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Up to a month before the biannual conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology, I hadn’t heard of this field.

Industrial ecology is the study of the flows of materials and energy in industrial and consumer activities, of the effects of these flows on the environment, and of the influences of economic, political, regulatory, and social factors on the flow, use, and transformation of resources.  (U.S. National Academy of Engineering, 1994)

The first international conference of the ISIE was held in 2001, in the Netherlands.  The organization has recently described the progress in the field:

In the early days of industrial ecology, investigation of the soundness and utility of the biological analogy and efforts at eco-design were prominent. In the past decade, input-output analysis (especially multi-regional IOA), studies of resource criticality, integration of social science and operations research, agent-based/complexity modeling, urban metabolism and long-term socio-ecological research have become central to the field.

The influence of industrial ecology is significant and growing, and the analytical tools that are central to the field, such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and material flow analysis (MFA), are increasingly used in other disciplines. Both LCA and MFA are used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report to examine the embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings, transportation, and other sectors. Additionally, industrial ecology specialists comprise the core of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) International Resource Panel. They have authored five of the Panel’s seven reports since 2011. (ISIE 2015)

The way I came to Industrial Ecology was by another route. While doing research in June, I encountered a 2001 book, Construction Ecology: Nature as a Basis for Green Buildings, edited G. Bradley Guy , Charles J. Kibert and Jan Sendzimir.  Here’s an extract from the table of contents.

  • 1. Defining an ecology of construction: Charles J, Kibert, Jan Sendzimir and G. Bradley Guy

Part 1: The ecologists

  • 2. Material circulation, energy hierarchy, and building construction: Howard T. Odum
  • 3. On complexity theory, exergy, and industrial ecology: James J. Kay
  • 4. Applying the principles of ecological emergence to building design and construction: Timothy F.H. Allen
  • 5. Using ecological dynamics to move toward an adaptive architecture: Garry Peterson

Part 2: The industrial ecologists

  • 8. Construction ecology and metabolism: Stefan Bringezu

Part 3: The architects

  • 10. Ecologic analogues and architecture: Sim Van Der Ryn and Rob Pena

The book followed from a “Rinker Eminent Scholar Workshop on Construction Ecology and Metabolism” at the University of Florida in 1999.  I was intrigued that of the four “ecologists”:  (i) I’ve met all four in person; (ii) two were ISSS presidents (i.e. Odum and Allen); and (iii) two were speakers at the ISSS San Jose 2012 meeting that I organized (i.e. Allen and Peterson).  Howard Odum and James Kay has both passed, so I’ll have to read their legacies to learn. Tim Allen is in Wisconsin, and fortunately welcomes researchers who want to visit him.

One way that I learn rapidly about a field is to attend a conference where current research is presented.  The ISIE runs its conferences biannually.  The choice to go was either then almost immediately (i.e. July 2015), or in two years (July 2017).  The 2015 theme was “Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology” where “plenary speakers and panels will give reviews – both retrospective and prospective – of different aspects of industrial ecology”.  For a beginner, this was enticing.  A quick check of airfares made the trip feasible, so I went (with a fortunate routing through Austria for Purplsoc bringing down the cost even more).

DI_20150707 031044 ISIE plenary RolandClift ChrisFrance ChrisKennedy

On the Tuesday morning, ISIE 2015 started with plenary talks more on the history and basic concepts, and then two panels (of which I chose the one with industry speakers):

  • “Welcome to Surrey” (with Roland Clift, Richard Murphy and Chris Kennedy) [digest]
  • Tim Jackson, “The Price of Everything and Value of Nothing” [digest]
  • Tom Graedel (with Reid Lifset), “Industrial Ecology’s First Decade” [digest]
  • Marian Chertow, “Industrial Ecology: Beyond Kalundborg” [digest]
  • Panel (Sarah Sim (Unilever); Kieran Mayers (Sony); Kirstie McIntyre (HP)), “Industrial Experiences of Industrial Ecology” [digest]

The Wednesday morning had plenary session reviewing the core of work in industrial ecology over the past decade.

  • Stefan Pauliuk, “Prospective Models of Society’s Future Metabolism” [digest]
  • Thomas Wiedmann, “Intercity Carbon Footprint Networks” [digest]
  • Angela Druckman, “Kicking the Habit? Understanding the Drivers of Household Carbon Dependency” [digest]
  • Jeroen Guinée, “Past, Present and Future of Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment” [digest]
  • Yuchi Moriguchi and Seiji Hashimoto, “Material Flow Analysis and Waste Management” [digest]

On Thursday morning, the talks emphasized research under recent development.

  • Chris Kennedy, “Industrial Ecology and Cities” [digest]
  • Tim Baynes, “A Socio-economic Metabolism Approach to Sustainable Development and Climate Change Mitigation” [digest]
  • Walter Stahel and Roland Clift, “Stocks and Flows in the Performance Economy” [digest]
  • Megha Senoy, “Industrial Ecology in Developing Countries” [digest]
  • Marlyne Sakahian, “The Social and Solidarity Economy: Why is it Relevant to Industrial Ecology?” [digest]

In the afternoons, and for all of Friday, there were parallel sessions scattered over four buildings on the University of Surrey campus.

DI_20150711 043642 SIEYP panel

On the Saturday morning, there was a Symposium on Industrial Ecology for Young Professionals, which I attended as a graduate student.

  • Chris Kennedy, “The Plumbing for a New Industrial Ecology” [digest]
  • Reid Lifset, “From Oxymoron to Interdisciplinary Field: The Origins and Prospects for Industrial Ecology” [digest]
  • Panel (Ming Xu (U. Michigan); Chris Davis (U. Groningen); Noa Meron (Tel Aviv U.); Weslynne Ashton (Illinois Institute of Technology); Megha Shenoy, (independent sustainability researcher, India)) [digest]

Attending five days at the conference fulfilled the expectation that I would be immersed in the current body of knowledge in industrial ecology.  A 550-person conference is larger than the meetings I normally attend.  The conference attracted a lot of international attendees, as well as good representation from the UK.  More attendees from industry would be welcomed, as was the original mix in the founding of the society.

I expect that I will spend some time with the Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology open access book when it’s published, when I should be at leisure to reflect on the material.  There’s a feed from the Journal of Industrial Ecology that I’ll also be tracking.

References

ISIE 2015: Rising to Global Challenges: 25 Years of Industrial Ecology at is4ie.org/Resources/Documents/ISIE%20booklet_final%20copy.pdf

August 16th, 2015

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