Industrial Ecology

This past week during class, we discussed the differences and similarities between biomimicry and industrial ecology. Both serve as ways to better our environment and create a more sustainable world however, biomimicry uses nature as a model where industrial ecology uses natures principals or lessons as a model. Industrial ecology encompasses the design of the entire industrial system, like a supply chain. More importantly, IE not only strives to make our earth a healthier place to live, but it focuses on increasing our natural capital.  In the reading Industrial Ecology, we learn that eliminating waste is the main focus for implementing a truly IE environment. The author states that IE is designing products that will be long lasting, constantly being updated with the changing technological, cultural, and economical advances. Creating a product that can be sustainable for a very long time while emitting the least amount of waste is so vital to our world. The reading Closing the Loops in Commerce: Running a Business like a Redwood Forest, one tenet is the idea of using waste as a resource. This ties along with Industrial Ecology by creating a “non waste economy.” This means that less raw material would be used with an even smaller amount of waste at the end, and whatever waste is emitted, will have the ability to be used up again somewhere else. BMW has started it’s refurbishment program, which gives its products a longer life and has already saved the company $200 million dollars each year! Another topic discussed in this article was optimizing rather than maximizing. Nature does nothing quick, but instead takes its time growing with the evolutionary changes. This is important because it is what has caused ecosystems to be so resilient. Slower change equals more control which allows environments to better adapt. Lastly we read an article that discusses life’s principles.  Evolving to survive, being resource efficient, and adapting to changing conditions are just a few of the ways we as a species can not only survive but thrive on earth. Since our world is so interconnected, using all of the principles at once is possible and a necessity for a healthy and happy living environment.

In addition to the readings, we watched a TED Talk given by Michael Pawlyn. He discussed the importance of biomimicry and architecture and how we can bring back lost ecosystems. Michael talked about the Sahara Desert and how many years ago, this massive area of land was once full of luscious green forestry. He came up with this idea of creating greenhouse type buildings all over the desert, collecting moisture from the air which in turn, would be collected and water the plants. This is a completely sustainable piece of equipment that uses only the water brought in the air by the sea. I thought this was such a great idea because it is something that is not creating waste but rather creating life!

In class we discussed how Denmark used tools to create a high Industrial ecological environment, however countries like India have made an effort to create a more sustainable fashion industry. Researches in India studied the effects of chemicals from the fashion industry and how it pollutes drinking water. Since water is already scarce, toxins coming from wet dying clothes has left nearly all of the local drinking water unusable.  This being the case, fresh water is brought in costing an unbelievable amount of money, over $7 million dollars on water alone. The researchers found that the water could be recycled profitably, and the solid waste produced could replace the lack of firewood needed by so many of the towns inhabitants.

In order to truly get in the IE mindset, my group and I created a window display made out of recycled material. This Cradle2Cradle assignment included old recycled fabric as the background, bottles that were washed up on the oceans were hung and LED lights were used as a sustainable design feature. These all were ways that we could accurately and realistically show the process of using items that no longer were needed by consumers. We wanted to take things that typically cause so much harm to our environment and recreate it in a way that shows the beauty of sustainable living.

Finally, I calculated my carbon footprint and to my surprise I was under the national average. My total greenhouse gas emission is 24 tons a year where 27 is the national average. I was surprised to see that for the world however, the average is only 5.5. I think it says a lot about our country and the practices we have adopted. My footprint jumped from 8.8 to 17 when I entered my driving and flying information. Since I am an out of state student, I fly home to Minnesota and back to school at least twice a year and I drive to Dallas often to visit my siblings.  I can honestly say I am not surprised by my score. It is difficult as a college student to have a low carbon footprint since I don’t have a lot of money and unfortunately being completely green is not realistic for financial reasons. I wish there was some way that college aged students could make a bigger impact without feeling the financial burden.

Although I find it difficult to go 100% green, I have adopted some ways of making our planet healthier. For one, I make sure I turn out all of the lights when I leave and try to use as much natural light as possible. My roommates and I recycle and we make sure that our thermostat is set at an eco-friendly temperature. Besides actively participating in recycling efforts, it is so important to educate yourself on the big picture. It’s one thing to recycle because that’s what you’ve always done, but its another thing to truly learn about every little thing you do each day that impacts our ecosystem. I am an avid documentary watcher and always try to find ways to implement lessons from the film in my own life. It’s not always easy and sometimes it’s actually quite unrealistic, but I believe education is key to bettering our world.

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