INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY

Source: Industrial Ecology

Industrial ecology had its roots in the insight that industrial systems parallel natural ones in many ways: the streams of manufactured stuff running between companies, extracted from the earth and emitted in new combinations can be measured in terms of inputs and outputs regulated by a metabolism of sorts. In this sense industry, too, can be seen as a kind of ecosystem, one that has profound effects on every other ecological system. The field includes topics as diverse as estimating CO2 emissions from every industrial process or analyzing the global flow of phosphorous, to how electronic tagging might streamline the recycling of garbage and the ecological consequences of a boom in fancy bathrooms in Denmark.

Industrial ecologists – along with those at the cutting edge of fields like environmental health — as the vanguard of a dawning awareness, one that may well add a crucial missing piece in our collective efforts to protect our planet and its people. Imagine what might happen if the knowledge now sequestered among specialists like industrial ecologists were made available to the rest of us: taught to kids in school, easily accessible on the Web, boiled down into evaluations of the things we buy and do and summarized as we were about to make a purchase.

Whether we are a single consumer, an organization’s purchasing agent, or an executive managing a brand, if we knew the hidden impacts of what we buy, sell, or make with the precision of an industrial ecologist, we could become shapers of a more positive future by making our decisions better align with our values. The methods for making that data known to us all are already in the pipeline. As this vital knowledge arrives in our hands we will enter an era of radical transparency.

Radical transparency converts the chains that link every product and its multiple impacts — carbon footprints, chemicals of concern, treatment of workers and the like — into systematic forces that count in sales. Radical transparency leverages a coming generation of tech applications, where software manipulates massive collections of data and displays it as a simple read-out for making decisions. Once we know the true impacts of our shopping choices, we can use that information to accelerate incremental changes for the better.

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