An Indigo Industrial Ecology Paper
Creating systems solutions for sustainable development through industrial ecology

Zero Pollution?

Review for the Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol 5, No. 1-2. 1997.

Nemerow, Nelson, L., Zero Pollution for Industry: Waste Minimization Through Industrial Complexes, John Wiley & Sons, NY, 1995

This book reports a completely independent development of one industrial ecology strategy: forming industrial ecosystems or by-product exchange networks among co-located plants.  In the late 1970s, Nelson Nemerow proposed creating complexes of companies using each other's "wastes" as feedstocks. His phrase for this is "Environmentally Balanced Industrial Complex (EBIC)." In this book he reports his engineering concept for EBICs without  reference to industrial ecology, industrial ecosystems, Kalundborg, the Zero Emissions Research Initiative, or any other parallel work. On the other hand, we could find no industrial ecology documents that reference Nemerow's many articles published during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. This suggests there may be other valuable research to harvest in building this field.

Before discussing Nemerow’s work, we feel it is important to critique the more general concept of zero emissions. Total quality management used the goal of zero defects in the ‘80s to inspire workers, create more efficient operations, and improve market advantage. (The definition of standards for zero defects is agreed to within a company or between the company and its customers, a relatively simple matter compared with defining zero pollution.) The Zero Emissions Research Initiative (ZERI), some pollution prevention engineers, and now Nemerow have transferred the TQM terminology to environmental performance. This may be a useful tactic for moving beyond incremental change, but it is potentially a two-edged sword in public relations. NGOs, citizens, corporations, and regulators all will interpret "zero" in very different ways.

The laws of thermodynamics appear to be still in effect, therefore, a zero pollution industrial system (i.e., one achieving one hundred percent system efficiency) is not attainable. Nemerow’s complexes (and ZERI’s industrial clusters) achieve “zero pollution” only within the boundaries of a a specific stage in the life cycle. Within these boundaries there may be a very significant achievement in elimination of pollution or emissions . However, there are still a full range of emissions upstream in the extraction, transportation, and processing of materials and energy and downstream in the movement and use of products. (Similarly, Southern California’s “zero emission electric vehicles” will be manufactured in factories and charged by power plants with significant levels of emissions.)

We are concerned that the phrase, "zero emissions" or "zero pollution" will cause public confusion, add to skepticism, and further exacerbate the already poor public perception of most corporate environmental management. It is better to aim for lowest possible levels of pollution across the full product life-cycle, and incorporate appropriate use of by-product exchange in clusters or complexes as an important means of achieving this low level. A full industrial ecology approach also suggests important goals parallel to and beyond the question of emissions levels. These include issues such as the extension of product life and shifting from non-renewable to renewable energy and materials. Industrial ecology  focuses on optimizing the whole system, not simply reducing emissions.

With that reservation stated, we will focus on Nelson Nemerow's book, Zero Pollution. He begins by summarizing the economics of solid waste management and strategies for in-plant reduction and reuse. He recommends three general methods for eliminating all pollutants, namely, (1) recover and reuse wastes within the same plant; (2) recover and sell wastes to other companies, and; (3) bring waste producers and users together in one industrial complex.

Nemerow analyzes general waste treatment costs for various industries which are somewhat old and that may not reflect today’s regulatory environment and technology.  He discusses four methods that industries and municipalities can use to identify and quantify benefits and costs, and the overall economics of waste treatment. He then addresses waste minimization by reuse and recovery, focusing on solid waste.  The book provides useful information on waste minimization techniques and assessment procedures that can be used as a starting point for an in-plant initiative. It also provides general information on resource recovery from municipal solid wastes.

The second half of the text describes 10 possible environmentally balanced industrial complexes (EBIC) involving 16 different industries. Like Kalundborg, ZERI's industrial clusters, and current industrial ecosystem projects, an EBIC is a co-located materials and energy exchange network. At varying levels of detail, Nemerow analyzes the way these potential complexes of plants can become mini-"foodwebs", reducing pollution/waste generation. For instance, four of his complexes focus on connecting fossil fuel power plants to consumers of waste heat and material by-products (the pattern of the Kalundborg industrial symbiosis). Here the partners include cement and cement block, lime, and agricultural facilities. Nemerow does not account for the CO2 emissions or the residual emissions from the scrubber and other treatments.

Several complexes are biomass waste intensive as with a sugar plant directly linked to an alcohol fermenter, internal power plant, and an agricultural area. Others involve a tannery, an animal feedlot, and wood mill complexes. Most of the complexes Nemerow describes have relatively few plants, compared with Kalundborg or the larger, less familiar example of Styria in Austria. He misses some common linkages, such as wallboard plants using gypsum by-products from power plant scrubbers.

Nemerow’s conceptual examples illustrate how industries can benefit from jointly redefining wastes as by-products and thereby maximize resource use and minimize pollution. However, a major limitation is that his strategic thinking is primarily focused on technical process compatibility and ignores the many economic, financial, management, social, and institutional elements that are necessary conditions for a successful multi-company project. Forming an industrial complex or ecosystem requires coordination of diverse stakeholders  and these non-technical elements must be addressed in the early stage of development.

The book is a welcome additional contribution to our understanding and application of one key industrial ecology strategy -- the creation of industrial ecosystems. Nemerow's formulation of this strategy and the diverse examples he gives will surely open many new possibilities for additional investigation.

David Hovarongkura, Ph. D
Ernest Lowe

Mr. Lowe is co-author of Eco-Industrial Parks and  Discovering Industrial Ecology: an executive briefing and sourcebook on industrial ecology. (both are US-EPA publications).

Dr. Hovarongkura was a chemical engineer with extensive strategic planning experience at Pacific Gas and Electric Company and M.W. Kellogg Company. He was an Associate of Indigo Development until his death in 1997.

back to industrial ecology

--- divider ---
--- divider ---
--- divider ---
Contact Us | Copyright © 2005 Indigo Development | Last Updated: February 2005
. Strengthens immune system, thai massage in Оdessa, in site Siam Thai Spa! . программа передач на сегодня