2015/07/11 10:00 Reid Lifset, “From Oxymoron to Interdisciplinary Field: The Origins and Prospects for Industrial Ecology”, ISIE SIEYP, U. Surrey

Talk by Reid Lifset, Yale U. at the “ISIE Symposium on Industrial Ecology for Young Professionals“, 8th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology, University of Surrey, Guildford, July 11, 2015

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship by David Ing.

[Moderated by Jonathan Krones, from MIT Engineering Systems Division]

Reid Lifset is Research Scholar and Resident Fellow, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Industrial Ecology

[Reid Lifset]

Backstory and context

Frosch and Gallopolous, “Strategies for Manufacturing” Scientific American 1989 had a different name

  • Also Bob Ayres work in American Economic Review in 1989
  • Frosch was head of R&D at GM; also NASA; U.N. Economic Development Program
  • Interest in 1960s U.S.
  • Pioneering investment in the 1970s:  not just in energy, but also in material resources, with ambitious reports to congress

Then when Ronald Reagan was elected, everything stopped

  • Energy markets plummetted in the 1980s
  • 1980s concern on soil contamination, remediation, assigning responsiblity for cleaning contanimnated sites
  • Late 1980s, resource availability, recycling — quiet
  • Concerns about environmental quaility, air pollution, water pollution
  • Discourse about expense of environment remediation cost
  • U.S. Academy of Engineering coming out of that environment
  • Desire to do it right in the first place, so society doesn’t have massive costs
  • Little discourse about climate
  • Brundtland Report was 1987, discussion sustainability hasn’t started

In Europe and Nordics, interest in industrial/societal metabolism

  • U.S. NAE colloquium
  • AT&T with Tom Graedel and others, twisted arm of philanthropy to respond to U.S. NAE
  • Life cycle assessment started in the late 1960s, concerns on packaging, so Coke went to predecessor of Franklin Associates, Midwest Research Institute out of Kansas City, to counter NGOs concerned about one-way packaging
  • Locus on LCA shifted from U.S. to Europe, UK and elsewhere
  • Cleaner production people from Northern Europe:  solid waste, shifted upstream to generation and entire product life cycle; with another thread coming out from toxics, focused on substances, mostly at the facilities level
  • Marina Fischer-Kowalski talks of intellectual history on industry-social metabolism:  Paul Brunner, TU Vienna wrote “Metabolism of the Anthroposphere”; Bob Ayres through U.N. Press wrote “Industrial Metabolism”.
  • Then Kalundborg was discovered, had been operating for some time, picked up by Newsweek, then one of John Ehrenfeld’s master’s student wrote an article in the first JIE

Another piece coming out of biofuel energy:  sulfur cycles

  • How things cycle at a global level, playing into substance flow analysis


  • Tom Graedel had came from 1997 in AT&T, first professor of IE
  • First textbook
  • Journal started in 1997 before society; industrial ecology was hot, everyone said they were doing it (relabelling what they were doing); feared that consultants would fill out the society, and IE would become a mushy area
  • Society started in 2001

Used to introduce field as Industrial Ecology is industrial

  • At that time, focus was on industry
  • Can industry be an actor that plays, rather than being villain
  • Future-oriented, design-oriented, was in industrial sector where decisions were made

Industrial ecology is ecology

  • Carrying capacity
  • Anthroposphere and the larger system in which it’s enclosed
  • Were we exceed the carrying capacity of the earth?
  • Before ecological footprint

Moving from linear to circular flows (Graedel)

  • a Type II Industrial Ecosystem

These were central to the field in the first decade

  • Do the analogies in natural systems line up with the way the economy work
  • Ecosystem ecology, systems ecology — flows through the system
  • Lots of debates
  • John Ehrenfeld, a key leader, leader in Environmental Business and Society program at MIT, said had to develop this, as it’s really central
  • Ehrenfeld didn’t have his way
  • But it’s now coming back in Circular Economy

Is Circular Economy just a metaphor?

  • Reviving this idea
  • 1976 Loop Economy, Walter Sockel
  • 1993 Swedes were using closed loops in policy
  • 1991 Cradle to Cradle earliest version
  • 2000 Japan’s Basic Acdt for Establishing a Sound Matierail-Cycle Society
  • 2009 China’s Circulat Economony Promotion Law (learning from Sweden)
  • 2009 Kore’s National Strategy for Green Growth  and Five year Plan
  • 2010 Ellen MacArthur Foundation
  • 2011 Morioka, Hanaki & Moriguchi, Establishing a Resource-Circulating Socity in Asia
  • Also had Benyus, Biomimicry, but analogy

Industrial Ecology emphasizes:

  • Systems approach, sometimes plays out in life cycle approach, and sometimes in mass balance in materials accounting
  • Impact of technology
  • Preventitive strategies

Elements of Industrial Ecology

  • In the first 5 to 10 years, it was advocated as the “next best thing to sliced bread”
  • A lot of ideas now compeeting with IE hadn’t yet emerged
  • World was worried about water and air pollution, and IE says you don’t want to look at one toxic substance or one life cycle stage
  • Greg Allenby:  made really ambitious claims for IE, as the central framework for everything in the environment
  • So, saw scaling back of ambition

Industrial Ecology at various scales

  • Emergence of looking at materials and energy at different scale

Now in the world, where everyone offers their own label

  • Some have stayed, some are new
  • The Natural Step:  former student had been a CEO of national section, still active in Sweden and Canada

The field has become more modelled

  • Less attached to industry
  • Pieces most accessible to industry, e.g. life cycle assessment, is central to the field
  • Doing more input-output analysis
  • Have to do more translation for business


Progress in IE journal?

  • Started by an ambitious guy in Finland
  • Published a lot of interesting work, impatient
  • Editorial strategy or it’s what he got?

How to bring a social science perspective, questioning the purpose of IE, how to be more diverse

  • Exhortations to bring social science to IE
  • Have pieces of that
  • Challenge:  how to expand the scope of IE, and still keep its divinity
  • Need a central thread to stay together as a field
  • A lot of work in social science is bringing social impact; others are bringing social theory

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