While Industrial Ecology, in principle, sounds like an attractive option, how can this be implemented? By definition, it calls for a broad system level outlook. This requires the cooperation of different sections of society and the approach has to be multi-disciplinary. In these days of specialization, and considering the way societies are organized, is it not asking for too much? The reader could well ask: What can I do to put into practice the concepts of Industrial Ecology? While implementation of these concepts in their full perspective could take some time, it may be useful to start thinking of Industrial Ecology as an elegant philosophy. This philosophy can be applied in whatever work group in society that one may belong to—be it management of agriculture, industry, environment or any other. Listed here are some possible uses of this new planning platform by a few identified user groups. Neither the list of user groups nor the application possibilities outlined are intended to be exhaustive. They are more illustrative. If different sections in each local community can adopt this philosophy, it will be easier for system level planners to use the concepts at a macro level to plan more sustainable societies
Resources Impact Assessments
In most parts of the world, an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) at the industry level has become mandatory. While there is no uniform format for an EIA, very often these reports do not truly reflect the impact of an economic activity on the resources in a region. Therefore, it would be more useful to have Resource Impact Assessments (RIA) that analyse the impact of an economic activity on current demand for resources such as water, electricity, forests, man power, specific raw materials, land fill space etc. Such RIAs would give environment planners a clear idea of the current and future demand on available resources and help assess options to sustain the economic activity, which is in focus, for long periods of time. These RIAs can be the basis for licensing new activities. For example if the environment managers receive a request for locating a steel plant, they will be able to decide whether they can meet the water requirement of the steel plant over the next few decades. They can also easily calculate the likely secondary demand on water resources as an outcome of locating the steel plant (for instance, the increase in population). Based on this analysis, the environment planners may choose to either refuse permission or insist that the industry find its own sources of water (set up desalination plants and use desalinated sea water, for example).
Carrying Capacity of Regions
A regional Resource Flow Analysis (RFA) would clearly bring out the resources consumed and the wastes generated locally; therefore, the carrying capacity of a region can also be determined. Carrying capacity is a term originally used in ecology to denote the population size of a species that can be sustained indefinitely in a geographically defined environment. The carrying capacity of a species depends on its resource requirements, i.e. the amount of water, land, food etc. that a defined population of that species requires to survive.
Waste Source Identification
Data from a Resource Flow Analysis (RFA) on the consumption and wastage of different materials can be used to identify sources of specific wastes or pollutants. For instance, if there is a case of high cyanide content in any lake or stream, it is necessary to identify waste streams that are likely to contain cyanide and use methods to remove the cyanide from these streams rather than periodically clean the entire lake or stream.
Promoting Recycling of Wasted Resources
An RFA, would also provide information to assist an environment planner to set up waste exchange programs to promote recycling of wasted resources.
Setting an Agenda for Action
A Resource Flow Analysis (RFA) would provide information on waste generated from an economic activity. A planner can use this information to set priorities, elaborate specific agendas for action, and prepare well-directed action plans based on this information. The aim would be to first target the activity most harmful to the region. This can be illustrated with reference to vehicular pollution in cities. (In many developing countries there could be more than 25 different kinds of motorized vehicles on the road.) From a Resource Flow Analysis (RFA) and a Resource Utilization Map (RUM) for different fuels, the contribution of each type of vehicle to the total pollution load in a city can be precisely assessed and analyzed. To improve the air quality in a city, targeting the largest polluter can be made a priority. It will also be possible to make specific quantitative assessments of the likely results from such action, set clear quantitative targets, and periodically evaluate achieved progress.
Data from a regional RFA can be effectively used by industrial development agencies in developing countries to evaluate merits and demerits of industrial activities, and then provide avenues to effectively utilize wasted resources.
Evaluating the Merits of Different Industrial Activities
Given the limited resources in the region, industrial planners can promote those industries that give maximum returns per unit of resource consumed. These parameters will have to be locale-specific and meet the overall objective of the local government. Some of the parameters used to evaluate the relative merits of different industrial activities are:
- Income generated (per capita) per kilolitre of water consumed/per kWh of energy consumed/per acre of land used.
- Employment generation per kilolitre of water consumed/per kWh of energy consumed/per acre of land used.
- Foreign exchange earned per kilolitre of water consumed/per kWh of energy consumed/per acre of land used.
Using Wasted Resources
Since an RFA would clearly give the wasted resources in a region, an industry planner can specifically promote industries that use these wasted resources. New business and employment opportunities can emerge from such resource optimization strategies, in addition to contributing to sustainability. Such opportunities have lead to the formation of a corporate planning model that uses profitable waste management as its main goal. This strategy generates little or no waste from a company’s overall manufacturing system. Such a strategy has been examined and reported in the case study of a corporate paper-sugar complex in south India.
Companies and Business
A detailed analysis of resource availability is essential for the long-term survival of business in any area. Data from an RFA of a region can be used by industries while locating a new commercial activity. In addition to assessing the availability and prices of resources as they are today, it is necessary for companies to make an assessment of the availability of required resources in the future. Even if the industry can afford to pay for the higher cost of a raw material, caused by rising demand, if it is overusing a scarce resource, it would not be able to exist in harmony with the local community. The case of the leather industry in Tamil Nadu, that uses a lot of water, amply illustrates this point.
