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Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability


This Chapter of the course will analyze industrial approaches to sustainability. This will examine waste reduction for profitability; contamination controls; “cleaner, greener” methods of manufacturing; process reengineering; life-cycle assessment (LCA); input-output modeling; industrial ecology and eco-efficiency; materials flow analysis; case studies of process integration (e.g. energy co-generation); dematerialization; design for the environment (DfE); industrial recycling and waste trading; and sustainability in forestry, agriculture, and transportation.


  • Sustainability in industry
  • Contamination reduction
  • Clean production
  • Waste reduction
  • Reduced rejection
  • Process reengineering
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • Input-output model
  • Industrial ecology
  • Eco-efficiency
  • Industrial metabolism
  • Materials flow analysis
  • Industrial integration
  • Dematerialization
  • Design for the Environment (DfE)
  • Waste exchanges
  • Industrial recycling
  • Sustainability in transportation
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Sustainable forestry

Chapter Parts

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability, Part 1 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability

Part 1 - Sustainable Practices in Industry

We have adapted our environment to suit our needs through the products and processes that arise from industry. However, this accommodation comes with a cost to the environment through consumption of natural resources and pollution. This benefit/cost relationship, best described as our "ecological footprint" is currently calculated at about 1.4 times the Earth's ability to supply and accommodate our needs and our wants. The approaches of Industrial Ecology and Ecological Modernization have the potential to assist industry in developing a more symbiotic relationship with the environment, to minimize the negatives to the environment and increase the profits of the enterprise. While the historical record of industry is mixed with regard to the environment, many businesses are now finding that green means lean, and that reducing energy consumption and process or product inputs, while creating more durable and recyclable goods, can have a overall positive impact on the bottom line, especially in a greening marketplace. Waste is not good for the environment, and it is not good for business.


  • Industrial ecology
  • Ecological modernization
  • Energy audit
  • Contamination reduction
  • Contamination management
  • Clean production
  • Waste reduction
  • Waste exchange
  • Reduced rejection
  • Dematerialization

Suggested Reading

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability, Part 2 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability

Part 2 - Life Cycle Assessment

plastic garbage on beachIn business and industry, it is well known that waste has cost, and therefore impacts profit. In the comprehensive quantitative modeling of all of the inputs and outputs in process or product, manufacturers can engineer better approaches with softer impacts, and greater potential for profitability. This is an application of "life cycle thinking."

Undesirable impacts, such as pollution, create risk and uncertainly in commerce, and advance a negative image for a company with potential for influencing consumer choice in the competitive marketplace. Brand identity is always at risk when the full knowledge of the inputs and outputs of a product, process, or service are unknown or unstudied. Assessing life cycle is a business management tool and an educational resource for consumers as they make purchasing choices.

LCA outline diagram

Research in consumer dynamics identify "intrinsic liking" in consumers — influenced by a myriad of attitudes, values, and emotions — as a primary driver in the marketplace. With the greening of social attitudes, the increasing challenges of energy, and the enhanced use of renewable resources, the consumer education afforded by life cycle assessments can advance an "intrinsic liking" that affords a more sustainable present and future. A knowledge-based reengineering of products, processes, and services guided by understanding life cycle, can help achieve the goal of closing the open pathway of waste and inefficiency.

If our shared goal is prosperity and planet, our choices as businesses, communities, and as individual consumers, can certainly sustain prosperity, and define how best to use the Earth's resources.


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  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • Resource and Environmental Profile Analysis (REPA)
  • Ecobalance
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  • ISO 14,000
  • attributional LCA
  • consequential LCA
  • Life Cycle Inventory (LCI)
  • flow diagram
  • precombustion energy
  • co-product
  • Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA)
  • intrinsic liking

Suggested Reading

  1. USEPA. (2006). NRMRL: Scientific Applications International Corporation: Life Cycle Assessment: Principles and Practice.
  2. The International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) Handbook (2012) Towards more sustainable production and consumption for a resource-efficient Europe


(Image Credit: Life Cycle of a Cellphone, created by Rodney H. Sarmenta; LCA Cycle Graphic, European Union, 2012)

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability, Part 3 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability

Part 3 - Materials Flow Analysis

"Material flow analysis (MFA) is a systematic assessment of the flows and stocks of materials within a system defined in space and time." (Brunner and Rechberger 2004; Practical Handbook of Materials Flow Analysis)

"On the long-term view all non-renewable resources are limited. A sustainable re-source policy should establish an economy which uses natural resources efficiently and develops alternatives to the consumption of scarce resources or materials which cause high environmental impacts during extraction, use and deposition.

