IE in the Policy Context

Around the world, national policies for environmental protection have evolved from a perception of industrial processes as linear chains, rather than viewing them as cyclic ones. These policies, therefore, are aimed at cleaning up pollution at the end of a chain, rather than avoiding its creation. Furthermore, policies have been artificially compartmentalized for protection of naturally interconnected systems of air, water, forests, agricultural lands and urban settlements via separate air, water and waste acts. More than 30 years after its initiation, industrial ecology has evolved to inform progressive sustainable policies in the developed world. These policies include embedding life-cycle thinking in the European Union's legislation and intelligent design of infrastructure (Chertow et al. 2015). Learning from these significant initiatives, developing countries need to progress towards this next generation of sustainable policymaking whose overarching vision should be to initiate, support and enforce sustainable conditions.

IE provides an overarching framework for individual polices and schemes that support sustainable urban, industrial and rural development while ensuring weeding out, rather than locking in, of polluting technologies. Periodic monitoring of these policies will ensure that progress is not made in a fragmented and unsystematic fashion. For instance policies that focus on improving fuel efficiency of automobiles may be blind to the requirements of increasing the amount of land utilized for road transportation, the huge investment required for this infrastructure and the way it locks development into favouring road transport and ownership of automobiles. Such short-sighted policies may yield some benefits to the quality of life in the short term but harm it in the long run.

Considering what has been achieved by industrial ecology in the developed world and learning from experience is important to avoid reinventing the wheel and losing out on one of our most precious resources – time. However, this is not the only direction for learning to take place; this chapter highlights the fact that developing countries not only offer valuable, relatively uncharted landscapes for enriching our understanding of how industrial ecology can inform sustainable development but also help uncover unexplored practices and technologies that can provide a similar level of social welfare by using far less resources.

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