Management Options For Industrial Ecology

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To accelerate the adoption of ecosystem approaches, it is useful to study how, within a competitive context, an estate owner could create practical opportunities and incentives for companies to act in concert. A number of examples are found in the UNEP report (1997); however, the scientific literature has so far focused more on studying synergies at the plant level rather than at the macro level of an entire estate. Nevertheless, several case studies of pioneering efforts are given at the end of this chapter. Overall, there is a need for a better sharing of experiences and synthesis by creating a network of estate managers who can work together to identify the most fruitful options. In recognition of this, UNEP has held several workshops for estate managers in Asia (UNEP 1997) and is now working with the Chinese government to plan a number of pilot studies in estates in China (UNEP 1999).

The potential action by estates for collective management is at two levels. The first is the planning of the estate to allow better environmental performance of the complex as a whole. This would aim at a physical layout that is in harmony with the terrain, planning of transport and chemical storage infrastructure, provision of energy-efficient buildings, provision of appropriate services and energy (including renewable energy), planning for juxtaposition of factories to improve sharing of surplus energy and wastes, establishment of a recycling center, reserving vacant land for natural habitat, and so on.

The second possibility is promoting organizational procedures to facilitate better environmental management at the plant level, establishing mechanisms for sharing of services and surplus wastes, and creating information and communications systems for companies to allow them to find their own individual solutions to environmental issues. These are facilitating roles to accelerate the evolution of greater synergies between individual plants, and are based on cooperation rather than coercion. Without such facilitating mechanisms, synergies and symbiotic arrangements can be slow to start.

The twin approach of planning and operation can assist in improving performance on a wide range of sustainable development elements. For example, waste disposal through common treatment facilities allows easier compliance in principle with national pollution standards. But most waste treatment plants are actually not well able to deal with the complex mixture of effluents from a large estate (most really only treat the organic portion). The proper dimensioning of such plants to work efficiently during the extended growth phase of an estate is also difficult. It is not surprising that many estates have difficulty in meeting national effluent standards in a cost-effective way. A more rational design and management approach could improve the performance of many such plants.

Solid waste is another management element. It is clear that in most estates the waste is currently moved off the site This arrangement merely allows the polluter to shift the cost burden somewhere else. A more significant 'ecological' achievement would be to move towards avoiding waste altogether through favoring tenant companies that adopt cleaner production technologies, higher rates of recycling and waste exchange, by supporting the production of waste-derived products such as energy, compost and building materials for sale in external markets. At the same time the estate needs to ensure that its own operations are optimized so as to produce as little waste and pollution as possible.

Environmental elements other than processing waste need also to be optimized. An effective energy management scheme for an estate (including recovery of waste energy) reaches beyond what individual companies can achieve. Heavy industries can be grouped into a 'utility island' in the center of the estate to facilitate transfer of waste heat to other clients. Energy generation plants can be designed from the outset for waste heat re-use elsewhere in the estate. Through a cooperative management of all greenhouse gases, including ozone-depleting substances, an estate could make significant contributions to national targets under the Kyoto and Montreal protocols. An integrated water management scheme can reduce dependence on external sources, with concomitant economic benefits to the estate and the region at large.

A land planning approach based on 'design with nature' principles can make a major contribution to conservation of biodiversity values through a more rational layout of the entire estate, and the deliberate creation of new wildlife habitats in buffer zones and unoccupied land (few estates occupy 100 per cent of land with structures). Such habitats can be managed by the estate, or through third party agencies and organizations.

In principle at least, an environmental action plan that incorporates the above issues would constitute a blueprint for a managed industrial ecology. It would identify the issues to be addressed, define the interactions and relationships between key stakeholders and describe the practical management options for the estate manager and outside authorities. In its most useful form, such a plan also becomes a useful instrument in guiding the environmental initiatives of individual enterprises.

The elements of such an action plan are described in the 1997 UNEP publication, 'Environmental Management of Industrial Estates'. Several high-level workshops with managers in Southeast Asia during 1997-2001 have been useful in promoting further understanding of the way corporate environmental management systems and tools can be applied by industrial estates.

To implement an environmental action program in a rational way, some estates have started to use environmental management systems such as ISO 14000 that have come into more common use elsewhere in the corporate sector (ISO 1995; Harrison 1995). Because the environmental agenda of an estate is necessarily broader than that of a company, such a management system should really incorporate the new elements mentioned earlier, such as landscape, habitat protection, water resource management and air quality. However, owing to unfamiliarity with environmental systems, many estates are still dealing with only a selected number of issues, for only a small portion of their estate (usually the operations they themselves manage). The unaddressed issues leave them open to the resurgence of compliance problems and difficulties with neighboring communities, as has already happened in Thailand for example, where controversial incidents of air pollution from a chemical factory were outside the responsibility of the estate managers (personal communication).

Most management systems so far developed for estates have omitted options for collective forms of environmental management in their action plans. This is a major deficiency, since collective response to issues of energy and water, chemical safety and emergency preparedness and response, waste re-use and recycling is far more effective than leaving this to individual companies. Environmental services, such as waste exchange, environmental training, information and news, have also been slow to appear. As a consequence, many organizational possibilities of rationalizing materials and energy flows have been overlooked, as have opportunities for addressing other sustainable development issues through some form of cooperative action.

Among the barriers to progress is the perpetuation of old-fashioned managerial attitudes to environment, and a lack of understanding of what the sustainable development agenda actually means for future business. Estate management and marketing is sometimes based on what the manager thinks prospective tenants believe about environment; that is, that it is a significant cost item. This misconception can go so far as to prevent estates from advertising their ISO 14001 certification because they feel that prospective tenants might believe that such a system must surely give the estate a high environmental cost structure. As a result of such perceptions, estates generally do not propose collective environmental solutions to their tenants for fear of discouraging investment. Few set out to promote environmental quality as a marketing device. One of the barriers to industrial ecology is indeed still the common belief that it is a burden rather than a business advantage.

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