International Society for Industrial Ecology

In the News

  • 12 Oct 2013 9:20 PM | Anonymous

    EUR-IS is accelerating the take-up of industrial symbiosis methodologies in the UK’s West Midlands, Central Hungary, and Poland’s Lower Silesia, as project leaders Adrian Murphy and Peter Levett explain.

  • 27 Sep 2013 1:59 AM | Anonymous
    Interesting read about greening of chemicals by Mikhail Davis from Interface. 

    We get an awkward question from customers from time to time: "Is it true that Interface puts a pesticide in their carpet tiles?"  

    It's made more awkward by the fact that, technically, it's true.

    The chemical in question, known by the brand name Intersept, is a phosphate and coconut oil-based preservative we mix into carpet tile backing to keep microbes from eating it, even if you neglect to clean your carpet regularly. But by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, it must be registered as a pesticide because it is biostatic, meaning it inhibits the growth of microbes in contact with it.

    We could point out that the EPA has tested it to establish effectiveness, biodegradability and low toxicity, but that doesn't count for much in the court of public opinion. And maybe it shouldn't, given the historically spotty performance of chemical regulators, especially when it comes to pesticides.

    So how do we, or any company, credibly establish for a skeptical public that a chemical really is green, or at least a safer alternative?

    The underlying science of chemical risk and hazard assessment is both complex for those of us without a Ph.D in chemistry or toxicology, and expensive, due to the shortage of relevant toxicological data. So I asked a few of my favorite green chemistry experts who do have Ph.Ds to share some of their favorite rules of thumb and tools for approaching this question.

    Without a comprehensive assessment, there are still ways to take the measure of your chemical by focusing on the issues most likely to matter.

    Read more at:

  • 02 Apr 2013 4:35 PM | Anonymous

    Pampered cows milking it thanks to unlikely link-up

    Pampered cows are benefiting from an unlikely link up between a Londonderry agricultural manufacturer and a Cork tyre company.

    Pampered cows are benefiting from an unlikely link up between a Londonderry agricultural manufacturer and a Cork tyre company.

    PAMPERED cows are producing more milk thanks to the unlikely link up between a Londonderry agricultural products manufacturer and a Cork tyre recycler.

    Innovative company Wilson Agriculture Ltd. agreed to take recycled rubber from the Cork firm and stuff its cow mattresses and pillows with it.

    The products are said to improve conditions for cows and increase milk yields.

    The Coleraine operation discovered the sustainable and cost efficient source of material for its cow pillows with support from Invest Northern Ireland’s Industrial Symbiosis (IS) scheme.

    The valuable supply of crumb rubber was sourced through an IS contact. When tested the sample matched the material specifications set by Wilson Agriculture Ltd. and has since generated additional sales of over £178,000 and cost savings of £3,000.

    The supplier has secured another customer whilst Wilson Agriculture Ltd. has been able to convert the material into a high value product for the agricultural sector.

    Andrew Wilson, Managing Director at Wilson Agriculture, said: “Being a part of the Industrial Symbiosis service has enabled us to find valuable alternative sources of material. This not only saves us money but enables us to remain competitive in export markets too.”

    Olive Hill Invest NI’s Director of Innovation and Technical Solutions added: “The Industrial Symbiosis service is helping local companies to generate significant savings and/or additional sales by diverting waste from costly landfill.

    “At the same time companies using the waste products are reducing their raw material costs. This is an excellent commercial result for Wilson Agriculture and I would encourage more people to explore how this service could benefit their business.”

    Here is the direct link to the story!

  • 28 Feb 2013 3:00 PM | Anonymous
    By Sarah Murray

    Few business schools spend much time promoting courses in waste management. But when seen in terms of resource management or industrial symbiosis (one company’s refuse becoming another’s raw material), waste starts to look like a hot topic for any manager wanting to cut costs, bolster raw materials supplies and promote environmental sustainability.

    This is something few business managers have yet considered, says Bob Adams, business partnerships director at Sustainable Conservation, a California-based non-profit.

    gh the same old system to get profit from them,” he says. “Somehow we can’t quite make that leap to the next way of thinking.”

