Natural ecosystems have evolved over many years to have an apparent stability and organized functioning that we would like to see in other areas of our lives. There has been a frequent desire by mankind to learn from, and even mimic, natural systems, especially as our current economic growth models are starting to show some limitations. The study of industrial ecology can be seen as an attempt to view our modern production methods in such a 'systems' context, where the individual actions of various producers and consumers are played out in a larger framework of mutual interdependence.
Natural systems have no objective other than the survival of the individuals within them, and it can take many generations to achieve a stable state. In an industrial system the ecological concepts of symbiosis, interdependence and competition have to be seen against the relatively short time scale of the human management objectives of the same system. Regular changes arising from external policy shifts, technology development, regulatory change and a rapidly evolving external economic 'climate' can change dramatically within the lifetime of an individual enterprise. The optimization of such a system in a reasonable time scale can hardly be achieved by a natural evolutionary process; rather it must rely on guidance from management decisions by an authoritative body. But the central planning and management of all environmental initiatives and dependencies is beyond the capacity of any institution. The challenge for a managed industrial ecology is one of arranging for an improved framework within which rational environmental decisions can take place, leaving room for natural selection at the micro level to forge the necessary day-to-day relationships.
Among the more stable entities in our current industrial landscape that could create the necessary framework for an evolution of synergies are industrial estates and export-processing zones, which by their very nature have some expectation of longevity as managed development areas. This chapter looks at the potential of industrial estates as a place where industrial ecology concepts could be rationally implemented and promoted. Many estates have enough enterprises to allow for a potentially large number of synergies or cooperative actions to be easily arranged. Because of their pivotal role in planning and operation of an industrial area, estate managers are in principle able to act in an interventionist fashion to encourage or even require certain forms of collective environmental behavior. But, as most existing estates are commercial entities in their own right, the challenge is also to make industrial ecology an attractive business proposition (or a survival factor) for them. One way of achieving this is to stress the notion of eco-efficiency on a large scale, and the attractiveness of achieving environmental compliance at lower cost by deliberate intervention to foster cooperative behavior.
Growing national awareness in all countries of the need to better protect people and our resource base means that estates, as indeed industrial development at all levels, are strongly influenced by national environmental regulations. But environmental policy is now increasingly developed in the context of a broader 'sustainable development' idea, which tries to integrate environment protection also with economics and social advancement in a more balanced way. To better understand the environmental policy context of industrial ecosystems, we need first to review the influence and impact of the sustainable development agenda on industrial production overall.
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