Briefing Paper on Industrial Ecology and EPA
Industrial Ecology (IE) is a systems approach to efficient resource use and protection of the environment. Instead of just devising improved methods of waste treatment and disposal, we look for the best opportunities to reduce waste throughout the total material cycle from virgin materials to finished products to end of product life. Instead of controlling industrial pollutants from different sources one by one at different times and with different technologies, we try to look across whole facilities, regions and even whole industries and make changes wherever in the system it is most effective to do so. Many thoughtful observers in the research and private and public sectors are now saying that IE approaches are our best and in some cases our only opportunities to bring about further significant environmental improvement. They conclude that tinkering with the present approach is not enough. EPAs programs should seek the most effective places to improve resource efficiency and product stewardship with incentives, information and regulatory flexibility. EPA should encourage more facilities to emulate those that have voluntarily become much more resource efficient where it is already profitable. They also conclude that due to knowledge gaps and disincentives, this effort will require coordinated government action and that EPA should play a major leadership role. Staff from around EPA have been considering this suggestion. They firmly envision that Industrial Ecology approaches should guide and supplement but not replace current regulatory programs. They have also found that there is a base of EPA activity and program ideas on which to build. This paper recommends five steps to get started, each of which can be done under current laws: (1) Familiarize key groups with the concept of IE. (2) Lay the data/information foundation for IE. (3) Ask each headquarters and regional office to make appropriate commitments to pursue IE approaches. (4) Work with other agencies of federal, state and local government, as well as foreign governments and organizations outside of government. (5) Set specific goals and expectations and measure progress.