1997, 76, 77, and 78). In essence, any type of
extensive waste generated in an industrial park can be utilized and converted to an EIP. In terms
of design, EIPs are prescribed to not reflect suburbia, but should instead strive for the application
of efficiency design such as active/passive solar design, native vegetation landscape, and land
use reduction. For example, by having firms share parking, loading docks, and storage spaces
maximization of land use can be attained while reaching habitat conservation and cost savings
from reduced construction and landscape maintenance (Grant 1997, 76, 77, and 78). Habitat
conservation can be met when more space is available for landscaping indigenous vegetation
that attracts the appropriate biota of the area (Grant 1997, 76, 77, and 78). The native
landscape, thus, does not require maintenance which reduces even more costs of the EIP by
avoiding traditional landscaping (Grant 1997, 76, 77, and 78). Permeable surfaces for water
percolation can recharge groundwater, create healthy soil, and further enhance the treatment
of producing a native habitat. Solar aquatics, vegetated bio swales, bioremediation, and
artificial wetlands can also be used to treat waste water produced by industries (Grant 1997, 76,
77, and 78).
Society Engaging the public in awareness about industrial ecology developments is one
of the key principals of its success. In industrial ecology, it is said to be imperative that the public
be informed about the overall implication of industrial ecology projects. However, in the United
States high levels of community of engagement have been correlated with limited success in
industrial ecology projects such as EIPs since it may interfere with the overall cooperation and
coordination between the firms. In Denmark, public ideas and visions are not on the priority l ist
and are not encouraged, but are still acknowledged. Developments of EIPs in Denmark are
influenced more by consulting agencies and educational institutions than the public (Lowe
1992, 424 and Heeres, Vermeulen, and Walle 2004, 991).
Industrial ecology may not always be able to perfectly combine the concepts of industry
and ecology, but the intent has provided many benefits and corrective measures for
improvement. Several different systems in enhancing industrial projects through industrial
ecological practices have been created. Many of these systems have been adopted in the
form of eco industrial parks (EIPs) and have shown advantageous results primarily in Denmark
and also in China. Inadequacies in EIPs have been recognized principally in the United States
due to governmental, industrial, and public malfunctions. Government, the economy, planning,
and society are all inevitably involved in industrial ecology as an interconnected web. As a
result, further research needs to be conducted on how government impacts
economic/industrial functions of industrial ecological programs. For example, thorough analyses
on how environmental regulation and economic systems function in Denmark and in the United
States would grant a higher understanding on the reasons as to why Denmark’s dominance over
the United State’s industrial ecological programs exist and continue to persist. Researching
specific environmental laws and regulatory agencies that ironically inhibit sustainable industrial
ecological practices in the United States is crucial because they may lead to strategies on how
to break the barriers. Discovering planning and the public’s hurdles would also be subsequently
indentified and possibly be filled with recommended solutions.
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