Design for Environment

The recovery and reuse of a variety of “industrial resources” was rather common early in the twentieth century (Desrochers 2000) but became more challenging as materials, components, and products became increasingly complex and as resources appeared abundant. However, in the late 1980s, a number of corporations began to rethink their product design processes, especially as those processes related to recycling or resource loss (Henstock 1988). The result was methods that looked beyond product performance, appearance, and price to attributes such as efficient manufacturing, fewer parts suppliers, and less inventory (Watson et al. 1990). From that perspective, it was an easy step to consider environmental factors such as minimizing energy requirements, decreasing discards from manufacturing, choosing more sustainable materials, and the like (e.g., Hamilton and Michael 1992; Kirby and Pitts 1994; Azar et al. 1995; Sheng et al. 1995). Among several related books, the 1996 volume Design for Environment (Graedel and Allenby 1996) stimulated interest among industrial design groups throughout the world (e.g., Klausner et al. 1998; Stevels 2001). Aspects of disassembly, remanufacture, and recycling, widely discussed in the 1990s, have continued to be emphasized (Cândido et al. 2011; Go et al. 2011; Hatcher et al. 2011; Ryan 2014).

Design for environment is becoming increasingly embedded in both the educational and industrial aspects of product design. Perhaps the best evidence for this is the broad acceptance of the 2009 book Materials and the Environment: EcoInformed Materials Choice, by Cambridge University engineering professor Michael Ashby (Ashby 2009). This volume is widely used in undergraduate education and in the industrial design sector, an achievement that is perhaps one of the more significant (if not the most visible) contributions of the industrial ecology field thus far.

Material Flow Analysis

Material flow analysis (MFA) is the methodology for quantifying the stocks, flows, inputs, and losses of a resource. It is sometimes used for mixed materials (e.g., construction minerals) but more commonly is directed to a specific resource such as a particular metal or plastic. For specific resource applications, the methodology is sometimes termed substance flow analysis (SFA). Early MFA research was conducted by Robert Ayres when he was at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. In 1968, he and Alan Kneese contributed to a US Congress report arguing that economic theory was at odds with the first law of thermodynamics: materials could not be “consumed” physically. Rather, emissions and wastes from economic activity could only be reduced by lowering the physical input into the economy. This material balance approach was truly revolutionary for the environmental and economic thinking of that time; it predated the book by Georgescu–Roegen (1971) which is widely regarded as one of the seminal works in ecological economics. The material balance approach provided the theoretical base for what today has become material flow accounting (MFA) as well as part of a number of nations' public statistics. Ayres's initial MFA application was for emissions from metal processing activities in the New Jersey–New York area (Ayres and Rod 1986), followed by a comprehensive study of chlorine (Ayres 1997, 1998, Ayres and Ayres 1997, 1999). In the same general time period, the MFA approach was also developed in Switzerland by Baccini and Brunner (1991), who produced an important book on the topic.

The distinction between bulk MFA and SFA was described by Bringezu and Moriguchi (2002), who categorized analyses from the perspective of substances, materials, products, firms, and geographical regions, although MFA studies tended to dominate early efforts.

The first metal-specific SFA was directed at zinc in the United States over the period of 1850–1990 (Jolly 1993); it showed that about three-quarters of potential zinc losses to the environment were due to dissipative uses and landfill disposal. Other early MFA studies included those for cobalt in the United States (Shedd 1993), vanadium in the United States (Hilliard 1994), and cadmium in the Netherlands (van der Voet et al. 1994). In another early effort, Socolow and Thomas (1997) produced a MFA study for lead in the United States that called for the integration of risk analysis and highlighted the importance of recycling and technological transformation. A seminal dynamic study (i.e., a time-dependent SFA) was completed for aluminum in Germany by Melo (1999).

By 2000–2010, MFAs had been completed for most metals and in several countries (Chen and Graedel 2012) and for some polymers (Kleijn et al. 2000; Diamond et al. 2010; Kuczenski and Guyer 2010). Data challenges continue to constrain the accuracy of these studies, and resource flows and stocks are highly dynamic, but the methodology is firm, and the results thereby produced have proven directly relevant to corporate and public policy (e.g., Pauliuk et al. 2012).

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