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The Industrial Green Game: Implications for Environmental Design and Management
of companies (or groups of companies) that now manage truly integrated global production systems and direct their products to an increasingly homogenous global market. In addition, the primary opportunities to reduce the adverse environmental impacts of economic activities continue to be technological. Conservation actions—such as reducing waste, or switching off lightbulbs—are important but among the simpler strategies one may adopt. Efficiency improvements—such as modernizing with more energy-efficient systems or re-engineering so that little or no waste is produced, or developing and deploying processes and systems that offer superior environmental quality—provide the greatest opportunity for improving environmental quality. These improvements often are driven by innovations in technology. Such advances, applied usually by private firms, are the means by which societies become less resource dependent and develop and deploy environmentally safer materials, processes, and systems. In this context, corporate decisions and the personal choices of consumers are important determinants of environmental quality.
The green game requires designing and manufacturing products (including facilities) and providing services by taking an environmental life cycle approach. This approach involves understanding and managing the environmental impacts of the material and energy inputs and outputs associated with the product or service from the extraction of the raw materials, through their many life stages (including reuse and recycle) to their reincarnation in new products or disposal.
The game calls for considering and managing the environmental impacts of the many activities that are reflected in the final costs of everyday goods and services. These activities include designing, developing, or making the product or creating the service; transporting, marketing, selling, maintaining or repairing the product; or even taking back the purchased product at or before the end of its useful life.
A systems approach is needed to play the game well. Industrial ecology2 represents such an approach. In the noisy market of environmental terms and buzzwords, industrial ecology has become a short phrase for many ideas related to improving environmental quality with economic concerns in mind. Industrial ecology can be thought of in much the same way ecologists view ecology, as the study of the interactions among organisms and between organisms and their physical environment (Raven et al., 1995). Ecology is the study of processes and interactions, not a scientific prescription for solutions to environmental changes. Ecological study helps reveal how natural ecosystems operate, evolve, and are affected by the actions of humankind. Ecology provides the knowledge base that is then applied in a range of activities from forestry and agriculture to designing artificial wetlands and restoring the health of ecosystems. Similarly, industrial ecology views environmental quality in terms of the interactions among and between units of production and consumption and their economic and natural environments, and it does so with a special focus on materials flows and energy use. It also provides a strong basis for integrating environmental factors at various