    He believes this is where management education has a role to play. “It’s going to be the generation of people coming through business schools that have a chance to rethink things and inspire new solutions.”

    Pressure for managers to focus on waste is certainly increasing. With many raw materials diminishing in supply, there is a growing awareness of the importance of resource conservation to the long-term sustainability of many business models.

    “In an age of plentiful and cheap resources you can afford to throw them out,” says Andrew Hoffman, director of the Erb Institute and professor of sustainable enterprise at the Ross School of Business. “But as the price and the scarcity starts to go up, capturing them and bringing them back will be critical.”

    Case study

    When it comes to persuading consumers to think differently about waste, reuse of materials draws not only on technical knowhow but also on marketing skills. This was something Jo Gilroy, an Exeter Business School student, discovered when she embarked on one of the sustainability consulting projects that forms part of the school’s One Planet MBA.

    Ms Gilroy worked with UK-based Elvis & Kresse, which produces expensive lifestyle accessories from recycled materials, such as handbags made from discarded fire hose. The company also uses military-grade parachute lining and metal-coated mesh from mobile phones.

    The resulting products sell at high prices. “They’ve taken something that was totally unwanted and turned it into something that people are prepared to pay quite a bit of money for,” says Ms Gilroy.

    Working on the consulting project highlighted the fact that creating luxury products from unwanted items and marketing them in sophisticated ways can help change the way people look at waste, she says.

    Ms Gilroy believes that resource management needs to become a more prominent part of business education.

    “[Waste] is going to become more prevalent ... and the issue of diminishing resources becomes more pressing – for business, this is not something that’s going to go away.”

    Meanwhile, consumption is rising. Research from McKinsey suggests that growth in emerging markets could create up to 3bn more middle-class consumers in the next 20 years – good news for companies, but only if they have access to supplies of the raw materials needed to feed that consumption. Waste is also becoming part of risk management because companies are held increasingly accountable for the environmental impact of manufacturing by-products.

    Experts argue that to overcome such risks, managers will need to find ways of returning more industrial material to the supply chain and incorporating into their businesses concepts such as industrial ecology and biomimicry (following principles found in nature to maximise efficiency of materials and energy).

    “These are critical areas that business managers will increasingly need to understand and are not being trained to consider,” says Prof Hoffman.

    Peter Laybourn, chief executive of International Synergies, also acknowledges the need for business students to learn how to manage and recycle waste. However, he stresses that future managers must also be equipped to look beyond internal processes and collaborate with others on waste management.

    “Companies are so used to trying to solve their own problems, but the solutions might be right next to them,” says Mr Laybourn, whose National Industrial Symbiosis Programme helps companies to discover how their waste, energy and by-products can be turned into resources and sold. “There’s a lot of cross-fertilisation that companies might miss if they don’t know about this.”

    In different forms, waste management is starting to crop up in business school content and activities, often through joint degrees.

    This is the case at Yale School of Management, which covers such topics through a joint MBA and a master of environmental management. And at the University of Michigan, the MBA/MSc, run by the Ross School and Rackham Graduate School’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, includes courses in resource management and industrial ecology.

    Students at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business have the option of an internship at Waste Management, a Texas-based provider whose services include collection, transfer, recycling, resource recovery and disposal.

    At Exeter University Business School in the UK, the One Planet MBA elective on biomimicry explores how business can look to nature when designing products, processes and systems that increase energy and resource efficiency and reduce or eliminate waste. The school has also published a case on Desso, a carpet producer in the Netherlands, which is incorporating waste materials into its flooring tiles.

    Occasionally, industrial ecology makes its way into the core curriculum. At Presidio Graduate School, it appears in the operations and production course in the second semester of the school’s MBA in Sustainable Management.

    More often, topics such as waste and resource management and industrial ecology are found in technically focused parts of universities. The Cornell Waste Management Institute’s home is in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, for instance, while Yale University’s Centre for Industrial Ecology is housed at its forestry and environmental studies school.

    However, some argue that resource management should also be part of the MBA programme because it involves organisational as well as technical challenges – particularly when it comes to collaborating with other companies on waste reuse.

    “Industrial ecology is more of a systems-level approach and it drives the need to look outside the boundaries of the single organisation,” says Jennifer Howard-Grenville, associate professor of management at the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business.

