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Entity Position Statement of the

Electronics & the Environment Committee (EHS).
EHS reports to the Technical Activites Board of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.





This White Paper on Sustainable Development and Industrial Ecology represents the views of the

Electronics & the Environment (E&E) of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE). The IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional society, with over 320,000 members in more than 150 countries. The E&E was formed in July, 1992, to support the integration of environmental, health and safety considerations into electronics products and processes from design and manufacturing, to use, to recycling, refurbishing or disposal.


The E&E believes that the original approach to environmental impacts and their mitigation, characterized by centralized "command-and-control" regulation targeted at emissions and existing waste sites, is far too limited to support the achievement of a sustainable economy. It must be replaced by a more comprehensive approach. As recognized in the document, Technology for a Sustainable Future, recently issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), technology, science and environmental considerations must be integrated both in the U.S. and, eventually, throughout the global economy. This goal cannot be reached without developing a more sophisticated, coherent intellectual framework. This framework should support the development of the theories, methodologies, and data required by the technical community to achieve environmentally preferable processes, products, operations and technologies. Moreover, there is clearly a necessary role for government at all levels in supporting basic research in this area, particularly in developing the field of industrial ecology, and encouraging the development and diffusion of the resulting knowledge and technologies. Accordingly, we first propose here a model intellectual framework based on the field of industrial ecology. Using the U. S. Federal Government as a model, we then offer some brief suggestions on an appropriate role for government in helping to advance our understanding of industrial ecology. Believing that these issues extend beyond specific industrial sectors or areas of professional expertise, we have also chosen not to limit our comments to the electrical or electronics area, although that may well turn out to be where the E&E contributes most directly.



I. Industrial Ecology Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework required to support the integration of science, technology and environmental considerations throughout all economic activity may be outlined as follows:









Sustainable development

is traditionally defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". It is worthy vision, but is inherently ambiguous, and inescapably expressed in value-laden terms subject to different ideological interpretation. somewhat value-laden as well, implying for some people, for example, redistribution of wealth or a need to restrict current consumption. Accordingly, while it provides a useful direction, it is almost impossible to operationalize. Standing alone, therefore, it cannot guide either technology development or policy formulation.

Industrial ecology

is the objective, multidisciplinary study of industrial and economic systems and their linkages with fundamental natural systems. It incorporates, among other things, research involving energy supply and use, new materials, new technologies and technological systems, basic sciences, economics, law, management, and social sciences. Although still in the development stage, it provides the theoretical scientific basis upon which understanding, and reasoned improvement, of current practices can be based. Oversimplifying somewhat, it can be thought of as "the science of sustainability." It is important to emphasize that industrial ecology is an objective field of study based on existing scientific and technological disciplines, not a form of industrial policy or planning system.

The Design for Environment (DFE) infrastructure includes the legal, economic and other incentive systems, methodologies and tools, and data and information resources by which society provides the necessary and appropriate support for efforts by individuals and firms to implement the principles of industrial ecology. Examples might include the development of materials databases, based on industrial ecology R&D, which would provide simple, easily-accessed rankings of the environmental preferability of commodity materials in traditional uses.

Design for Environment (DFE)

is the implementation of the principles of industrial ecology in the near term at the private firm or individual level. It may be broken down further into two separate sets of activities, at least at the firm level. Generic DFE includes the development of competencies, organizations, methodologies, and rules and tools across the firm which generally improve the firm’s environmental performance regardless of specific design and production activities. Examples might include the development and deployment of "green accounting systems", "green business planning practices", and "green specifications and standards." Specific DFE includes the development and deployment of rules, tools, and data sets intended to directly improve the environmental preferability of product and process design and operation. Examples might include development of product and process checklists, and DFE figure-of-merit software to be included in CAD/CAM systems. In all cases, DFE activities require inclusion of lifecycle considerations in the analytical process. (More information on DFE is provided in the references cited in footnote 2, particularly Industrial Ecology, which is a basic engineering text on the subject.)

II. The Role of Government

There are essentially two roles for government to play in support of this industrial ecology framework (while we will refer for convenience to U. S. Federal Government entities in this section, the discussion is broadly applicable to international quasi-governmental organizations, other national governments, and state and local jurisdictions). The first, and perhaps most critical at this point, is supporting basic research in industrial ecology. The second is supporting the diffusion and implementation of technologies and practices based on industrial ecology, or development of the DFE infrastructure.

Basic research and development in industrial ecology is necessary to provide the objective understanding and support required for the integration of environmental considerations throughout the economy. It is also a necessary prerequisite for the development and implementation of economically and environmentally efficient regulatory structures, currently a critical policy deficiency. What this might entail may perhaps be best illustrated by a few examples, such as:

1. Planning and implementing a series of studies to understand and model stocks, flows, and logistics of material movements throughout both the US and global economies for all major industrial materials, including both renewables and nonrenewables. Environmental impacts and human/ecosystem exposure data could be mapped onto these models, providing the basis for developing environmentally preferable products and processes, and helping industrial sectors and labor markets adjust gracefully to an environmentally preferable world. Such knowledge, by the way, is also critical to support the development of valid, efficient, risk-based environmental regulations: indeed, it is difficult to see how environmental regulation can be effective in the long term without such data and models.