Such industrial strategies are the first step in business fulfilling their social responsibilities.
New Business Opportunities
Studying the data on wasted resources in a region from an RFA can be the starting point for setting up new commercial ventures that effectively use wasted resources.
An understanding of unused resources can also help to find cheaper or better substitutes for inputs/raw materials by using available wastes (either in the same form or after processing) in the region.
Product Design and Innovation
Data on resource availability in a region and a forecast of this availability can help companies to develop products that use less of any resource that is already or will become scarce in the future. For example, if coal is likely to become scarce in a region then a company manufacturing coal-fed boilers has to start redesigning its product to use other fuels. An RFA can serve as an early warning system and allow a company to strengthen its assets and increase its competitiveness.
Planning and Demand Forecasting
Understanding how resources are used is essential to planning and forecasting demand. None of the cases contained in our book fully illustrate the concept of RUM for planning utilities, but a typical RUM for a city can be as depicted in Figure.
Resource Utilization Map (RUM): Water in a Typical City
Control of Wastage
Data generated from an RUM can also be used for planning effective distribution of resources and for plugging leakages from the system. Such data can be used to immediately focus a utility manager's attention to the areas of maximum consumption and help him in planning meaningful and effective action.
Help Consumers Improve Resource Productivity
From an RUM, a utility manager will also get a clear picture as to which of his consumers need help, advice and support in improving their resource productivity. Similar analyses can be used to understand how any other resource such as energy or fuel is used in a defined area.
A detailed RUM can be extremely useful to energy managers to assess how and in what form energy is being used in a region. Not only will this help utility managers in planning and forecasting demand for energy that different sectors use, but it can also help them to target specific sectors for promoting new and renewable sources of energy. For example, if an energy company can estimate the percentage of energy that is used by their domestic consumers to heat water, they can promote solar heating systems, in areas where it is normally sunny.
An RUM can be prepared for energy by using a framework that is similar to the example that is presented in the RUM of water in a typical city.
Understanding the relative pattern of resources used by different agricultural activities can help set the agenda for an agriculture planner. He can decide which of the consumed resources (water, fertilizer, land etc.) should be the focus of his work.
Planning Cropping Patterns
If a region is short of water, it may be necessary to slowly plan a shift to crops that give better yields per kiloliter of water used. In this manner a planner can promote the idea of new cropping patterns.
Promoting New Technology
If water is in shortage in a region, an agricultural planner should promote new irrigation methods such as drip irrigation to reduce water consumption.
The data from an RFA and RUM can also help in:
- Better distribution of water and other resources,
- Setting an agenda for improving yields per unit of resource used (water, land or pesticide)
- Setting an agenda for promoting new farming practices,
- Better assessment of pesticide and fertilizer use (per unit of production) and their impact, on the environment (land, water, air, biodiversity).
Possible New Parameters
The RFA and RUM methodologies can also allow an agricultural planner to develop new parameters (beyond traditional yield or output) such as:
- Employment per acre of land, kiloliter of water or unit of energy consumed,
- Per capita income per acre of land, kiloliter of water or per unit of energy consumed,
- Foreign exchange per acre of land, kiloliter of water or unit of energy consumed.
These new parameters can help develop innovative, integrated complexes, combining agricultural and industrial activities. Such strategies can be directly beneficial to farmers and local communities, while improving the health of the rural ecosystem.
Land Use Planners
The data from an RUM for land use can help a land planner in:
- Understanding the use of land by different sectors,
- Planning the allocation of land for different sectors,
- Planning the location and spatial distribution of different activities.
National and international development agencies and funding institutions could be one of the major users of data from an RFA. They can use the data to:
By studying data on resource flows, while planning work in a given region, development agencies can focus their efforts in fields that directly impact critical resources in an area. This strategy will bring maximum benefit to the local community, greater appreciation for their work and will ensure the involvement of the community. For example, if the focus of an agency is on rural development, it can focus on optimizing utilization of stressed resources in a region and also work towards greater productivity per unit of consumption of that resource.
Evaluate Options to Maximize Resource Productivity
Data from an RFA of a region can be used as a decision-making tool for institutions and development agencies. Preference should be given to projects that potentially maximize resource productivity. For example, in a sun-drenched area, if the choice was between a project to introduce solar energy in local industry versus improving the efficiency of the present oil-fired heating system, the choice should be for promoting solar energy solely or in combination with conventional fuels to maximize resource productivity.
Transport and City Planners
Transport and city planners can effectively ‘dematerialize' a system using information from an RUM. For example an RUM for the transport infrastructure (the identified resource) can be used to understand why people travel (the number of kilometres travelled by people going to school, office, post offices, railway stations, etc.). Such an understanding can lead to strategies that minimize the total load on transport infrastructure and total fuel consumption by either bringing services closer to people or by planning self-sufficient suburbs, thereby eliminating or reducing the need for people to travel.