Sustainable Development as a framework for Industrial Ecology

Term Paper, 2001
12 Pages

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1. Ecological Approaches within Sustainable Development

2. The Bioeconomical Perspective: Some Comments

3. Industrial Ecology as a Consequence of the Ecological Implications of Sustainable Development

4. Industrial Management between Ecological and Economical Performances

5. Societal Shifts - Potential Changes of Industrial Cultures References



The notion “sustainable development” was introduced through the Brundtland-report and describes one of the major concepts within the overall efforts to find adequate possibilities for nature protection.

The Brundlandt report defines “sustainable development as:

”…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of further generations to meet their own needs.” (1)

Consequently, the approach connotes “development” mainly with the principle to guarantee the comfort of human needs. It demands intraand intergenerationally responsibility, say, claims to take care not only care of social domains but of ecological domains too.

Sustainable development as a model explicates, that economical, social and ecological development should be realised as connected and dependent on each other.

Social distress may cause as worse results concerning natural resources as unresponsible actions of an unlimited economic growth. The intention is therefore to co-ordinate the liveability of ecological systems with economical activities on one hand and to establish a balance between different national economies on the other. Besides it means a correction of contemporary perceptions of progress and expansion. Fate of humanity may depend upon whether we are able to found solutions that fulfil the interdependency of economical, social and ecological tasks.

However, along with the stimulation of “sustainable development” as a topic of a broad academic interest the notion has become a cliché in the last years for everything and nothing too.

“ Sustainable development is a ´metafix` that will unite everybody from the profit-minded industrialist and risk-minimising farmer to the equity-seeking social worker, the pollution-concerned or wild-loving

First Worlder, the growth-maximising policy maker, the goal-oriented bureaucrat, and therefore, the vote counting politician.” (2)

Loosing sight of the forest for the tree by reacting on the mass of presentations and discussions on this notion, it seems important to elucidate first the frame we are working in. Therefore I will now shortly describe some essentials of sustainable development related to industrial ecology.

If we characterise “sustainable” as: ”…making things last, making them permanent and durable” and “development” as ”…balance between nature use and nature conservation” we get a sufficient working model:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

A Frame for Sustainable Development

«Sustainable development is a guideline that attempts to harmonise societal claims for benefit and natural capacity in a way that fairness is granted for all humans - today as well as for further generations.»

Sustainable development concerns indeed a wider frame than just an improvement of current practices in industry and technology. In the following I am going to discuss two normative consequences (3):

1. the guarantee of social values
2. the guarantee of durability

1. How to regard social values?

There is no doubt that humans have hopes towards their surroundings and one of this is the expectation to be satisfied. We do not only expect the world as purposeful but as willing to fulfil our wishes. Otherwise we would have no ambition to live as humans.

Self-preservation is the foremost aim of a living being - but for a cultural being (zoon politikon) ontology (“to live”) is inherently tied with ethics (4) (“how to live”). Homo sapiens always wanted the world to be useful and beautiful not just as a food and shelter reservoir but as an aesthetic promise too. Mankind aims to create beauty themselves.

Nevertheless, we do not live in Arcadia any longer where nature is present to satisfy our delights. According with Kant we even shouldn’t be delighted because its our anthropological talent as well as a task to design the surrounding world.

Human takes an active part of the creative processes in the environment and he is able to design adequate living spaces. (5)

This is one underlying idea of the role that ecocapacity renders to industrial and technical and social development.

The natural surroundings offer a source of supplies of essential materials and possibilities to absorb pollution. Technological innovation can help to realise sustainability. Yet there is a real risk that technological innovation in itself will not be enough and it is very conceivable that other approaches will be needed based on options in terms of societal changes.

The first maxim of sustainable development mentioned above bears an ethical component that investigates forms of the “good life” and judges conditions on their optimal states of well-being. It is my impression, that questions after the good life and lifestyles of well-being cannot be answered merely by technological or instrumental rationality but have to be discussed in an intersubjective and practical/ethical context.

One reason for the communicative and interdisciplinary approach of sustainable development is generated here through its moral request.

2. It becomes evident that sustainability and flourishing of humans are connected with the sustainability of many other species and of the ecosphere. Again the realisation of human potentialities designing their surroundings goes beyond the protection of our lives and places much greater tasks towards the environment than just the upkeeping of the bodily integrity. The maxim of guaranteed durability (6), refers to this demands by regarding the preservation of natural capacity or the total natural capital stock at or above the current level.

