This November the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) hosts the opening event of the 2nd International Industrial Ecology Day which explores Australia’s potential for a low carbon circular economy. Industrial Ecology is an interdisciplinary field of science providing knowledge products that enable the economy to run like an ecosystem by using resources wisely and avoiding waste and pollution.
The International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE), founded in 2001, brings together a global community of researchers and practitioners whose science and applications inform redesigning urban and industrial systems to advance society and allow the economy to operate within planetary boundaries. Science-based policy in concert with innovation in business and industry can help achieve the ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In the words of Tom Graedel and Braden Allenby, two of the founders of industrial ecology as an interdisciplinary science,
Industrial ecology is how humanity can deliberately and rationally approach and maintain sustainability, given continued economic, cultural and technological evolution. The concept requires that an industrial ecosystem be viewed not in isolation from its surrounding system, but in concert with them. It is a systems view in which one seeks to optimize the total materials cycle from virgin material to finished material, to component, to product, to obsolete product and to ultimate disposal. Factors to be optimized are resources, energy and capital.
During the pandemic, it became impossible to meet for the biannual international conference, and out of this dilemma, the International Industrial Ecology Day was born. Its ambition was to link the industrial ecology community through a global event that starts in Sydney and ends in Los Angeles. The first event was held on 21 June 2021, replacing the international conference which would have been held during that time, as a 24-hour global online event. It turned out to be a great success and the Industrial Ecology Society decided to continue the event into the future.
Towards a net-zero circular economy
This year’s topic is ‘Towards a net-zero circular economy’ and aims to inform of the opportunities and challenges that a transition to a low carbon and circular economy entails. From the assessment of the International Resource Panel, the Global Resources Outlook, we know that there are many economically attractive opportunities for resource efficiency and greenhouse gas abatement in the short term. A long-term economic strategy focussed on net-zero emissions and circularity is superior to business as usual regarding economic, social and environmental outcomes. It creates economic value and employment, reduces environmental pressures and impacts and avoids some of the significant costs of environmental damage.
The program of the day is run by the core centres of industrial ecology research and teaching across the world and includes events in Sydney, Tokyo, Beijing, and New Delhi in the Asia Pacific region, hosted by CSIRO, Nagoya University of Japan, Tsinghua University of China and the Energy and Resources Institute of India.
An overview of sessions around the globe
The opening session in Canberra explores the potential for low carbon circular economy in the Australian economic context, which is characterised by the importance of extractive industries that deliver primary materials to the global markets and wealthy consumers who purchase goods from global supply chains. It will discuss the opportunity for Australia to reinvigorate local manufacturing capability based on innovation in the bio, digital, circular and low carbon economy.
The session in Nagoya reflects on the significant policy effort of Japan to establish a Sound Material Cycle Society and current efforts of industry and policy to establish a carbon-neutral Jyunkangata society informed by environmental systems analysis. The session in Beijing explores the national efforts for a green, low-carbon transition in China and their connections to the SDGs. It brings together leading Chinese scholars and experts to reflect on these efforts, their impacts, as well as key opportunities and challenges from an interdisciplinary perspective. The session in New Delhi focuses on the role of consumers and community-led initiatives in establishing a circular economy in India.
All four events in the Asia Pacific region have a focus on the contribution of science, policy and the business community for achieving a transition to low carbon and circular economy. It will require collaboration among these stakeholders to instill a transformative agenda that can ensure future prosperity and environmental sustainability. We invite you to be part of this global event and to benefit from the experience of the global industrial ecology community.
Find more information on the International Industrial Ecology Day event and the ISIE, including registration for the event.
Heinz Schandl is Chair of the ACE Hub Metrics Working Group.