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What is Industrial Ecology?

Haven Esme
Haven Esme

Industrial ecology is a fairly new discipline in the scientific world. It focuses on environment, technology, and the economy and how these three areas relate to each other. Unfortunately, much of the research that goes into industrial ecology focuses on environmental policies, biodegradable products, extending the life cycle of products, environmental stewardship and in general making the world a safer and more eco-friendly place.

Industrial ecology began to emerge as people realized that the industrial world was having an impact on the environment. This field was created to ensure that the impact that the industrialized world had on the environment would not be a negative one but rather a positive one. It seeks to discover how the industrialized world can live in unity with the environment. Industrial ecology studies the flow of resources - materials, energy, water, and products. The field studies how these resources flow through the world and how that flow is structured.

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Since 1989, the Scientific American Magazine has published a yearly article on industrial ecology. The focus of the article is usually on how manufacturing impacts the ecosystem. Every article examines how industrial production methods can have a significantly less impact on the environment.

In the U.S., the Yale Center for Industrial Ecology has become a global leader in this field and has sought to develop industrial ecology programs in developing countries. Countries that are becoming more urban, populated, and modern all benefit from using industrial ecology to protect their environment. The Yale program has conducted research in places like India, China, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa.

One of the focuses of ecology is global warming. Some researchers believe that global warming is cyclical and is the result of a natural occurrence that occurs every several thousand years. Other prominent scientists believe that global warming is a man-induced problem. These same researchers believe that by reducing man's carbon-footprint, global warming can be abated or reversed.

Industrial ecology plays a huge role in solving the problem of global warming because it takes into account how materials are impacting the environment and how waste and byproducts can be eliminated in a way that doesn't have such a devastating impact. Naturally, a greener environment will help the cause of ecology so technology is also an integral part of the field. Industrial ecologists use technological resources to create environments that promote sustainability. Sometimes industrial ecology is referred to as the "science of sustainability." The goal of industrial ecologists is to tackle sustainability problems and create a system in the world that uses natural and technical scientific tools in order to be a solution to a deteriorating environment.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - There are still new factories being built today that take absolutely no notice of the latest industrial ecology research though. There's no excuse for that. I'm sorry that it might impact developing countries more, but they are going to be impacted more by climate change and pollution as well. It might be lose-lose in some ways, but only by making the effort are we actually going to get closer to the situation where we can all win.


@umbra21 - It isn't as simple as that. For one thing, we don't know how to completely stop emissions overnight for every single industry. It's all very well to be eager for change when you might not be the person suffering from that change. There are so many people who depend on industrial jobs and they might lose their jobs if the sector is reorganized or reduced. We're also talking about an industry that supports food supplies and other critical components of modern life.

Not to mention, any change has to be coordinated by multiple countries, some of which simply cannot afford it. When we ask China to change it actually isn't fair, because it will effect their infrastructure much more than a completely developed country.

This is going to be a slow process and I think most people do want it to happen, but it just isn't going to overnight.


The thing that really bothers me about the climate change debate is that it isn't even the only reason to try and reduce carbon emissions. Look at how many people suffer from the amount of pollution there is in big cities. There are huge increases in cancer and respiratory illness all over the world because of these.

And we know very well how to change it, we just don't want to because it might impact on profits. But if everyone was made to do it at the same time, then they'd all take the same hit and it wouldn't be an issue.

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