Industrial Ecology is an application of environmental management transcending the
boundary of the individual firm. By comparing industrial systems to natural
ecosystems, Industrial Ecology aims to emulate the sustainable state of the latter.
Although research is flourishing, there are only very limited examples of Industrial
Ecology in practice. Its proposed end state of a sustainable economic system is
encapsulated in Thomas Graedel's "type III" system, where all ecosystem
components live on their exchange products, and the whole system runs exclusively
on solar radiation as its source of energy.
This doctoral thesis is conceived from the recognition that the idea of Industrial
Ecology at present is in conflict with the applications of it, and the field thus needs
to be grounded in a solid body of theory. Therefore, this thesis examines for the first
time the soundness of ideas and current practice of Industrial Ecology in the context
of the fields of science concerned:
Ecological economics has the purpose of understanding the relationship between
ecological and economic systems. It is the recognition of the biophysical limits to
economic activity that is applied to Industrial Ecology in this thesis.
The aim of embedding the economic system into the natural system that ecological
economics and Industrial Ecology have in common is examined in the light of
research in theoretical ecology, understanding the dynamics of ecosystem
development. The consequences for industrial ecological systems lie in the insight
that food chains are merely the expression of underlying energetic relationships,
and it is the latter that drive an ecosystem in its development towards a mature and
As Industrial Ecology's method is to compare economic systems to natural systems,
the soundness of this method needs to be ascertained. The translation of ideas from
one area to another constitutes a use of metaphor, and it is in the valid transfer of
ideas that Industrial Ecology has its merit. Consequently, a chapter of the thesis
investigates the transfer of ideas in the context of Industrial Ecology.
In a final analytical chapter, the idea of Industrial Ecology is compared to the
realities of the current system of international business enterprise. By examining this
system and the role of competition within it, both in its ecological and economic
consequences, the conclusion is arrived at that Industrial Ecology constitutes a step
away from an individualistic perspective in business management, and is therefore
not directly and widely applicable in the current system.
Building on these insights, the final chapter proposes a reconceptualisation and
reembedding of Industrial Ecology. This is thought to be achieved by incorporating
the cyclical ecosystem perspective into industrial ecological development. Further, it
is shown that this development can be encouraged by government initiatives such
as the implementation of an ecological tax reform.