ecosystems. For example, an industrial ecosystem may be defined by a single product. Any product, at a certain time, has a unique ecosystem characterized by raw material suppliers or component manufacturers, delivery, maintenance and collection systems, waste handlers, recyclers, and consumers. The various actors in industrial systems—raw material supplier or component manufacturer, consumer, waste handler, or recycler—are analogous to biological organisms. In these complex spatial and temporal webs of human production and consumption activities, individual materials may be traced through several different industrial ecosystems, and each industrial sector (and even company) may be characterized as playing a role in several industrial ecosystems. Alternatively, an industrial ecosystem may be bounded by geography (such as an urban area), an industry (such as agriculture), or a material (such as lead). Finally, just as from a global perspective, it is possible to think of the earth as made up of numerous interrelated natural ecosubsystems, so we may speak of the industrial ecosystem in terms of the whole network of industrial ecosubsystems.
Industrial ecology recognizes the unique role of humans in creating complex artifacts and institutions that force changes in materials and energy flows in both industrial and natural systems. Natural ecosystems, which provide the raw materials for economic activity, also serve as sinks for wastes from producers and consumers in industrial activities. The full, intricate, and complex set of interactions between industrial and natural ecosystems, however, is beyond the scope of this book, the subject of which is the value of using concepts derived from the study of natural ecological systems to understand interwoven natural and industrial systems. Thinking in this way—about industrial ecosystems—provides opportunities to examine and inform the ways in which producer and consumer practices in the economy may be altered to create environmentally compatible industrial ecosystems. Industrial ecology system boundaries may be drawn to include interacting industrial and natural processes. This book focuses primarily on the industrial components of these complex ecosystem extensions.
This volume of papers, drawn from those presented at a July 1992 National Academy of Engineering Workshop on Industrial Ecology and Design for Environment (DFE), represents an effort to advance the understanding of industrial ecology and to explore how companies can improve the environmental performance of their products, processes, and operations based on that understanding. In doing so, it builds on earlier efforts by the Academy, including Technology and Environment (Ausubel and Sladovich, 1989), Energy: Production, Consumption, and Consequences (Helm, 1990), and Keeping Pace with Science and Engineering: Case Studies in Environmental Regulation (Uman, 1993). Industrial ecology is still a young and evolving concept, and its ability to provide the theoretical or empirical underpinnings for action in companies, or by regulators or customers, is growing rapidly. However, what is known about the current ecology of industrial systems and their transformation suggests strategies and research efforts worth considering.