    “Engineers can look at industrial symbiosis and see it’s obvious that a byproduct can be used as a raw material by another firm,” says Prof Howard-Grenville, who teaches an MBA elective on industrial ecology. “But from an organisational perspective, it’s not that easy.”

    . . .

    As well as demanding organisational shifts, the adoption of strategies based on industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis requires business managers to think differently.

    “We’d like to see managers talk not about waste but about by-products and the opportunities not only to save money but also to make money,” says Malcolm Kirkup, director of MBA programmes at Exeter Business School.

    He argues that waste should not be viewed as something at the end of the supply chain but as an integral part of business strategy. “Currently, not many operations management teachers think that way,” he adds. “What we have to get is a change of mindset in the MBA.”

  • 11 Oct 2012 11:08 AM | Anonymous

    (original: )

    Life in the 21st century wouldn’t be the same without rare earth metals. Cell phones, iPads, laptops, televisions, hybrid cars, wind turbines, solar cells and many more products depend on rare earth metals to function. Will there be enough for us to continue our high-tech lifestyle and transition to a renewable energy economy? Do we need to turn to deep seabed or asteroid mining to meet future demand?

    “To provide most of our power through renewables would take hundreds of times the amount of rare earth metals that we are mining today,” said Thomas Graedel, Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology and professor of geology and geophysics at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

    There is no firm definition of rare earth metals, but the term generally refers to metals used in small quantities. Rare earth metals include: rare earth elementsundefined17 elements in the periodic table, the 15 lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium; six platinum group elements; and other byproduct metals that occur in copper, gold, uranium, phosphates, iron or zinc ores. While many rare earth metals are actually quite common, they are seldom found in sufficient amounts to be extracted economically.

    According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, world demand for rare earth metals is estimated to be 136,000 tonnes per year, and projected to rise to at least 185,000 tonnes annually by 2015. With continued global growth of the middle class, especially in China, India and Africa, demand will continue to grow. High-tech products and renewable energy technology cannot function without rare earth metals. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are essential ingredients in the magnets of wind turbines and computer hard drives; a number of rare earth metals are used in nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and many other products; yttrium is necessary for color TVs, fuel cells and fluorescent lamps; europium is a component of compact fluorescent bulbs and TV and iPhone screens; cerium and lanthanum are used in catalytic converters; platinum group metals are needed as catalysts in fuel cell technology; and other rare earth metals are essential for solar cells, cell phones, computer chips, medical imaging, jet engines, defense technology, and much more.

    Wind power has grown around 7 per cent a year, increasing by a factor of 10 over the last decade, noted Peter Kelemen, Arthur D. Storke Memorial Professor of Geochemistry at the Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Every megawatt of electricity needs 200 kilograms of neodymiumundefinedor 20 per cent of one tonne,” he said. “So if every big wind turbine produces one megawatt, five turbines will require one tonne of neodymium. If wind is going to play a major part in replacing fossil fuels, we will need to increase our supply of neodymium.”

    A recent MIT study projected that neodymium demand could grow by as much as 700 per cent over the next 25 years; demand for dysprosium, also needed for wind turbines, could increase by 2,600 per cent.

    China currently supplies 97 per cent of global rare earth metal demand, and 100 per cent of heavy rare earth metals such as terbium and dysprosium, used in wind turbines. In 2005, it began restricting exports to preserve resources and protect the environment, causing prices to soar. Today, the United States is 100 per cent dependent on imports for rare earth metals. From the mid-1960s through the 1980s, however, Molycorp’s Mountain Pass mine in California was the world’s main source of rare earth metals. As the US share of rare earth metal production declined, China used government support, research and development, training programs, cheap labor and low prices to develop its supply chain, increasing its share of rare earth metal production from 27 per cent in 1990 to 97 per cent in 2011. In March, the US, Japan and the European Union lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization over China’s limits on rare earth exports. In response, China announced that it will export 30,996 more metric tonnes of rare earth metals in 2012 than it did in 2011.

