By Anders Arvesen, industrial ecology researcher and (occasional) blogger

Industrial ecology

The term “industrial ecology” was first used by Frosch and Gallopoulos in an article appearing in Scientific American in 1989. The authors envisioned future “industrial ecosystems” that function in much the same way as biological ecosystems: the waste of one industrial process (in biological ecosystems: organism) serves as raw material for another process, and this principle is implemented universally so that useful materials circulate internally in the system, and exchanges with the external environment are minimized.

In my interpretation, industrial ecology is the study of physical stocks and flows in and through industrial systems, or human societies. The physical stocks and flows may take the form of, or we may view them as, materials, energy, emissions or wastes. Also central in industrial ecology is the study of the effects of human appropriation and transformation of natural resources on the climate, environment and natural resource bases. Industrial ecology seeks system-wide solutions to environmental problems, recognizing that consumer activities, industrial activities, environmental pressures and environmental impacts are interconnected through complex causality chains.

Life cycle assessment (LCA)

LCA is a method and tool for the systematic assessment of natural resource use and environmental impacts associated with one product. LCA analysts perform a systematic mapping of material inputs, energy inputs and emissions directly (or relatively more directly) associated with the product under study, and couple these data to large LCA databases in order to cover inputs and emissions that are indirectly (or more indirectly) associated with the product. LCA strives to gain a complete picture of the environmental impacts of a product, taking into account production, use and waste handling of the product under study as well as of supporting inputs.