"In order to be able to concentrate the resource policy measures on those materials and sectors of the economy with the narrowest supply bottle necks, with the highest optimization potentials and the highest environmental impacts in the short term and in the long term it is necessary to develop a thorough understanding of material flows on different levels.

"Material flow analysis (MFA) is an established approach which allows getting this understanding. MFA can provide early warnings of problems lying ahead identify potentials for improvements show if the economy is on the right path with respect to resource productivity provide a basis for determining the environmental impact of resource use.

  • "provide early warnings of problems lying ahead

  • identify potentials for improvements

  • show if the economy is on the right path with respect to resource productivity

  • provide a basis for determining the environmental impact of resource use."

(Source: Interest Group on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources on the needs for further development of MFA, EEA 2009)

mfa diagram

Figure: MFA System of Steel Production in China, 2010.



  1. Materials Flow Analysis by D.A. Bainbridge (2009)

Suggested Reading

  1. Materials Flow Analysis by Sustainable Scale Project (2003)


Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability, Part 4 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability

Part 4 - Design for the Environment

dfe logoThe “design for” in Design for the Environment (DfE) is the active planning of product manufacturing, service provision, and process deployment that fully integrates environmental considerations. The considerations can include the use of greener alternatives - like safer chemicals; the use of renewable and recycled resources; minimization of energy consumption — in manufacturing and in use; risk reduction through material substitution; and integration of environmental and occupational health considerations throughout all phases of a product’s life cycle. Often DfE is used in conjunction with a life cycle assessment (LCA), which quantitatively and qualitatively books the complete assessment of the inputs and outputs of a product, process, or service. LCA can help determine that sensitivity of changes in the design process that will have the greatest positive impacts, and the least negative impacts when examining alternatives.

DfE, as a program, is a forward looking partnership of businesses, the USEPA, and finally the consumer through product labeling that indicates DfE best practices. According to the USEPA (USEPA, 2001), businesses can advance DfE by:

  • "Evaluating the human health and environmental impacts of its processes and products.
  • "Identifying what information is needed to make human health and environmental decisions.
  • "Conducting an assessment of alternatives.
  • "Considering cross-media impacts and the benefits of substituting chemicals.
  • "Reducing the use and release of toxic chemicals through the innovation of cleaner technologies that use safer chemicals.
  • "Implementing pollution prevention, energy efficiency, and other resource conservation measures.
  • "Making products that can be reused, refurbished, remanufactured, or recycled.
    Monitoring the environmental impacts and costs associated with each product or process.
  • And, "recognizing that although change can be rapid, in many cases a cycle of evaluation and continuous improvement is needed."

DfE "Best Practices" are industry or process specific guidance tools that help those using specifc chemicals or processes in the manufacturing cycle — or in the end products used by other businesses or consumers, and deploy cleaner alternatives that help reduce costs, risks, disposal challenges, and environmental impact. Integral in DfE is the concept of pollution prevention, which is reducing pollution at the source — often in the manufacturing process — and thus reducing the need for recycling, waste treatment, or disposal.

USEPA has active DfE programs for Alternatives Assessments; Best Practices; and Safer Product Labelling. The CleanGredients® Database, was developed by the nonprofit GreenBlue® to help manufacturers find better ingredients for cleaning products.


  • Design for the Environment (DfE)
  • cleaner technologies
  • pollution prevention
  • life cycle assessment
  • resource conservation
  • reuse, recycle, refurbish, remanufacture
  • technologies substitutes
  • best practices
  • green supply chain
  • Integrated Environmental Management System (IEMS)
  • risk reduction
  • continuous improvement
  • risk reduction
  • sustainable design


  1. USEPA Design for the Environment Program (2001)
  2. USEPA What is DfE? (2011)
Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability, Part 5 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability

Part 5 - Managing for Sustainability

"Population growth and economic development are resulting in increasing pressure on the environment and climate.  We are approaching a tipping point at which the issue's importance to business performance and investors will escalate. The equity market is only just beginning to reflect the magnitude of change that lies ahead."
- Goldman Sachs, 2009

Navigating that change will most certainly require creativity, innovation, and adaptability in an arena of increasing challenge and a survival requirement for organizational resilience. Small and large businesses alike will find themselves in increasingly accelerating adaptive cycles, the transformational panarchy of the next generation of our global economy, where resource availability, product requirements, and the systems ecology of business and economics will be very different – more heterarchical with even more rapidly evolving, metastable systems of multiple interrelated elements. Our future will be a future where companies can grow and sustain their business, only if they act sustainably.


