Like the question of goals, the boundaries of the field are subject to varying interpretation. They cannot be defined deductively from first principles; there is no authoritative epistemology in industrial ecology. At the same time, views on what are part of or outside this field shape, what is published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, what is included in compendia such as this handbook and what projects receive funding from sources focusing on the development of industrial ecology.
One of the considerations with respect to the boundaries is whether industrial ecology should address not only 'what' but 'how' (Andrews 2000). Investigations of 'what' inform our understanding of the character of technological and natural systems - characterizing the manner in which these systems behave and interact, and under what circumstances environmental situations that humans deem preferable (for example, the absence of ozone holes in the atmosphere) might occur, much as in the definition of industrial ecology quoted in the beginning of this chapter. In that respect, the 'what' investigations include the what-if questions described above with respect to the normative aspects of industrial ecology: 'What if different materials were used for packaging; would carbon dioxide emissions decrease and global warming slow?' Some industrial ecologists, however, argue that the field must also embrace social, political and economic questions of 'how'. That is, given the identification of a preferred outcome, what strategies should be employed to bring about that outcome (Andrews 2000; Jackson and Clift 1998).
Thus the 'how' questions are largely a province of the social sciences. Sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology, political science and related fields have the potential to help identify strategies that are more likely to succeed. Nonetheless, the social sciences are not confined to 'how' questions (Fischoff and Small 1999). They can also indicate what is happening as when, for example, social scientists investigate the quantity and character of consumption in households and how it drives production and waste management activities and therefore environmental outcomes (Duchin 1998; Noorman and Schoot Uiterkamp 1998).
Most industrial ecologists would agree that such knowledge is crucial, but some would argue that that knowledge should remain lodged in allied fields, otherwise the boundaries and identity of industrial ecology will become so expansive as to be diffuse. Further complicating this tension are questions of whether these different sorts of inquiry can be construed as modular. That is, can they be pursued independently and subsequently melded to generate reliable insights? Or does their intellectual and organizational separation inevitably mean that the modular inquiries will be impoverished, incapable of integration, or even fundamentally misleading (Lifset 1998b)? Put more simply, must the questions that industrial ecology seeks to answer be pursued on an interdisciplinary basis to produce reliable answers? Ultimately, it will be the productivity of the various approaches in generating conceptual insights and practical knowledge that will determine their adoption3.
Was this article helpful?