By Samuel Black,2014-06-20 23:00
9 views 0


    A Framework for Analysis and Action

Edward Cohen-Rosenthal, Director, Work and Environment Initiative

    Cornell University, Ithaca NY

    The end concern of industrial ecology is actually fairly easy to state.Ý The goal, at the minimum, is to generate the least damage in industrial and ecological systems through the maximum circulation of materials and energy.Ý Highest value use with the least dissipation of resources forms the core of systematic application of industrial ecology.

    This paper sets out a hierarchy of analysis to frame future research activities on both the technological side and economic development aspects of the equation. The core question that prompts this paper is whether any energy/material abuse to reuse connection is equally valid.Ý Underlying current industrial ecology literature the answer is at best unclear, if asked.Ý For many, finding any connection is wondrous proof of an industrial ecology.Ý I set out two system conditions as guideposts.

     ;;;;;;;;;the entropic effect of the transition is less than other possible

    choices; and

     ;;;;;;;;;the next iteration of energy/material can be transformed yet again

    into new and useful associations/cycles.

    The simple waste to input exchange proposed in classical industrial ecology illustrates a possibility but not a probability.Ý At the macro-level identifying that there is ìwasteî of a considerable amount of materials in a process or larger system only flags its possible reuse.Ý To come close to making the environmental and economic impact that industrial ecology implies, it cannot ignore the means for maximum resource and energy looping or reuse.Ý

    There must be a theory behind the desired flow or connections, which extends beyond serendipity and information publication.ÝÝ That theory crosses many disciplinary boundaries. Built upon the theory, strategies and technologies are required to turn industrial ecology from concept into reality.Ý These include identifying ways to increase the value of the materials/energy recovered and means for assuring transport, quality compatibility, sufficient volume and

    timeliness to make it a practical alternative.Ý It is only when we assume that industrial ecology is the norm that choices become necessary.

Simply Working with Complexity

    All things that we work with come bundled in a degree of complexity.Ý This occurs at the physical, mechanical, biological and chemical levels.Ý Large buildings are a complex interconnection of various building systems.Ý Most machines or objects used by humans are an array of materials and parts.Ý Biological systems are a complex arrangement of cells and subsystems.Ý Managed materials are usually used in some combination to produce a desired result.Ý We use various recipes of materials and energy to ìbakeî the various things we use and consume.ÝÝ After many years I finally figured out what chemistry is all about; itís about bonds made and bonds broken.Ý The rest is elaboration.Ý The forms are infinitely complex; the principle is simple.

    The admission of complexity and constituent parts does not necessarily lead to reductionism or an erector set approach to complex structures.Ý Each combination and each variation results in uniqueness with special properties and possibilities.Ý The ability to break things apart, to separate segments or create new combinations results in new properties. Each new set of relations offers renewed possibility.Ý New configurations establish the field for new


Ivan Amato, in a wonderfully written book aptly called Stuff, notes:

    Just as a sociologist seeks to understand the dynamics of human

    interaction in lesser or greater collectivities under a variety of

    conditions, so the chemist tries to grasp the ways in which the

    elements of matter interactóaggregating, segregating,

    rearranging, mingling and repelling to emerge as multi-tiered

    structures, each with its own set of material traits.Ý The

    hierarchical structure of a material is the result of the interaction of

    its ingredients.Ý That is why a little more or less heat, a different

    proportion of alloying elements, a finer grade of a pulverized

    ingredient, this or that contaminate, and any number of variations

    on a standard process can result in what seems like an entirely

    ii[2]different material.

    How to work with ìstuffî forms a central focus of this paper.Ý How do we create it?Ý How do we use it?Ý How do we lose it? How do we reuse it?Ý The

    distinction of products and byproducts are often transitory snapshots of particular use.Ý A more dynamic and systemic industrial ecology approach recognizes that materials and energy flow is about ALL flows and not just those deemed desirable or undesirable within a particular process.Ý

Entropy: Creative Dynamism

    Entropy stands at the center of the analysis and the solution.Ý To some, entropy seems like an obtuse and academic entry. Our goal in industrial ecology is to assure the conversion of a product/material to another use when its initial use is completed, as a whole, as parts, as a material input or as an energy catalyst.Ý In some occasions, it may serve multiple functions.Ý

    Entropy is about dispersion of mass and energy in the system, the homogenization of different concentrations.Ý Heat disperses, gases move to areas of lower intensity.Ý Eventually, equilibrium is approached. The dynamics of the natural world occur because our world is far less uniformly diffuse.Ý Ore for metals occurs in greater concentrations in some places than others.Ý Differential temperatures and topography contribute to wind movements.Ý Water, especially potable water, is not equally available.Ý In economic terms, wealth occurs at various levels of concentration.ÝÝ Population and industry occur in predominant areas.ÝÝ These patterns create a vibrant world.