“Natural capital stock… is equivalent to the stock of all environmental and natural resource assets from the oil in the ground to the quality of the soil and groundwater, from the stock of fish in the oceans to the capacity of the globe to recycle and absorb carbon and other waste materials.” (7 )

Obviously perceives that kind of maintenance the natural capital stock not merely as a measurement as far as the quantity is concerned but intend to provide the durability of different functions (8) within the natural environment, whose deficiency would ruin human activity in general and economic activity in particular. These are functions like:

1. to supply: regenerative and non regenerative resources that nature provide as input for production purposes. The use and reduction of renewable resources may not overstep their rate of natural regenerabilty connected with the maxim to support the flourishing endurance of ecosystems.
2. to bear: assimilation of the outputs from industrial processes in form of waste, emissions, toxic substances, radiation danger ans.
3. to survive: uphold of dynamically substance-flow balance within the global natural “oikos”(9) e.g. waterand carbon flows, climate stability
4. to recreate: grant landscapes and bioregions for well-being, health, relaxation and aesthetic experiences

Nevertheless, there exists no unified boundary for the growth of population or resource use but different limits for the sustainability of particular ecosystems on earth. Many constraints only identify themselves today as increasing costs and decreasing earnings instead, as a loss of resource bases. But it is possible to summarise the human dilemma between production, consumption and resource reduction in ecological terms:

“Homo sapiens has moved from an early succesional ´empty world´, where the emphasis and rewards were on a rapid growth and expansion, …and open waste cycles, to a maturing ´full world´, where the emphasis and rewards are on qualitative improvement of the linkages between components (development) cooperative alliances and recycled ´closed-loop´ waste flows.” (10)

In tracing the changing patterns of the erstwhile view, I see a main objective that takes place as a strategic realisation of ecologising economies. It signifies one of the core elements of sustainable development and industrial ecology elaborated as a philosophy and operational principles of the first.

2. Ecological Approaches within Sustainable Development

Ecological and economical researches had different objectives throughout their recent histories. Ecology as a term was defined by Haeckel 1866 as theory on the adaptations of organisms on towards their surroundings. Yet as an observational study it evolved from the natural philosophy of the Greeks, who described the interrelationships between organisms and between organisms and their nonliving environment. Later foundations for modern ecology were laid in the early work of plant and animal physiologists.

From the beginning of the 19th century the interest in population dynamics developed and led to studies on the dynamics of communities and populations and to investigations of energybudgets of specific eco-systems concerning which details of energy-flow occur in an particular ecosystem. Quantified field studies of energy-flows followed studies on food-chains and the cycling of nutrients and that stimulated systems ecology exploring the structure and function of ecosystems.

Modern ecology focusses on the idea of an ecosystem, as a functional unit consisting interacting organisms and all aspects of the environment in a specific area.

To accomplish nutrial cycling and energy flow, ecosystems must possess a number of structured interrelationships between resources, on the one hand, and producers, consumers, and decomposers on the other. Ecosystems function by maintaining a flow of energy and a cycling of materials through a series of organic processes. Thereby they tend to keep up stability while evolving from a less complex to a more complex condition (succession).


1 Our Common Future, Oxford 1987, p. 46

2 Lélé, Sharachandra M., Sustainable development: A Critical Review, in: World Development 19, 1991, p. 613

3 In a more detailed discussion on objectives they can be characterised as (according to C.A. Tidsdell, Economics of Environmental Conservation, Amsterdam 1991: - sustaining intergenerational economic welfare of humans - ensuring survival of the human species as long as possible - seeking resilience in production and economic systems and/or stability of their attributes - ensuring sustainability of community - maintaining biodiversity - stabilising the biosphere

4 from the greek word “eqoV- ethoscustom, way of living

5 Yet, as much as humans can do with natural beings is it still impossible to produce natural processes

6 “Durability here means more than just how long a commodity lasts. It also includes the number of times that the waste output can be reused as input in the production of something else. Nature has furnished the ideal model of a closed-loop system of material cycles powered by the sun.” Daly,H. Towrads a new Economics: Questioning Growth, internet.loc.:

7 See Majer,H., Ökologisches Wirtschaften, Berlin 1995, S.12

8 In opposite to substance (entity, product) “function” defines here operations of a part within a system in relation to others

9 The stem of the notions “ecology” and “economy” refer to the greek word “oikos - house, community”; “logoV - logos” means “theory”, “nomoV -nomos” means “law”

10 R.Constanza/R.V.O´Neill, Ecological Society of America, Vol.6, No. 4, 1996

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Sustainable Development as a framework for Industrial Ecology
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Martina Keitsch (Author), 2001, Sustainable Development as a framework for Industrial Ecology, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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