Current Issues

Continuing with the approach of 'the glass is half full' and asking 'with what?', we now examine the current situation: how and with what to fill the rest of the glass. For IE to yield truly sustainable initiatives in the developing world, we need to view the current environmental crises as symptoms of a particular development paradigm (Prins et al. 2010), founded on profligate use of fossil fuels and consumerist attitudes with exorbitant embedded energy and resource demands. Developing countries need to realize the value of this perspective and not follow the same development pathway (Shenoy 2010). A new development paradigm which places sustainability above economic growth has been pioneered by Bhutan in its concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) (Ura et al. 2012). In 2011, the UN adopted the Gross National Happiness (GNH) and is now examining ways to measure this index in countries around the world (Kelly 2012). However, most developing countries place economic gains above sustainability in their development, owing to which they have undergone tremendous environmental damage in the recent past (GFW 2012).

Impact of Technology

Industrial ecology offers insights on ways to measure and manage impacts (environmental and social) so as to track progress on a sustainable development pathway. In the IPAT equation,

Ehrlich and Holdren (1971) define the third term – the technology term – as “a measure of how much each unit of production or consumption pollutes”. Graedel and Allenby (1995) optimistically place the responsibility of sustainable development on this technology term to encourage sustainable technological innovation by individual companies and corporates. Given that developing countries such as China and India are now emerging as leading technology hubs, technological innovation can contribute significantly to our sustainable development. Several companies from developing countries, members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Global Reporting Initiative, Greening of Industry Network (GIN) and Asia Pacific Roundtable for Cleaner Production (APRCP), are including sustainability and the triple bottom line in their growth strategies. Some of the IE-based technology solutions that these companies can adopt are explored in other chapters in this book. They include (1) greening of the supply chain, (2) extending producer responsibility, (3) environmental certification and (4) dematerializing the economy. Despite the acceptance of these approaches, it would be naïve to entrust corporates entirely with the responsibility for sustainable development. Although technology and corporates can play a significant role, there is a definite need for the presence of overarching policies and government funding to facilitate sustainable technology development.

Impact of Population and Affluence

From the perspective of a developing country with the world's highest population density, it is apparent that the two other terms in the IPAT equation – GDP/person (also called the Affluence term) and Population – need to take on equal and sometimes even larger responsibility in shaping a sustainable future. The environmental impact of the rich and affluent and rural to urban migration in developing countries can be very significant. For example, in 1990 in India, the collective CO2 emissions of “new consumers” was found to be 15 times greater than that of the rest of the population (Myers and Kent 2004). Analysing the environmental impact of a person's lifestyle with respect to their personal (disposable) income would also be extremely important for developing countries, to measure and limit the impacts of increasing affluence and population.

Policy Development and Funding

Learning from studies that have examined ways for IE to inform policy development, developing countries need to defragment environmental policies across supply chains and across artificially compartmentalized environmental areas. For example, policies that focus on environmental protection of water more than land can lead to treatment of waste water only to end up with hazardous sludge that will continue to contaminate landfills and eventually leach into ground water. In addition, developing countries require an approach of not simply applying or adapting IE concepts and tools but new ways of framing their problems and hence finding solutions (Erkman and Ramaswamy 2000).

If resources are cycled efficiently, as advocated by the IE paradigm, then we can expect to devote progressively less financial resources into future remediation. This argument provides a strong case for the financial value of IE, supporting the allocation of public funding for (1) industrial ecology research and education; (2) providing financial assistance to micro-, small-scale and cottage-scale industries to invest in efficient, clean technologies (Erkman and Ramaswamy 2000) and (3) monitoring environmental parameters and measures of human development, a task which is made more complex by the significance of the unorganized sector (Erkman and Ramaswamy 2003).

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