Globally, industries expand their product line to increase their revenue source. Unfortunately, not all industries have shifted their operations towards utilizing the waste they generate. Industrial researchers have conducted studies to devise ways to lessen industrial impact on the environment, a concept they have called Industrial Ecology (IE). Industrial ecology conceptualizes industry as a man-made ecosystem that operates in a similar way to natural ecosystems, where the waste or by product of one process is used as an input into another process. Industrial ecology interacts with natural ecosystems and attempts to move from a linear to cyclical or closed loop system. IE suggests principles that can be used to achieve this sustainable way of operations that have been used to create new business models and guide strategic decisions made by business and political governments. The ten principles were very well explained by my peers in class using simple language and examples from the perspective of fellow students and how we can all work to incorporate them in our daily decisions.
The first principle that I find very critical is using waste as a resource. This can be achieved when an industry operates on a closed loop rather than a linear loop; the waste produced by one process can be fed in to another process as an input material or decomposed. If a business is not in position to have an internal closed loop, it can create partnerships with other industries to trade by-products which are used as inputs to other processes. This principle works to eliminate waste and its disposal in to the environment. I can relate this to the banana fiber research that aims at adding value to banana stems that have for so long been left in the garden as waste to rote. The resultant fabric is organic, biodegradable, and highly sustainable, which is safe for people and the environment.
The second principle I reflected on was to gather and use energy efficiently. This principle emphasizes the use of alternative sources of energy that have less or no impact on environment. The principle stresses utilization of renewable sources of energy like sunlight, wind, water, and biodiesel. Examples of how nature utilizes energy are exhibited by plants that manufacture their food at room temperature and they are also able to send their roots as far below as they need them. If only humans and industrial practices mimicked nature’s genius, we would be able to stay longer on planet earth with safer emissions in to the air that we inhale. Growing up on a farm, my family put in practice this principle by generating energy from cows’ waste which we used for lighting and cooking. This saved my parents a lot of money paying monthly electricity bills because they incurred the onetime cost of setting up the energy system. This operated a closed loop rather than a linear loop as animal waste was used as a resource in another system which generated heat and light.
The third principle that I would like to discuss is optimizing rather than maximizing. This principle can be applied both at industrial and personal level by making the most of the materials without being in a hurry to replace them. This necessitates less virgin materials and energy. Optimizing helps one to make the most of materials by giving more time for growth or processing to achieve a better quality product rather than being quantity driven. When such products are acquired, consumers will have longer use time while they still perform their designed function. The fashion industry can be used to explain this principle in a way that every season comes new fashion lines and colors that attract consumers. Personally I do not follow these seasons and I do not have to change my wardrobe regularly mainly because I have learned to buy clothes that have the design power and good workmanship to last longer than one season and so I avoid seasonal fads. This principle can be applied in my daily shopping habits by buying items that have the design power and durability to last a longer time. One personal experience was when I bought a blouse from Rue 21 and it reaped after I wore it once and had to throw it away! If only I had bought from a reputable store, I wouldn’t have had to incur another cost to replace it.
Another biomimicry approach that designs products and system models to nature’s processes while viewing materials as nutrients circulating in safe metabolisms is Cradle-to-Cradle also referred to as C2C. Industries have used the Waste = Food concept in its processes in order to increase efficiency in the production chain. The C2C approach articulates that a product is designed to function efficiently and that it can be broken down at the end of its life cycle in to single parts that can be upcycled or repurposed. This approach does not forget the industrial ecology principles because it encourages efficient use of renewable energy while breaking down the product and all the waste generated to be fed in to another system to eliminate waste, reuse materials, recycle materials, and recover energy.
Michael Pawlyn’s TED talk explained how he has used nature’s genius in architecture. With his team, they have learned to build things the way nature does and it has saved them resources. Their operations have attained increased resource efficiency by moving from linear to closed loops, and shift from fossil fuel economy to solar economy because biomimicry has a lot of solutions on how to achieved all that. They have implemented multiple projects like the super light bridges inspired by plant cells and the giant roof structures inspired by water lilies. These projects have been a big success because they used nature as a design tool. He encouraged that instead of using resources for a short time and dispose them, industries and people should start imitating nature the way it uses resources to become nutrients or food for something else. Implementation of these principle in their projects has led to reverse of desertification in some areas, creation of zero carbon food safe for consumption, and abundant renewable energy.
Having been a witness to communities that lack resources they need for daily use, I have learned to use resources sparingly because of the compassion I have for the people who lack. Therefore, my favorite life principle is to be resource (material and energy) efficient. The sustainable class has given me a broader perspective of what governments, industry, and as an individual can do to make this environment a safer place. I will always try to use the materials that are available to me in abundance to better people’s lives for example developing briquettes from waste that can be used as an energy resource for cooking.
I am proud to say that the knowledge and principles I am acquiring from the sustainable class is influencing my daily life. I am always conscious of what I previously perceived as waste to find another use before I completely dispose it. I have started redesigning some of my clothes especially if I feel like I can upcycle them. I have decided to visit second hand stores like Goodwill to reuse some of the clothes that have been donated. I am also trying to make it a habit to turn all the lights off around the house in room that are not occupied to conserve energy, which directly reduces my electricity bill. Growing up, we implemented sustainable practices which were done unconsciously as one may debate that it could have been due to limited resources. The clothes of my elder sisters for example were always passed down to the younger ones, some were used as rugs to mop the house, empty tins were reused in so many ways like storage and making flower pots. Today I can call that sustainability.