    The US, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Malaysia, and Malawi also have deposits of rare earth metals, and while the US Geological Survey expects that global reserves and as yet undiscovered deposits of rare earth metals will be able to meet future demand, new mines may take up to 10 years to develop, and resources in remote areas will likely be much more difficult to extract.

    Kelemen is confident that ongoing global exploration for neodymium, for which there is no known substitute in low-weight magnets for electric motors and generators, will be successful and boost short-term supplies. On the other hand, the heavy rare earth metal dysprosium, used to increase the longevity of magnets in wind turbines and electric cars, is harder to find. “Ninety-nine per cent of the current supply comes from clay deposits that can be easily mined with a shovel in Jiangxi, China,” Kelemen said. “Other known deposits of dysprosium in Canada and Greenland will be much harder to mine.”

    To ease the bottleneck of rare earth metals, mines being developed in Australia, Brazil, Canada and Vietnam could be in production within five years. The Molycorp mine in Mountain Pass has reopened and expects to be operating at full capacity this year.

    More mining of rare earth metals, however, will mean more environmental degradation and human health hazards. All rare earth metals contain radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium, which can contaminate air, water, soil and groundwater. Metals such as arsenic, barium, copper, aluminum, lead and beryllium may be released during mining into the air or water, and can be toxic to human health. Moreover, the refinement process for rare earth metals uses toxic acids and results in polluted wastewater that must be properly disposed of. The Chinese Society of Rare Earths estimated that the refinement of one tonne of rare earth metals results in 75 cubic meters of acidic wastewater and one tonne of radioactive residue. The 1998 leak of hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive wastewater into a nearby lake was a contributing factor to Molycorp’s shutdown in 2002. Many new mines, including Molycorp, are now developing more environmentally friendly mining techniques.

    Nevertheless, we are mining poorer and poorer ores all the time, and it takes more and more energy to extract the same amount of metal, according to Graedel.  “I’m not worried that we’ll run out of rare earth metals, but will we have enough energy at a reasonable price to extract it?” he asked.

    The high performance of our products depends on the specific rare earth metals they utilize; unless there are technological breakthroughs, doing without those materials would force products to revert to old performance standards. “I’m worried that things will become so scarce and expensive that we can’t routinely use them as part of modern industrial design,” said Graedel. There could come a point when the cost of extracting rare earth metals is simply not economically justifiable, no matter how high their prices rise.

    Because of rising prices, there is now renewed interest in seabed mining for rare earth metals. Since the 1960s, scientists have known about the existence of manganese nodules, rocks abundant in water 4,000 to 5,000 metres deep that contain nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese and rare earth metals, but in the past, mining them never made economic sense. In 2011, a Japanese team found huge deposits of rare earth metals, including terbium and dysprosium, in sea mud 3,500 to 6,000 metres deep in the Pacific Ocean. One square kilometre (0.4 square mile) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption, according to Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo.

    The New York Times recently reported the discovery of deposits of gold, silver, copper, cobalt, lead and zinc in the sulfurous mounds that gush hot water from fissures near active volcanic areas on the ocean floor. Seabed mining, however, could cause great damage to fisheries and marine ecosystems, so environmentalists are pushing for more research and mitigation planning before it begins.

    As global warming accelerates the melting of the Arctic ice cap, rare earth metal deposits are becoming accessible and a number of countries are positioning themselves to exploit them.

    Then there is the sci-fi-sounding mission of Planetary Resources, a company backed by filmmaker James Cameron and investors Larry Page and Eric Schmidt from Google. It aims to mine the “easily accessible” 1,500 asteroids orbiting Earth, which contain metals such as iron, nickel, cobalt and the platinum group metals used in microprocessors, catalytic converters and renewable energy systems. The company contends that platinum group metals can be found in much higher concentrations on some asteroids than in Earth’s richest mines.

    Kelemen believes it will take more than a decade, at least, before there is commercially significant extraction of rare earth metals from seabed manganese nodules or asteroid mining, and that sulfurous mound mining would not alleviate the neodymium shortage. So what other solutions exist?

    “I would like to see more exploration and research to make sure we know what’s there and what the challenges are of going after it,” said Graedel. “I don’t think we know if we’ll have the resources to meet future demand.” He also wants material scientists to aim their product design and lab investigations at the most common elements, rather than the scarcer ones. Some companies, including GE, Toyota and Ford, are trying to use less rare earth metals in their products, limit waste and/or develop substitute metals.

