vironmental threats are indeed formidable. Traditional formulas of environmental management will no longer suffice. The reactive strategies of remediation and ''end-of-pipe" modification will have to be supplanted by new strategies and approaches. Systematic changes are needed in materials use, production processes, product formulation, product use, and disposal practices.

The evolving concept of industrial ecology could serve as a significant catalyst in transforming societal patterns of production and consumption. 2 Although at first glance the term industrial ecology appears to be an oxymoron, the notion of connectivity and interdependence that it embodies is extremely important. Interdependence is the dominant phenomenon of our age. With elaborate webs of production now stretching across the globe, the economic destinies of nations are closely intertwined. 3 Since these production networks draw on the natural resource endowments of countries around the world, our economic activities, regardless of how localized they appear, are becoming more closely tied to global ecological disruption4 (Wyckoff and Roop, 1992). Tighter economic linkages among nations are accentuating the world's environmental interdependence.

Societies can no longer separate economic imperatives from ecological imperatives. Economic productivity cannot be improved if the natural ecosystems on which the economy depends are undermined. Industrial enterprises need to create the same strong linkages at the postconsumer end of our economies that exist at the front end. Today's highly efficient one-way systems of providing goods and services must give way to circular systems of production. Use of both products and product waste streams needs to be optimized (Frosch, 1992). At all stages of production and consumption, actors must shape activities to minimize both resource use and waste generation. A true systems view of our industrial activities, and the impact of those activities on the environment, is required. This implies a fundamental reorientation of both the principles of product design and the institutional arrangements that govern the delivery of goods and services.

Yet, given the complexity and diversity of modem industrial economies, such a change in outlook is not readily achieved. Government thus has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that such a systems perspective is integrated into its programs of research and education, as well as its regulatory and fiscal policies.


Like physical systems, political, social, and economic systems are subject to inertia. Political barriers to change usually mirror broader societal barriers. As an illustration, families of technologies that become integral to the workings of societies tend to remain dominant for many decades. Trains, for example, were the dominant transport system for more than 70 years until they were displaced by trucks and automobiles, which have been dominant for much of this century and are not likely to be displaced soon (Ausubel, 1989). In some cases, once a partic-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement