Resource Optimization Initiative
About Industrial Ecology
Diagnostic Tools
System View
Material Flow Analysis or Resource Flow Analysis (MFA or RFA)
Why the Name "Industrial Ecology"
A Short History of Industrial Ecology
Resource Utilization Map
The Kalundborg Example
Substance Flow Analysis
The Industrial Ecology Agenda
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Why Developing Countries
A Few Typical Strategy Options
How can these Concepts be used?
Who can benefit from Industrial Ecology
  A Few Typical Strategy Options


The prime objective of Industrial Ecology is to optimize resource flows. Given below are some strategies that help optimize the flow of resources:

  • Augmenting the availability of the resource, if possible, (e.g. rain water harvesting).
  • Eliminating the use of critical resources by changing technology, or, possibly, by relocating activities using them.
  • Reducing the use of resources by using environmentally benign materials which perform the same function, with at least the same performance parameters.
  • Recycling the wastes so that the same quantities of resources are made to perform their functions many times before being discarded into the environment, thereby increasing the productivity of the resource.
  • Substituting a resource with one whose efficiency is better and hence its use and the consequent flow of wastes to the environment is minimal.
  • Substituting the use of such a resource with one whose availability is "interminable" (at least by human standards), such as solar or wind energy

The choice of which strategy to implement so as to optimize the flow of resources through a particular system would become obvious after an MFA/RFA or an LCA. Although there are a multitude of strategy options, Industrial Symbiosis is one of the special strategies that is often talked about in Industrial Ecology.

Industrial Symbiosis

As the name suggests, the concept of Industrial Symbiosis emerges from Symbiosis between species (from the Greek: syn "with"; and biosis "living") – describing species that live in a close and often long-term interaction with each other. Industrial Symbiosis describes the close relationship between industries – specifically those relationships where the waste of one industrial process feeds as the resource into another industrial process.

This concept can be adapted for traditional industrial activity in the development of Industrial Estates and has given rise to the concept of Eco-Industrial Parks or Eco-Industrial Networks.

An Eco-Industrial Park is one where a number of industrial units are co-located in a park. The industries are so chosen that the waste from one industrial unit feeds into another within the park. Eco-industrial parks that facilitate cyclic flows of materials across industries have been initiated in the United States of America, Europe and Australia. Current investigations on the functioning of these parks have suggested that strategies for industrial sustainability are more successful when (i) existing “kernels” of symbiotic exchanges are encouraged to expand into wider networks and (ii) there is a built-in periodic assessment platform that evaluates the progress of these parks from existing conditions to more economically and environmentally sustainable ones. Such co-operative interactions between industries are known to increase when resources are scare, thereby enhancing their survival value. Since resources available for industrial activity are less abundant in India when compared to the industrially developed world co-operative interactions between industries are expected to be more common here than elsewhere. Therefore, identification and examination of these mutualistic networks in India will provide valuable information that can be used to facilitate such sustainable networks in other countries around the globe.

The Resource Optimization Initiative collaborated with the Center for Industrial Ecology, Yale University on an investigation on Industrial symbiosis and residual recovery in an Indian industrial area in south India. This study distinguishes how particular types of materials are reused in different ways, the geographic extent of symbiotic activities and the important role of the informal sector in industrial waste management in developing regions. It also highlights potential ways to expand the existing industrial symbiotic network to incorporate the recovery of two materials (non hazardous ash and plastic) that are currently underused.

This analogy can also be extended to other economic activities through other strategies. One of which is to encourage sharing of utilities among industries (or other activates) that are located nearby, pool and assign their common resources that might otherwise have been generated or supplied individually. For example, if there are many units in an industrial estate that require steam, only one steam generator that feeds all the units needs to be established, assuming there are economies of scale.

The second concept is that of cascading resources, where resources are made to perform more than one activity before their disposal into the environment. The simplest example is the use of treated sewage in gardening.

These concepts need not be restricted to industrial estates; the same concepts can be applied to other spheres of activity as well.

These concepts need not be restricted to industrial estates and the same concepts could be applied to other spheres of activity as well.

Design for Environment (DFE)

Another strategy that is often talked about in Industrial Ecology is that of a Design for Environment or DfE. In recent times the concept of the “3Rs” has entered common parlance (Reduce, Re-use, Recycle). If the concept of the 3Rs is to be implemented at the level of the entire system, products and processes have to be designed so that (i) they perform the same function with lower resource consumption through their entire life cycle, (ii) they are easy to re-use and (iii) are made of materials that can be recycled. At the stage of designing products and processes these concepts need to be factored in.

If this logic were to be extended further, strategies need to be developed where a service or functionality is sold and not the product. For instances, in some countries Xerox™ does not sell copiers, instead the company gives photocopy machines to its customers on lease and charge these customer for each copy that is made. After a given period, the company takes the copier back and recycles most of the parts that are designed with this strategy in mind.

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