    Though recycling e-waste cannot satisfy the rapidly growing demand for rare earth metals, it is one way to help alleviate the shortage. Recycling and reusing materials also saves the energy used in mining and processing, conserves resources, and reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2009, 2.37 million tonnes of electronics were discarded, but only 25 per cent was recycled. The European Union recently enacted new e-waste recycling rules requiring member states to recycle 45 per cent of all electronic equipment sold starting in 2016, rising to 65 per cent by 2019. (Find out where you can recycle your e-waste.)

    Ironically, as prices for electronic products come down, people tend to buy more and more of them, so demand for rare earth metals keeps rising.

    “In the 21st century, we are facing a lot of resource issuesundefinedenergy, water, food and metals,” said Graedel. “Ultimately each individual consumer is driving the whole rate of expansion of resource use…do we really need all this stuff?”

    Renee Cho is a staff blogger for Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a freelance environmental writer who has written for, E Magazine and On Earth.

    This blog was originally published on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet website.

  • 09 May 2012 11:08 AM | Anonymous
    By Sally McGrane, New York Times

    AMSTERDAM undefined An unemployed man, a retired pharmacist and an upholsterer took their stations, behind tables covered in red gingham. Screwdrivers and sewing machines stood at the ready. Coffee, tea and cookies circulated. Hilij Held, a neighbor, wheeled in a zebra-striped suitcase and extracted a well-used iron. “It doesn’t work anymore,” she said. “No steam.”
  • 31 Jan 2012 2:35 PM | Anonymous
    By Wendy Koch, USA Today


    Food leftovers as worm bedding? At a DuPont warehouse in Lockport, N.Y., cafeteria waste is turned into compost that's used for its landscaping.

    At other DuPont facilities, shipping pallets are repaired or shred into chips to make animal bedding, and scrap pieces of Corian are recycled into new countertops or used as landscape stone. Food waste that's not composted is turned into energy.

    DuPont Building Innovations, which makes countertops and Tyvek building wrap, announced earlier this month that undefined within three years undefined it has slashed the annual amount of waste it sends to landfills from 81 million pounds to zero. Yes, zero.

    "It's good for our business," both its bottom line and public image, says spokeswoman Patty Seif.

    What was a nascent zero-landfill movement a few years ago in Corporate America is mushrooming into a common strategy to save money and boost environmental credibility. Every month, a wider array of companies reports zero or near-zero landfill status, following automakers such as Subaru that have led the way.

  • 11 Jan 2012 12:07 PM | Anonymous
    By: Sarah Murray for the Financial Times

    What happens to your rubbish after you take out the bins? This question was asked by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Lab, who tracked 3,000 electronically tagged waste items from Seattle. Their study showed that the city does well in minimising landfill waste (more than 75 per cent of the items ended up in recycling facilities, well above the US average of about 34 per cent). Yet huge differences exist in the way our trash is handled around the world – and some places do it better than others. In some cases, landfill has been turned into a valuable resource. In others, it has been avoided altogether.

  • 06 Jan 2012 12:49 PM | Anonymous
    Leslie Kaufman, New York Times

    SAN FRANCISCO   undefined  From the cotton field in rural India to the local rag bin, a typical pair of blue jeans consumes 919 gallons of water during its life cycle, Levi Strauss & Company says, or enough to fill about 15 spa-size bathtubs. That includes the water that goes into irrigating the cotton crop, stitching the jeans together and washing them scores of times at home.

    The company wants to reduce that number any way it can, and not just to project environmental responsibility. It fears that water shortages caused by climate change may jeopardize the company’s very existence in the coming decades by making cotton too expensive or scarce.

    So to protect its bottom line, Levi Strauss has helped underwrite and champion a nonprofit program that teaches farmers in India, Pakistan, Brazil and West and Central Africa the latest irrigation and rainwater-capture techniques.  It has introduced a brand featuring stone-washed denim smoothed with rocks but no water. It is sewing tags into all of its jeans urging customers to wash less and use only cold water.

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