systems of industrial production that would emulate the web of interconnections found in the natural world. Nature manages its use of materials in a highly efficient manner. Ideally, production relationships would be organized so that wastes from one process could be used as inputs into other industrial processes.


International trade has grown at nearly twice the rate of the gross domestic product over the past decade. About 50 percent of the manufactured imports of the largest industrial countries consist of intermediate, not finished, goods—a reflection of the global nature of production. See OECD (1992).


As an example, more than 300 million metric tons of carbon are embodied in the imported manufactured products of six of the largest industrial nations. (Carbon content includes both direct and indirect carbon associated with industrial production.) The sum of carbon embodied in imports for these six countries is about 20 percent of the amount of carbon produced yearly by the United States, surpasses the quantity generated by Japan, and is roughly twice the amount of carbon produced by France. See Wyckoff and Roop (1992).


As used here, the term designers refers to all decision makers who participate in the early stages of product development. This includes a wide variety of disciplines: industrial designers, engineering designers, manufacturing engineers, and graphic and packaging designers, as well as managers and marketing professionals.


See, for example, The Roper Organization, Inc., "The Environment: Public Attitudes and Individual Behavior," a study conducted for S.C. Johnson and Son, Inc., July 1990.


The accumulation of knowledge or technological capital can be just as important to future generations as environmental capital. A central ethical question, however, is whether the current generation can fulfill its obligations to future generations by simply substituting technological capital for rapidly disappearing natural capital.


There are typically many environmental trade-offs associated with the use of a specific material. For instance, the new classes of high-temperature superconductors, which potentially offer vast improvements in power transmission efficiency and have other promising new applications, are quite toxic; the best of them is based on thallium, a highly toxic heavy metal. The fact that products that use toxic materials can perform socially useful functions, or even have comparative environmental benefits, underscores the need for a flexible approach to environmental questions.


For greater detail on the available policy options, see U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1992).


For example, 80 percent of the waste from a typical fast food chain is produced behind the counter, before food and drinks reach the customer. About 35 percent of the waste generated is corrugated boxes, and another 35 percent is food scrap. Thus, changing delivery methods, and pursuing composting, would have a much greater impact than simply "lightweighting" the packaging of hamburgers. Resources would probably be better spent examining the dynamics of the food chain's distribution and production systems, rather than performing a series of costly life cycle assessments on each of the products used in those systems. Depending on the context, such a systems focus could conceivably result in the elimination of certain products (the ultimate in source reduction), or in the creation of feedback loops that would facilitate recycling and reuse.


In the view of some, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) has impeded the recycling efforts of industry. When a material falls out of a given manufacturing process, it becomes by legal definition a "waste," and is often subject to stiff regulation. The effect of this regulation is to limit any further industrial uses of the material, and, by default, the material really does become a waste.


It may be necessary to modify antitrust laws to encourage the formation of research consortia and other collaborative links between industries.


Companies such as Xerox and IBM have implemented take-back programs for several years. Because of the high-value, knowledge-intensive nature of their products, these companies have considerable incentive to recover and reuse product subsystems and components. However,

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