initiatives at this level rather than from any broad, national policies. This paper also examines how well the industrial ecosystems of electric utilities are doing and what barriers prevent better performance.


One definition of industrial ecology is "the network of all industrial processes as they may interact with each other and live off each other, not only in the economic sense but also in the sense of the direct use of each other's energy and material wastes" (Ausubel, 1992).

Although most applications of industrial ecology are likely to be found in the manufacturing sector, it is important to consider the links in the entire production and consumption process, from the extraction of raw materials to their final use by consumers, including the transport flows involved. The use of the term industrial ecology can be misleading unless it is understood as embracing "industrial society" in all its dimensions. With electricity generation, in particular, there may be significant possibilities in linking industrial production to use and by consumers.

At one level, the study of the relationships that exist or could exist among industrial processes should be value free and thus provide a powerful analytical framework for examining the economics of production, consumption, and the processes involved (Tibbs, 1992). An analysis of the outcomes that might be realized if the barriers to better performance by electric utilities were removed should include the value judgments and the vision on which these outcomes are based.

It is axiomatic that the aim of industrial activity is to satisfy human wants. Superimposed on this are some inchoate value judgments emerging from sustainable development. One is the importance of minimizing the use of primary, nonrenewable resources and, in particular, of increasing the energy productivity of resources. Some consider this is a goal in its own right. This view maintains that there is an obligation to conserve resources for the benefit of future generations. This is a complex issue. The emphasis however, is on the need to optimize resource use, within economic constraints, so as to minimize any unavoidable associated environmental consequences.

Such optimization is likely, given the present characteristics of market economies, to be realized first at the level of the individual firm. Considerable resource use will continue to occur, even after it has been optimized within firms. The industrial ecology assessment can be used to minimize waste at all stages of production and use. Waste, in this context, is the less-than-efficient use of the resources themselves as well as any physical waste that arises in production, movement of raw materials and products, and end use.

The practical application of industrial ecology therefore is to improve efficiency, often on a scale larger than individual firms. This larger system can be

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement