Edited by Matthias Ruth
Environmental problems are usually better understood and addressed by tracing them back to the social and economic activities that initiate or strengthen the problems. To have an integrative understanding of the environmental impact of social and economic activities, researchers sometimes refer to the concept of industrial ecosystem. Industrial ecosystems are proposed as an analogous framework to help identify principles in biological and ecological systems that facilitate the understanding and development of industrial systems (Graedel 1996; Korhonen 2001); they are an innovative model of industrial activities for optimized consumption of energy and materials based on recycling, reuse, and other life-cycle, closed-loop integration (Frosch and Gallopoulos 1989); they are perceived as broadly consisting of producers, consumers, regulatory agencies, and their social environmental context, in which materials, energy, and information are exchanged in various spatial and temporal settings (Ruth and Davidsdottir 2008, 2009). The basic research focus in industrial ecosystems is on the materials and energy flows through different components of studied systems, because the flows originate from and ultimately return to the biophysical environment and may cause environmental problems. By changing the quality, quantity, and pathways of these materials and energy flows, improvement in technologies and organizations of production can increase resource efficiency, reduce environmental impacts, and support long-term sustainability of an industrial ecosystem. Changes in technologies and organizations of production are in turn determined by the perceptions and decisions of different players in an industrial ecosystem.
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