The most recent formal definition of the concept of cleaner production is the one contained in the cleaner production declaration which defines cleaner production as 'the continuous application of an integrated, preventive environmental strategy applied to processes, products and services in pursuit of economic, social, health, safety and environmental benefits'. Both this more recent definition and the original definition cited rest basically on three main 'guiding principles' which distinguish cleaner production from earlier environmental management strategies. Jackson (1993) identified these guiding principles as precaution, prevention and integration.
First of all, the lessons of the precautionary principle (Raffensberger and Tickner 1999; Sand 2000) are clearly relevant in structuring a new approach to environmental protection. This principle emerged as an important factor in environmental policy at around the same time as cleaner production emerged as a new environmental management paradigm. The earliest formulation of the principle can be traced back to the first international Conference on the Protection of the North Sea in 1984 (Dethlefsen et al. 1993). The second conference, in 1987, formalized acceptance of the principle by agreeing to 'reduce polluting emissions' of particular kinds of substances 'especially where there is reason to assume that certain damage or harmful effects ... are likely to be caused by such substances' (North Sea Ministers 1987). The fundamental import of the principle is to take action to mitigate potential causes of environmental pollution in advance of conclusive scientific evidence about actual effects. Though originally formulated in terms of a specific class of substances - namely those that are persistent, toxic and bioaccumulable -subsequent applications of and attempts to explicate the principle have stressed that the domain of precaution could potentially be applied to all anthropogenic emissions. As such, the principle enshrines a call to reduce the material outputs from all industrial systems: in effect therefore to engage in cleaner production.
The principle of prevention provides perhaps the most fundamental distinction between the concept of cleaner production and earlier environmental protection strategies (Hirschhorn and Oldenburg 1991; Hirschhorn et al. 1993). The idea of a preventive approach to problem solving can be illustrated by reference to preventive health care. Curative medicine attempts to correct imbalances and diseases in the organism through surgery or through treatment with drugs. Preventive medicine seeks to prevent illness itself by promoting health in the patient, and increasing his or her natural resistance to disease. But preventive medicine, to be successful, must act upstream, as it were, in advance of the onset of disease. Once the illness has set in, the organism is already out of balance. Curative medicine can of course still 'prevent' a sick patient from dying, and often aids recovery. But it is generally more expensive and often more difficult than ensuring that the patient stays healthy to start with.
Preventive environmental management also requires actions to be taken upstream, before environmental impacts occur. This is in contrast to more traditional environmental management strategies which by focusing on environmental endpoints tend to clean up pollution, as it were, after the fact. Such clean-up strategies can sometimes 'prevent' environmental emissions from affecting human health, and for this reason remain important within environmental management. But they are expensive ways of dealing with anthropogenic impacts on the environment, and generally fail to address the root causes of pollution. Preventive environmental management also distinguishes itself from end-of-pipe environmental management which attempts to 'prevent' the emission of specific pollutants into a particular environmental medium by placing some kind of filter or treatment between the emission and the environment. Again, the logic of prevention is to seek intervention at an earlier stage of the process in such a way that the polluting emission does not arise in the first place.
There is a sense in which the prevention is thus a directional strategy: it looks as far as possible upstream in a network of causes and effects; it attempts to identify those elements within the causal network which lead to a particular problem; and it then takes action at the source to avoid the problem. The preventive approach recognizes the demand for products and services as the prime mover in the impact of anthropogenic systems on the environment. In particular, therefore, the preventive nature of clean production entails the need to 'reconsider product design, consumer demand, patterns of material consumption, and indeed the entire basis of economic activity' (Jackson 1993).
Finally, cleaner production attempts to formulate an integrated approach to environmental protection. Traditional end-of-pipe approaches have tended to concentrate on specific environmental media: air, water or land. One of the failures of earlier management approaches was to reduce specific environmental emissions at the expense of emissions into different media. Cleaner production attempts to avoid this problem by concentrating on all material flows, rather than selected ones. Furthermore, as the definitions point out, cleaner production demands that attention be paid to emissions over the whole life cycle of the product or service from raw material extraction, through conversion and production, distribution, utilization or consumption, re-use or recycling, and to ultimate disposal.
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