  • embracers
  • cautious adopters
  • sustainability management
  • lean manufacturing
  • energy efficiency
  • green living megatrend
  • measuring intangibles
  • competitive advantage
  • reputation

Suggested Reading

  1. Sustainability: 'Embracers' Seize the Advantage (MIT Sloan Management Review, 2011)
Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability, Part 6 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 5 - Industrial Approaches to Sustainability

Part 6 - Sustainable Agriculture

rice field looking up at sun and skyNo doubt, the move to a more sustainable agriculture will require difficult choices. The difficulty of these choices are mediated by a reflection of past failures in history, current challenges in food quality and availability, the greening of consumers, and the negative social and economic impacts to family farm operations and rural regions, largely resulting from the growth of an agribusiness and policy dynamic that plays to mass production of commodities and large-scale operations.

Food security is a major driver in human security, and the coupled impacts of increasing human population and environmental degradation can damage both. In a future where energy — an important factor in agriculture — is becoming more expensive, food prices are going to rise. New approaches to agriculture that aim to limit the input of non-renewable resources, that diversify operations including the types of plants and animals in production, and address key market, policy, and consumer opportunities can all accelerate the transformation towards the bold changes we need to address an increasingly uncertain future.

Consumers drive the marketplace, and increasing numbers, consumers are making choices that support a more local and decentralized food system where “how the food is produced” is increasingly valued alongside taste, nutrition, and cost. In past decades, government policies have driven the scale-up of corporate agriculture producing a commodity. Although this approach is regarded as being economically successful in providing for a profitable agribusiness arena, especially in a an era of global trade, the true costs in natural capital and social capital are largely ignored or unaccounted in most policy approaches. Often the least sustainable approach is subsidized and advanced, in a political power arena that often benefits the few and the favored, centralizing, rather than decentralizing, our distributed food system.

The growth in alternative agriculture systems, local food initiatives, and consumers looking for a more substantial connection to their food are positive indicators for needed change. As well, the development of educational tools for consumers in the arena of labeling of ingredients, organic certification, and geographic origin, are educating consumers about what they eat and the choices they have, helping to connect people — as consumers and as farmers — with the food that sustains them both.   

The twentieth century “green revolution” of agricultural science that advanced our farm and ranch yields, must itself now yield to a future very much different from our past. A remarkable system of “reliable strangers” has helped make our food safe and abundant, and this is indeed a great advancement in human civilization. In our era of climate change, peak petroleum, and rising uncertainty from population increase and environmental degradation, we must now heed the call of an even greater challenge, for ourselves and for this system of “reliable strangers” — the challenge of making our food safe, abundant, locally familiar, affordable, and sustainable.

In this twenty-first century “greener revolution” for agriculture, we must incrementally change and even “transform” the food system by the choices we make as farmers and ranchers, as agri-businesses large and small, and most importantly as consumers driving the dynamic of the marketplace.

At the end of the day, we as individuals are responsible for what we eat. Choose wisely.


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Suggested Reading

  1. Transforming U.S. Agriculture (2011) Reganold, J.P., D. Jackson-Smith, S.S. Batie, R.R. Harwood, J.L. Kornegay, D. Bucks, C.B. Flora, J.C. Hanson, W.A. Jury, D. Meyer, A. Schumacher, Jr., H. Sehmsdorf, C. Shennan, L.A. Thrupp, and P. Willis. Science 332 Pages: 670-671.
  2. Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century (2010) National Research Council (The National Academies, Washington, DC).
  3. Report in Brief: Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century. (2010) National Research Council (The National Academies, Washington, DC).
  4. Agroecology: A Review from a Global-Change Perspective (2011) Tomich, T.P., Brodt, S., Ferris, H., Galt, R., Horwath, W.R., Kebreab, E., Leveau, J.H.J., Liptzin, D., Lubell, M., Merel, P., Michelmore, R., Rosenstock, T., Scow, K., Six, J., Williams, N., and Yang, L. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 36: 193-222.

  5. Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People (2010) Godfray, HCJ, Beddington, JR, Crute, IR, Haddad, L, Lawrence, D, Muir, JF, Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S.M., Toulmin, C. Science 327:5967 Pages: 812-818.

  6. How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture (2002) Horrigan, L., Lawrence, R.S., Walker, P. Environ Health Perspect 110(5): doi:10.1289/ehp.02110445.


(Photo credit: Robertz65, 2009)