Suren Erkman "Industrial Ecology"

Science & Technology See all

Suren Erkman "Industrial Ecology"

Suren Erkman is an entrepreneur and a professor at the University of Lausanne, and a specialist of industrial ecology. We are living in a hyperindustrial society where the usage of energy and materials keeps increasing. He uses a hypothetical example about traveling to Mars to explain that we can't sustain our life without closing the loops -- ie. living like the biosphere: space missions show us that there are limits to economic activity. The biosphere is a model for the economy. It's both a constraint, but also a source of innovation. If you develop sophisticated techs for really recycling all materials.

Industrial ecology (where ecology is the science of ecosystems) has three specificities:

we need a broad and rigorous conceptual framework to approach the long-term evolution of the industrial and economic system and how it interacts with the biosphere.
it's coupled with an operational strategy, so it's a conceptual framework for action: you can't just recycle everything in any way, need to take impacts into account.
it's a collective and cooperative strategy. It's not enough that individuals do the best they can for the environment, we must work at every level.
The basic idea of IE is that of an integrated model of economic activity. What we want to achieve is a mature industrial ecosystem. Need of course to understand how the ecosystem works: inputs and outputs of the economic system ("industrial metabolism"). You can apply this model to all product or service: how much energy and material is needed to send an e-mail, or to produce a shoe? Whatever enters the system needs to come out.

Geneva has introduced industrial ecology in the cantonal law. He shows a graph summarizing the total metabolism of the whole Geneva economy (water, food, wood, plastics, etc going in, and waste/incineration, landfill, recycling and water treatment coming out - with thousands of tons of carbon expelled during the "digestion").

The industrial metabolism of the knowledge-based economy is very electricity-intensive (in industrialized countries already 5-10% of energy consumptions goes to serve IT needs, and growing); and it's very materials intensive (metals, etc). So on one side infotech is needed for an efficient operation of the hyperindustrial economy; on the other end we should start taking care of the overall metabolism of the ICT system. An immaterial economy is different from a dematerialized economy. In order to delive "immaterial" goods we are using huge infrastructures and resources.

He offers a roadmap for maturation of the industrial ecosystem:

circularize the economy
minimize the losses
dematerialize the economy
decarbonize the economy
For example: when we talk about recycling, what we should really be talking about is cascading: the waste of one sector should/could be resource for another; and create new activities to valorize resources that so far have been wasted.

Convergence is more than digital: it's about nano, biotech, IT and cognition sciences - and all of the above converging with autonomy (objects that have a capacity to self-repair, learn, and self-replicating). This will be big, and carries also serious risks. We need to interlink two dimensions: material dimension (resources) and the symbolic dimension (cultural).

He ends on a positive notes: if you look at the industrial ecology system, there are a number of new activities and jobs for the future: designer and manager of eco-industrial networks; industrial metabolism analysts; regional dieteticians (in charge of studying metabolism of a region and balancing the "diet" of it); dematerializers and decarbonizers of products and services; nano-dissipators; etc.

(Session recap by Bruno Giussani)

minutes | 2781 plays |

Please rate this video to help other users find good content.

Creative Commons License
This work by Lift Conference is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Switzerland License.