2. Developing integrated "industrial metabolism" models of energy production and use, linked where possible to technology, demographic and other systems, with risk assessment and technology option overlays. As in "1." above, this will facilitate the identification of optimal national and sectoral R&D and investment programs to produce environmentally and economically preferable (and, hopefully, eventually sustainable) energy, manufacturing, transportation, and other technology systems.

3. Developing integrated models of urban communities, including perhaps small relatively self-contained cities, larger cities with surrounding suburbs, and large megalopolises with decayed centers and most business activity decentralized throughout the suburbs. Such models would include transportation, physical infrastructure, food, energy and other systems. This would facilitate identification of major sources of environmental impacts, patterns of activities which give rise to them, and potential environmentally preferable technological or mitigation options.

4. Developing integrated models of specific sectors of particular economic, environmental, or cultural importance - including, for example, the agriculture, forestry, extractive, electronic and automotive sectors - which could then be used to understand how they might be affected by an increasingly environmentally sensitive world. Such research could be particularly important in mitigating potential economic and employment shocks of discontinuous environmental, and/or related economic and regulatory, changes, and in supporting continued improvement in quality of life while reducing attendant environmental impacts.

5. One of the more robust hypotheses of industrial ecology to date is that rapid evolution of environmentally appropriate technological systems is a prerequisite for improvement of quality-of-life in an environmentally sensitive world. The fundamentals of technological evolution and diffusion throughout the economy are, however, poorly understood; still less do we know what optimum, or maximum, rates of technological evolution might be, what associated economic and labor costs and benefits might be (and how they could be optimized), and how such variables differ by class of technology. (For example, it is apparent that moving to a hydrogen-based energy economy will be significantly more difficult, and a far more lengthy process, than substituting for CFC-based cleaning systems in electronics manufacture.) Research into such issues may well produce valuable insights.

6. Investigating the interdependency of legal, economic, cultural, marketing, scientific and technological activities and policies as they affect environmental protection and the evolution of environmentally appropriate technological systems. Studies of different regulatory tools and approaches in terms of how private firm and consumer behavior subsequently shift, for example, could be quite useful in developing efficient private and public environmental management structures.

7. There are vast amounts of data available in buried, essentially inaccessible, files and databases across all levels of government, including both developed and developing nations. These data resources should be identified and prioritized, then made publicly available in a useful form. This can be linked in with a number of current initiatives; in the U. S., for example, the Federal Government should make this an initial goal of the National Information Infrastructure effort.

Such a research program should be supported in a number of ways. First, there are many existing programs and projects within the U. S. National Laboratories supported by the Department of Energy, NASA, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and others which deal with aspects of industrial ecology, although they are not currently intended to do so, nor are they organized to take advantage of the knowledge they are generating. Examples include much of the energy research at the DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and elsewhere; the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicle program involving the automobile sector and various national laboratories; new materials research at NIST, the DOE laboratories, and elsewhere; and much research throughout the government laboratory complex on pre-competitive environmentally conscious manufacturing technologies. (There are, of course, complementary R&D programs in academia and private industry, which must be brought into this collaborative research effort, but this White Paper focuses on the government role.)

Two actions with regard to these activities should be undertaken. First, a central government-wide point of contact, possibly in OSTP, should be established, not to control research or funding, but simply to assure institutional awareness of relevant government activities. As part of this institutionalization of industrial ecology, a survey of all pertinent projects should be undertaken to generate an "industry ecology project portfolio", and to encourage the integration of industrial ecology principles into such projects. Note that this action could generate significant data and benefits at little cost, as only existing, funded projects are involved.

Once this is done, research gaps and opportunities for intellectual cross-fertilization can be identified. Additional projects at the National Laboratories can be initiated if appropriate (and if funding is available). It is important, however, that the broader research community also be energized.

As a critical second thrust of such a research program, therefore, the National Science Foundation should establish a funding program for industrial ecology projects, possibly including the establishment of one or two Centers for Industrial Ecology at leading universities. This will generate momentum for industrial ecology research and teaching within the academic community, which is particularly critical where a field, such as industrial ecology, cuts across existing disciplinary lines and is therefore unlikely to be supported by traditional programs either within or external to the university.

