What is eco-design?
What are the correlations with other approaches?

Industrial ecology and eco-design

Two approaches to eco-efficiency:

“Based on a systemic approach, industrial ecology draws its inspiration from the functioning of natural ecosystems in order to recreate, on the scale of the industrial system, an organization characterized by the optimal use of resources and a high material and energy recycling rate, on the basis of potential interactions between territorial stakeholders. From a conceptual point of view, industrial ecology is therefore similar to eco-mimicry”.

Suren Erkman proposes 4 strategies for restructuring the production system:

  • Circulation of material and energy flows as much as possible;
  • Dematerialize the economy;
  • Make processes more efficient to reduce dissipative loss;
  • Make energy sources carbon-free.

As with eco-design, industrial ecology is defined as a field of research as well as an operational tool for the implementation of sustainable development. One of the major differences between these two approaches to eco-efficiency lies in their targets. Eco-design consists of reducing the environmental impact of products and services while industrial ecology has more to do with a territorial approach whose objective is to promote short economic circuits on the scale of a process, an urban area or a trading estate by looking for organizational synergies between economic stakeholders. Industrial ecology and eco-design approaches are therefore complementary.


Industrial ecology and eco-design

From an operational point of view, an industrial ecology approach is primarily reflected in the networking of material and energy flows: the idea is to structure the use and management of waste and resources into a network. This approach is based on the creation and sharing of information on industrial flows, i.e. the collaboration of economic and territorial stakeholders, which facilitates the development of eco-industrial synergies.

There are two major types of synergies:

Replacement synergies:

Just like the functioning of food chains in the natural milieu, waste, the by-product of one activity, can become a resource for another. Companies can reuse their production residue among themselves or with local authorities, agricultural activities or even individuals (steam, exhaust gases, wastewater, hot fluids, water, waste, etc.) and therefore optimize their processes. Surplus energy which was previously discharged into the atmosphere can now be used to replace fossil fuel. Other types of substitution can be envisaged, notably based on the proximity of economic stakeholders or resources.
The image and status of waste and by-products are bound to evolve as they will eventually represent a significant part of the raw materials used by industrial processes (hence the term secondary raw materials), and will consequently constitute a considerable commercial opportunity. Waste recovery practices have always existed: slurry recovery for the creation of quality manure, wastewater recovery for plant watering purposes, use of watermills, etc. Unfortunately these practices remain rare. The originality of industrial ecology is that it proposes the standardization of these exchanges within a territory.

Pooling synergies

The pooling of requirements between economic stakeholders is also a way to envisage the rationalization of and eventual reduction in the consumption of resources and pollutant discharge. Pooling strategies can relate to:

  • The joint procurement of raw materials, finished and semi-finished products (logistics, joint purchases, etc.)
  • The pooling of business services (collective waste and wastewater collection and treatment, public transport, etc.)
  • The sharing of equipment (boiler, steam production, treatment unit, etc.) or resources (sharing the cost of jobs).