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J. Cleaner Prod. Vol. 5, No. 1-2, pp. 87-95, 0 1997 Elsevier


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Industrial ecology: a framework and process design
John R. Ehrenfeld
MIT Program on Technology, Business, and Environment, Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, USA

for product

Room E40-247,MIT,


Industrial ecology is a new system for describing and designing sustainable economies. Arising out of an ecological metaphor, it offers guidelines to designers of products and the institutional structures in which production and consumption occur, as well as frameworks for the analysis of complex material and energy flows across economies. 0 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. Keywords:industrial ecology; paradigm; product design

Industrial ecology, as an emerging concept, plays several roles in shaping technological change as manifest in products. In its present state of evolution, industrial ecology takes many forms’ For some, it is a new, . powerful analytic framework, capable of capturing the systematic and dynamic characteristics of socio-economit systems.For others, it is a metaphor that leads to a new vocabulary* for talking about and making sense of the world. In this latter sense, industrial ecology is paradigmatic in nature. Institutionalist models of organized, social behavior can be illustrated, as in Figures I and 2, by a set of structures resting on a paradigmatic foundation in which dominant beliefs and social norms are con-

tained3.The specific forms of social structures arising at any time in history are the result of the diffusion of these culturally foundational (or paradigmatic) notions into more explicit organizational formsgovernment, church, family, corporate, etc.-and the shape of missions, tools, and authoritative relationships that characterize them. For some several centuries, industrial societies in the West havebeen driven by ‘ a dominant social paradigm (DSP) which will be further elaborated below (Table I). Arguably, the economic structures that have evolved within this paradigm (Figure Z) to produce the goods and services demanded by the marketplace have led to large negative impacts to the natural world. This set of structures is little informed by the natural world and a sense of society’ s placetherein. In this analytic world, industrial ecology

Figure 1

Paradigmatic structure of current dominant social system.

J. Cleaner Prod., 1997, Volume 5, Number



A framework

for industrial

ecology: J. R. Ehrenfeld


lnstiitional Structures

Figure 2

Paradigmatic structure of industrial ecology-based

social system.

Table 1

The paradigmatic baseof Western modernity

Sustainable development

Anthropocentric-Homo sapiens outside of nature Cartesian, ahistoric, context-free constitution of knowledge and action Individual autonomy and self-realization Economic man and the free market as the primary coordination institution The invisible hand Technological progress and scientific knowledge No explicit destination or goal; progress iscontinuous, always positive, and measured largely by reference to historical conditions Democracy and freedom Individual libertarian Rational action and decision-making Delegation to experts

can serve as a means to improve positive knowledge about the socio-technological-natural system, particularly about material and energy flows. If there is to be a change that will reduce these impacts to atolerable level (Figure 2), many sociologists and social philosophers would argue that the paradigmatic base out of which the more practical institutions arise must shift3. In particular, it would seem that, to connect the natural world more directly to social thinking and action, the links that, are weak or missing in Figure 1 would need to be replaced by inward-leading flows to the action-producing...
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