The second general set of activities which must be undertaken by government involves the "DFE infrastructure" framework stage. Clearly, neither individuals nor private firms are able to develop on their own the overarching legal, regulatory and economic incentive structures which will be necessary to support the integration of environment into all economic activity. They are also not able to restructure existing regulatory systems - including environmental, but also including such apparently unrelated regulatory regimes as antitrust, consumer protection and government procurement - so that they avoid unnecessary interference with the achievement of environmental quality while still meeting their original purposes.

Similarly, some prioritization and reordering of environmental values, both among themselves (e.g., is Superfund, human carcinogenicity, or global climate change more important?) and in the broader context of other social values (e.g., employment, private property rights) can only be accomplished through the political process. While it is doubtful that an unambiguous, uncontentious prioritization of values is possible, some broader consensus is necessary to provide support for further progress: How, for example, can an engineer be expected to design a "green" product when what is environmentally preferable cannot be made clear? This will not be a trivial task. It will require, for example, the development of comprehensive risk assessment (CRA) methodologies, which evaluate and balance risks and possible benefits on a systems-wide basis. While such approaches have been suggested, no such methodologies yet exist, nor is it clear that the data or organizational structure necessary to support implementation of CRAs are currently available.

In a global economy where environmental perturbations are not restricted to political boundaries, it is obvious that such a domestic program, and others like it around the world, must be linked together in a collaborative international network. Existing international organizations, both quasi-governmental (e.g., UNEP and the OECD) and private (e.g., IEEE, ISO, and international public interest entities), must assume increased responsibility in this area. We also recommend that each national government appoint a high-level central contact point to facilitate the international exchange of data and establish collaborative programs for advancing the study and practice of industrial ecology. In keeping with the tenants of industrial ecology, this contact point should not merely represent the vested interests of environmental compliance and remediation, but should be technologically sophisticated and proactively interested in supporting the integration of science, technology and environment in all economic activities.

III. The IEEE E&E Role.

As the world’s largest international professional organization, and a forum where academia, government and industry meet in a neutral, professional environment, we believe that we bear a special responsibility to participate in the development and implementation of the nascent field of industrial ecology. This is particularly true because we believe the electrical, electronics and telecommunications sectors will be key in supporting the critical trend of providing increasing quality-of-life using less material and energy ("dematerialization" and "decarbonization"). We believe, in short, that we are enablers of industrial ecology and, eventually, the achievement of a sustainable economy.

Accordingly, we have already begun to play an important role as both a facilitator and a source of substantive expertise, as demonstrated, for example, by the IEEE E&E annual International Symposia on Electronics and the Environment, begun in 1993 and now in its third year. This White Paper itself represents a desire to begin a process of public dialog on industrial ecology, as well as an effort to encourage necessary R&D activities and appropriate policy decisions in the public sector.

These activities should be expanded, however. We seek to make the IEEE E&E an international resource of professional expertise in industrial ecology. As such, for example, our members could help peer review research proposals and programs, or identify data and methodological priorities for industrial ecology/DFE projects aimed at improving the economic/environmental efficiency of industry. Through articles written by our members (see footnote 2 for some existing examples) and other activities, we seek to further encourage the diffusion of industrial ecology and DFE practices and, more subtly, encourage the culture changes which can support the integration of science, technology

and environment throughout the global economy. We do not undertake these activities simply because they are part of the high professional standards to which we adhere, although that is, of course, true: rather, we recognize them as our ethical obligation to our world and to our children.

IV. Conclusion

The IEEE E&E believes that there are few more pressing public policy issues than the integration of environmental considerations into all economic activity with the ultimate goal of achieving a sustainable society. At the present time, however, our understanding of what this entails is preliminary and limited, in part due to the significant limitations of the existing intellectual framework within which environmental issues are defined. Accordingly, we propose a new framework within which to begin addressing these issues. Moreover, a necessary role for government at all levels in supporting research in the objective field of industrial ecology is identified, and some (mainly illustrative) suggestions made as to how that might be accomplished. Undoubtedly improvements to the above can - and should - be suggested. Nonetheless, we firmly believe that the time has come for all of us - whether in government, private industry, public interest groups, or academia - to begin to work together. We hope that the above framework provides a basis to begin to do so, and we pledge the IEEE E&E to that course.

For further information regarding the IEEE and its environmental programs, contact Diana Bendz, Chair, E&E, at 914-766-2425. For further information regarding this White Paper or its contents, contact Brad Allenby, Vice-Chair, Technology, E&E, at 609-639-2244. You may also contact Jayne F. Cerone, IEEE Technical Activities, 445 Hoes Lane, Piscataway, NJ 08855-1331; phone (908-562-3908; fax 908-562-1769; email (Internet)

This Entity Position Statement was approved by the membership of E&E on March 20, 1995, and was endorsed by Diana Bendz, Chair, E&E. The White Paper was written under the direction of Brad Allenby, Vice Chair - Technical, E&E. It has not been submitted for approval to the IEEE Board of Directors, IEEE Technical Activities Board nor IEEE United States Activities Board.

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