    When molecules disperse into the atmosphere such as with greenhouse gases it is difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.Ý When materials are trucked away and tossed in a tumble at a landfill, it is harder to recover them for reuse.ÝÝ While we can use some of the energy from burning wood or other biomass pasting the materials burned back together is a real challenge.Ý If one wants to create new chairs but the various parts are dispersed across a city, it takes lots of energy and costs more to assemble them again.Ý If people are dispersed geographically, as an urban sprawl, more energy and materials are required to link them together and meet their needs.Ý The impacts of entropy are very practical.Ý

    Often entropy is confusingly portrayed as the breakdown from order to chaos as if entropy represents an ultimate anarchy.Ý Gunter Pauli, promoter of zero emissions, asserts, entropy ìprescribes that all on earth will move from a state of order to a state of disorder, confusion and disorganization... the law of

    iii[3]degeneration, the evolution towards ever-more inefficient systems.î He goes

    on to say, ìThe law of entropy should be replaced by the law of regeneration.Ý

    iv[4]The present law does not make sense for the world we need to create.î Pauli

    and others cannot wish away entropy because it is inconvenient for them.

    Instead the law of entropy answers our questions about diversity and changeónot just on the Earth but universally.Ý In the process of diffusion, new alliances are made. Many are tested and some work. The Second Law of Thermodynamics would have it no other way. It puts dynamics into

    thermodynamics since perfect order and absolute chaos are abstract concepts, not realities.Ý

    Noted physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington writes, ìEntropy is only found when the parts are viewed in association, and it is by viewing or hearing the parts in association that beauty and melody are discerned.Ý All three [aesthetics,

    v[5]musicality and entropy] are features of arrangement.î All ecologies are

    reflections of relationships.Ý Attempts to construct industrial ecologies from static descriptions of what is or ought to be connected are shredded by entropyís force.Ý Entropy isnít the problem, it is a vital driver for solutions.

Living Entropy

    There is a curious relation between entropy and ìlivingî or biological systems.Ý Ayres notes that ìA living organism, by virtue of its metabolism, can be regarded

    vi[6]as an entropy generator.î As such, evolutionary biology is about the creation of systems to draw upon entropy that display new functions through species adaptation and variation.Ý These forces are not sucking the life out of existing systems but challenging them to be creative in the future.Ý The biosphere is a repository of time bounded manifestations of an ever changing materials and energy context.

    Todayís predominant practices of bury or burn leads to two kinds of distortions.Ý At one level, collection in one area too often raises levels of concentration of heavy metals and dangerous chemicals to a toxic level that would not pose such a threat if used in a different way or safely disbursed.Ý Secondly, it races recklessly along the value chain from beginning to end, without exploring the possibilities that intermediate or transformative strategies might present for cycling materials or energy into productive and responsible reuse.Ý Any extraction of a resource leads to some of it being used for its intended purpose but often a lot is lost through dissipation or waste.Ý Redirecting this residual reduces the entropic outcome of the initial process, although never entirely.ÝÝÝ

    The reason to extract far higher value and to be more conserving falls along two lines of analysis.Ý First, finite resources will last longer, i.e. be more sustainable.Ý Avoidable waste makes no sense- on any timescale.Ý As such, options for creating useful materials increase due to greater availability.Ý It is

    also true that excessive dissipation of a particular resource can have secondary negative impacts by generating later order complications (e.g. dioxinís effect downstream), creating dangerous levels of concentration and releasing energy at a disruptive degree.

    Pollution can be defined as reaching an ending point where materials or energy are not reused in productive ways or where the last configuration blocks positive alternatives for reconfiguration.Ý The only possibilities available are dangerous to the system in which they are embedded.

Resource Productivity and Equity

    The second reason is tied to equity.Ý When prices and access to goods incorporate high dissipation costs, then needed goods and services are denied those in developing countries or who have lower incomes.Ý Classical economics confronts the issues of scarcity but decries scarcity based on monopoly or state power.Ý Scarcity enforced by thoughtless or wanton waste is also a distortion to economic distribution. Theoretically, competing businesses would try to outdo their competitors on this dimension; in practice, they rarely do and often by tinkering at the margins. Getting away with pricing that makes charging acceptable for the costs of waste in production and the externalization of unused resources and energy leads to higher levels of pollution.ÝÝ The poor canít escape air pollution from cars they donít own, nor buy bottled water to avoid contaminated sources.

