Chapter 5: On Industrial ecosystems
Robert U. Ayres* Industrial ecosystems, designed ‘from scratch’ to imitate nature by utilizing the waste products of each component ﬁrm as raw materials (or ‘food’) for another, are an attractive theoretical idea, but as yet mostly at the proposal stage. It is important to stress that process changes to take advantage of returns to closing the materials cycle are very deﬁnitely not another version of ‘end-of-pipe’ treatment of wastes. Is this an idea whose time has come? This chapter examines a number of such proposals and considers the prerequisites for success. It appears that there are several. First, a fairly large scale of operation is required. This means that at least one ﬁrst-tier exporter must be present to achieve the necessary scale. Second, at least one other major ﬁrm (or industrial sector) must be present locally to utilize the major waste of the exporter, after conversion to useful form. Third, one or more specialized ‘satellite’ ﬁrms will be required to convert the wastes of the ﬁrst-tier exporter into useful raw materials for the consumer, and to convert the latter’s wastes into marketable commodities, secondary inputs to other local ﬁrms, or ﬁnal wastes for disposal. A ﬁnal condition, of great importance (and diﬃcult to achieve in practice) is that a reliable mechanism be established to ensure close and long-term cooperation – that is, information sharing – at the technical level among the participating ﬁrms. The guarantor of this cooperation must be either the ﬁrst-tier exporter itself, a major bank, a major...
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