The Legacy of the Concept of Free Goods

A significant barrier to change has been the tendency to disregard the costs of environmental degradation. There has been a rapid development of the concept of putting a price on the environment and bringing the power of the market to bear on decision making in a way that will increase the attention given to environmental quality considerations. There have been some concrete, practical steps in this direction, particularly in the United States and especially in California. The overall objective is to take account of costs and benefits to obtain environmentally honest prices (Speth, 1992).


Vision is a key element in major innovation. Vision jumps ahead of extrapolation, freed from perceived constraints, including constraints of the mind. As Jonathan Swift noted, ''Vision is the art of seeing things invisible."

Because of the pervasiveness of energy, any vision needs to be consistent with industrial ecology concepts, including connectedness, waste minimization, and limited use of nonrenewable materials. For energy use in the developed areas of any country (regardless of whether the country is considered developed or developing), the vision should

  • focus around the needs of customers, often as an aggregation of services that customers require rather than a product, and link society and technology;

  • recognize both the contribution that energy makes to society and the need for increased energy productivity;

  • recognize the diversity of means of providing energy, including the purposeful direct use of the energy of the sun and other renewable sources, with increased emphasis on distributed production to meet local needs;

  • recognize the necessity of bringing the power of the market to bear through environmentally honest pricing;

  • include concepts of spatial planning for industry, commerce, and homes;

  • consider integrated energy use and the cascading of energy from high-grade to low-grade uses; and

  • include new partnerships between private and public enterprises to achieve all these aims.

The task is to develop this vision as an aid to applying industrial ecology in the real world, a world in which energy is political and democratic governments exercise the art of the possible, in which an enterprise working within a complex economic framework needs to satisfy the aims and ambitions of its shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, and neighbors.

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