Confronting Waste

    Put very simply, the goal is to reintroduce materials and energy back into productive reuse with the minimum energy required and the least waste of material in the process. Why? Because we waste far too much. Von Weizacker and Lovins point out: ìActually we are more than ten times better at wasting resources than at using them.Ý A study for the US National Academy of Engineering found that 93% of the materials we buy and ëconsumeí never end up in saleable products at all.


    Moreover, 80 percent of products are discarded after a single use, and many of the rest are not as durable as they should be.Ý Business reformer, Paul Hawken estimates that over 90% of the original materials used in the production of, or contained within, the goods made in the US become waste

    vii[7]within six weeks of sale.î Hawken also observes that ìwe are far better at

    making waste than at making products.Ý For every 100 pounds of product we manufacture in the United States, we create at least 3200 pounds of waste.Ý In

    a decade, we transform 500 trillion pounds of molecules into nonproductive

    viii[8]solids, liquids and gases.î

    Energy is not any better.Ý Consider ìthe heat that leaks through attics of poorly insulated homes, the energy from a nuclear or coal-fired power station, only 3% of which is converted into light in an incandescent lamp (70 per cent of the original fuel energy is wasted before it gets to the lamp, which in turn converts only 10 per cent of the electricity into light).Ý The 80-85 per cent of a carís petrol

    ix[9]that is wasted in the engine and drivetrain in before it gets to the wheelsî are

    among the examples of massive energy hemorrhaging. One BTU in twelve of

    x[10]world energy production is used to heat and cool the U.S. building stock.

    At one level, this amount of room for improvement should be a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs.Ý Ironically, even gold comes at a steep environmental price.Ý Worldwatch notes that the overburden of two gold wedding rings is ìover six tons of waste at a mining site in Nevada or

    xi[11]Kyrgyzstan.îÝ The major product of most human activity is prodigious amounts of ìwaste.îÝ If we consider the apple the product, then the same can be said about an apple tree.Ý But an apple tree has other ìproductsî as well-CO converted to oxygen, erosion prevention, provision of shade, home to 2

    insects and birds, and nutrients to the soil from its humus to name a few.Ý In natural systems, this happens naturally; in human systems we need to apply human intelligence to seek beneficial products from byproducts.Ý At times we do or it happens out of good fortune; we need to make it systematic and the rule rather than an exception.

Make or Break Combinations

    All complex systems, when there is a certain level of energy applied to them, can be broken down into lower levels of system complexity-even if the initial outcome appears chaotic.Ý Various levels of materials can then be recombined into new objects that serve new functions.ÝÝ It takes a specific amount of energy to create things and a specific amount to break them apart.Ý This can be seen at the gross level in using a wrench to disassemble a bicycle.Ý It occurs in the production and molding of steel from iron ore and other ingredients.Ý It is seen when complex hydrocarbon molecules are cracked in chemical production processes.Ý It occurs in particle accelerators where atomic structure is broken down to their constituent parts.Ý It occurs when we incinerate fossil fuels and convert them to energy.Ý The question then is not whether we can alter the structure of the materials we use but towards what purposes, with what technologies (broadly construed) and at what costs?ÝÝ This is a formidable design challenge.

    Developing a structure for considering materials/energy ecology is essential to prevent several prominent traps in environmental thinking.Ý First is the mythology that a magic bullet can solve all problems.Ý The receiving end of a system requires a diverse set of inputs with diverse characteristics; a boundary has multiple interfaces and multiple ways of entry (some easier than others).Ý As such, a singular approach would be counterproductive.Ý It would make the system more brittle and raise risks of inflexible response to barriers to a particular materialís impact.Ý Secondly, a reasonable framework helps the larger society explore value-added possibilities before lower levels of deconstruction of the materials makes it impossible or too expensive to recreate what could have been used.Ý Third, an inchoate policy that jumps from one approach to another has a broader environmental impact by dissipating material and energy resources at a far greater rate than necessary with potentially disastrous consequences.

What are the options?

    The answer to waste and dissipation seems simple: use less.Ý If we produce less widgets then it usually takes less stuff to make those widgets.Ý Asking what do we really need to produce and the degree that it enhances the planet and its people is a reasonable starting point.Ý Others are at work on the

    xii[12]strategies for dematerialization, using much less material input to produce

    a unit of functionality.Ý Notice I said functionality, not simply a unit.Ý For examples, ìthe minimum scale of electronic devices has decreased by a factor

    4of 10 (to 0.5 microns) while the scale of machines has fallen by a factor of

    xiii[13]100.îÝÝ Computer capabilities are witness to the fact that increased power can come in smaller sizes and weights.Ý

    The reduction of material inputs required to form a product or to perform a service reduces the rate of draw on the larger materials system.Ý For example, if instead of counting the number of square feet of space constructed, we measured the amount of time that space is used productively then it would reduce the building of unnecessary spaces and spur innovative ways of combining or coordinating functions.Ý Material intensity is one measure of dematerialization but the impact is just as dramatic on energy use where lighter, more temperature adaptable materials require less energy to operate. The imbedded energy saved in the fabrication of excess material also has a strong energy impact. ÝÝGiven the contribution of construction materials (ChartÝ A) to materials flow in the larger economy this could have a major impact.

Chart A:

    Hence before we talk about materials flow, there are two primary questions to ask: What are we using the materials for?Ý How can we reduce the amount of energy and materials needed to obtain the desired result in all phases of the materials cycle from extraction to refining to transportation to fabrication and then into the chain of product use and reuse?Ý We need to examine whether there are significantly less resource consumptive alternatives for the service or function desired.

    Attractive as this alternative is to deep ecologists who seek a far shallower imprint in the planet or to engineers seeking product efficiencies, there will be a continuing demand for the use of materials for products for human use.Ý Energy demand will likely remain at a high level.Ý Rising population alone will place pressure on the system and the series of demands, many legitimate, for quality of life moves us beyond asceticism and eco-efficiency.Ý Hence, the hierarchy below assumes that we will continue to fashion tools and products from the material world.

Detrivore Technologies

    The changed composition of materials and objects doesnít just happen that way.ÝÝ Moss on trees and stones serve a function of changing the tree bark or the rock into smaller particles that make up soil.Ý Parasitic bacteria break down ingested food into a level that it can be absorbed into the blood stream. These are all examples of detrivore technologies.Ý The earliest proponents of industrial ecology saw a possible trash-to-cash connection of linking waste streams and input streams. It is possible to find veins and nuggets of gold; but

    most gold comes from sifting the soil to find the precious ingredient. The application of energy over time transforms them from one condition to another.Ý Whether it is the scavenger population that thrives on the garbage heaps of Cairo, to anaerobic bacteria that sponge up oil spills, to composting strategies, to pyrolysis approaches that change states of materials, all of these are frameworks for decomposition and reclaiming subsequent components.

    Each of the approaches described in this paper provides economic opportunities.Ý Depending on local scale, having the full range of approaches makes sense in an intensively populated area or region.Ý The technologies associated with these various approaches provide market niches for profitable companies.Ý Lowe and Warren set out relevant questions to be asked:

     ;;;;;;;;;What do the ecosystem dynamics in natural

    decomposition suggest for integration of recycling technologies

    into a more unified system?

     ;;;;;;;;;What are the principle strategies for breaking down and

    reusing materials in natural systems that could inspire new

    processes for recycling societyís wastes?

     ;;;;;;;;;How are the processes of decomposition integrated with

    productive processes in ecosystems? What implications does

    xiv[14]this have for industrial systems of production?

    We can with foresight and creativity harness in positive and productive ways the cycles of construction and deconstruction of materials; while linking to the flows of energy that ebb from one area to another.Ý We can look at the broad approach that raises primary questions on what we are doing, seek design solutions that elegantly connect and contain resource use, and deploy better housekeeping to plug leaks and tie loose ends that plague moving from abstract design to dissipative reality. Painting that picture sets forth a new and vibrant vision of sustainability.


    Briefly described below is a range of approaches to meet the criteria of seeking decreased entropy through higher value and lower input of materials and energy in human activity and our associated environment.Ý Accomplishing these goals draws on a broad range of techniques and processes.ÝÝ For different audiences it can be ways of renewing products, creating new products, identifying components, introducing primary materials, generating energy or providing services.

    The core dimension of value means that entropic state such as solid, liquid or gas of particular materials is directly related to the potential use and the chemical or materials conditions they will be used under as well as the cost and safety of the process (including transportation and storage).

    Hierarchy of Material Use and Reuse

    Appropriate Use Necessity/ Efficiency Eco-efficiency


    Energy Channeling

    Autogenesis Extended Use Reuse



    Demanufacturing Pick It Apart Disassembly


    Compounds Back to Basics Chemical reactions


    Landfill mining Use Whatís Left Infill

    Energy conversion

    Pollution Control Residuals


    The development of ìsmart materialsî adaptive to their environment is an important aspect to explore.Ý At some level this also provides a metaphor for adaptive industrial systems and social resilience.Ý ìA smart structure is one that monitors itself and/or its environment in order to respond to changes in its

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email