Industrial Ecology

In November I met with Yale Professor Thomas Graedel, who has authored many publications on industrial ecology. “What is industrial ecology?” you might well ask. It is the science of industrial systems, understanding the connectedness within industry, as we do with biological ecosystems. It is where one firm’s waste, becomes another firm’s resource. Industrial ecology is an interdisciplinary field combining business, environment and technology.

By far, the worlds best example of industrial ecology is the Kalundborg industrial site in Denmark. In Australia, the site of Kwinana 30km south of Perth is our nearest example. A fundamental requirement of successful industrial symbiotic relationships, is a culture that supports fruitful collaboration. The awareness of the benefits of industrial ecology has spawned the growth of eco-industry parks around the world. In the UK, they have a highly successful model that supports industrial partnerships – NISP. It is government funded, brokers industry partnership and educates companies on the benefits of industrial symbiosis. NISP has created jobs, diverted landfill, generated revenue for its members and boosted the UK economy. Australia could benefit from a similar model.

Thomas and I talked about attitudes to industry waste in Australia and around the world. We mused that a generation change is required in order for real change to occur in our predominant take, make, waste linear industrial system. But on reflection, that struck me as a cop out. Yes, education of the younger generation is key to change and I believe that if you can demonstrate value, then change will gather momentum with the older generation. Generation Y climbing through the corporate ladder will help, but more examples of successful, profitable industrial collaboration and symbiosis are required for existing companies to latch onto this business opportunity.