Think in Reverse

Industrial Ecosystems October 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 12:09 pm


Industrial ecology is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems. This study involves the application of systems science to industrial systems, while taking into account the environmental interactions and impacts of the processes and products involved (; In the article “Industrial Ecology”, by Valerie M. Thomas, we are taught about the aims and strategies of this science, while given an example of an industrial ecosystem at work in Kalundborg, Denmark (

Thomas begins by explaining the importance of examining both energy and material flows in an industry, and starting to think about ways to use resources in a sustainable way in order to better protect our environment. The article tells us that some approaches to industrial ecology are ‘systems analysis, industrial metabolism , materials flow analysis, life cycle analysis, pollution prevention, design for environment, product stewardship , energy technology assessment, and eco-industrial parks.’ As we talked about in discussion, Thomas mentions the importance of material efficiency and life cycle. Over the past century changes to more efficient and therefore environmentally friendly resources have shown us that it is possibly to at least lessen the carbon emissions involved in world energy use.

Another proposal Thomas mentions in this article, that I thought was really interesting, was to introduce the substitution of services for products. This would mean that customers do not seek out physical products but rather an individual to come and perform a service for them. The example given is of killing weeds with pesticides. If an individual were to go to the store and buy a bottle of pesticide they would also be contributing to the large carbon trail connected to the manufacturing of that pesticides container and contents, the transportation needed to ship that pesticide to the consumer, the energy needed to sustain the home depot that the consumer bought the pesticide from, ect. If an individual were to come to your garden and treat those weeds for you the idea is that less waste would result from this and that only the specific amount of pesticide you need would be provided.

Another strategy mentioned in the article is to use waste products as raw materials. A great diagram of a industrial ecosystem that does this, in Kalundborg, Denmark is given. Another website I found helped to describe this same diagram in a little more depth ( “At Kalundborg, steam and various raw materials such as sulfur, fly ash and sludge are exchanged in what is the world’s most elaborate industrial ecosystem. Participating firms each benefit economically from reduce costs for waste disposal, improved efficiencies of resource use and improved environmental performance.” A specific example of this is that the gas capture from the oil refinery is now sent to the electrical power station, and is expected to save the plant the equivalent of 30,000 tonnes of coal a year. This is just one way in which Denmark serves as an international leader in promoting sustainable development. I find this industrial ecosystem inspiring and encouraging in the efforts the United States should be taking to ensure the health of our earth.







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