scales: the microlevel (industrial plant), the mesolevel (corporation or group or network of industrial activities that operate as a system for specific purposes), and the macrolevel (nation, region, world).
Industrial ecologists are interested in how industrial systems will evolve to meet environmental objectives. The industrial ecologist seeks to understand the current workings of industrial systems, how new technologies and policies may change the operation of those systems, and what impacts different industrial strategies may have on the economy and on environmental quality. This, then, forms a basis for wise decision making and good industry practices, driven by inquires such as those shown in Box 1.
This volume builds on earlier efforts of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in the area of technology and the environment.3 It presents ideas for improving environmental quality through better design and management in industrial-related production and consumption activities. Concerns related to the impact of human-devised systems on the biosphere are addressed in Engineering Within Ecological Constraints (Schulze, 1996). The accompanying papers we presented at a 1994 NAE International Conference on Industrial Ecology. This overview draws on the papers as well as observations from two NAE workshops addressing the impact of the services sector on the environment, held in October 1994 and July 1995.
This overview first examines the changes to the playing field on which the green game is played. The rules of the game are defined foremost by a set of continually evolving regulations. Yet flexibility is need to take advantage of new technologies, changing economics, and new modes of production that are in increasing use around the world. The green game has to be responsive to community concerns, including environmental justice. It has to respond to improved information and knowledge about environmental impacts, and their causes and potential solutions. All of this requires vigilance—to take advantage of opportunities for environmental improvement and to respond to unanticipated environmental consequences of technology and economic growth. It is ultimately driven by the costs of taking specific actions.
Next, the overview considers an old idea (Commoner, 1971) for managing materials: recycling. Many environmental impacts result from the accumulation in the biosphere of man-made and extracted raw materials. Therefore, materials management for the industrial green game can utilize systems that use waste as useful materials and substitute materials that improve environmental quality; systems for multiproduct cycles; an systems based on service or functionality.
The overview then looks at the information tools needed to guide environmental decision making within a corporation. A firm's green game is enhanced by understanding the environmental impacts inherent in the selection of materials and processes, by assessing associated environmental and health risks, and by improving the ability to track and assign responsibilities for environmental costs using effective performance measures. It is also critical to gain information about