Thursday 19. February 2009

Research and Education in Industrial Ecology

Professor Ronald Wennersten from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden, will be our guest Friday the 20th of February during the next Lunch lecture. Professor Wennersten currently teaches a course on Conflict Resolution in Resource Management at the masters program in Coastal and Marine Management at the University Centre. In his talk Professor Wennersten will talk about research and education in Industrial Ecology.

Industrial Ecology - Science for Sustainable Development


The problem


It is increasingly obvious that our increased capabilities resulting from technological development have been accompanied by problems that now require urgent solutions. Technology is a driving force for global economic development, but more research must be devoted to how technology can contribute to the long-term sustainability of social and economic systems and the carrying capacity of ecosystems.


The way societies have developed today is more or less built on four principles:


1. We extract minerals and fossil fuels from the Earth's crust.
2. We produce utilities using increasing amounts of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal).
3. When the resources have been used they are turned into waste in landfills.
4. We dispose of wastes in water and air through dilution in recipient waters and in the atmosphere

To turn to new pathways we need a new kind of knowledge to solve the problems that the old kind of knowledge has created. This knowledge has to be built on a holistic framework with knowledge from many of the old disciplines.


Industrial Ecology - the solution?


Industrial Ecology is such an interdisciplinary framework for designing and operating human societies in a more sustainable way. It examines local, regional and global uses and flows of materials and energy in products, processes, industrial and consumer sectors and focuses on the potential role of industry, authorities and the public sector in reducing environmental burdens throughout the life cycle of different products. Industrial Ecology requires us to understand how the industrial system works, how it is regulated and its interaction with society and the biosphere in order to determine how it could be restructured to make it more sustainable. In Industrial Ecology we utilise all the new knowledge that is developing in areas such as energy and environmental technology and also experiences from urban planning. In this way we can put the pieces together and build a more sustainable Earth.


Sustainable Development requires partnerships in which industry, local and regional authorities, NGOs and universities are important actors. Sustainable Development is fundamentally a political process, but universities can play an important role in this process by developing more sound scientific knowledge.


One example of research at the Department of Industrial Ecology is a new residential area in Stockholm where an Industrial Ecology model has been developed and is now being evaluated. This model is the basis for designing a sustainable city area where energy, material and water can be utilised in a more sustainable way. The model will be used for developing new sustainable areas in Stockholm in the future. In this way a more holistic approach can be taken in urban development.


For those companies that understand that the future lies in the development of sustainable solutions, there is an enormous business potential in the future.