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New class exercise??!

This course features class exercises to each meeting to let students experience the theoretical material from lectures and literature. Develop one class exercise to replace one that you felt was not entirely suitable.

  • I am going to add a game to the group games that were presented in the course about  Industrial Ecology and Evolution.

There could be two groups, which will represent a state condition (such as we say heaven and hell) and a group being inbetween:

  1. Green group:  To belong to this group you will have to have at least 3 of the following features:
  • Be poor
  • Have a low speed, but less polluting car
  • Buy ecologically friendly stuff and only when needed, e.g. old ones are defective or non functional  (never follow fashion by buying new clothes, don’t buy new gadgets that are available in the market)
  • Live on a 1 room house

        2.  Golden group:  To belong to this group you mustn’t have more than 1 of green group’s            features and have at least 3 of the following features:

  • Be wealthy
  • Have fancy high speed and high emissions car
  • Buy every new gadget on the market
  • Don’t care about water scarcity (e.g. have a huge swimming pool)
  • Have several houses, spending a lot of energy and water to preserve them
  • Own an oil company
  • Own a diamond mine
  • Be the largest seal oil and leather producer

3.  Yellow group:  When students have equal features of the above groups.

These features are going to be in cards and during the whole game everyone must hold 4 cards in their hands.  In every round every person has the right to exchange from 0 up to 2 cards.  The exchange must be approved by 3 or 4 people, who are going to be the government.  In order to approve it, students can try to convince them by using bribery (promise them a percentage of the card they will obtain or get rid off) or try to create lobbies with them. (E.g. if there are 45 people and 5 are the government, then there must be 60 cards with attributes from the green group and 60 cards with attributes from the golden group).

The game might seem a bit vague, because it doesn’t focus on a specific industrial sector (e.g. energy, automobile, etc), but it could be interesting.  The purpose of the game is to see what people will try to achieve in what cost and how different actors interact. Will they try to remain in the green group or get rid of their cards and get into golden group, because life seems more tempting to them?

P.S. Of course the attributes I chose for group 1 and group 2 by no means try to depicture reality, e.g. wealth doesn’t mean being against the environment.

  • Another game that could be changed is the one about culture as a coordinative mechanism.

It would be very interesting if we would indeed bring unaware students from the university, brought up in different continents (ok, not necessarily!  Even being from different countries is sufficient.), not knowing what the lesson is about and interview them in a way that is not revealing the purpose of the interview.  That would require that students have already prepared their questionnaire before class.  So, it either could be that some questionnaires are selected to be asked or one (or a combination) is selected and the same one is asked to all students.


1. One pressing research question for the coming years is:

“How does the financial crisis affect the possibilities for initiating and up scaling industrial ecology initiatives?”

Use the following framework from the final lecture and develop a research plan for answering this question. Make sure you select only two levels of analysis (micro + meso or meso + macro).

Final Lecture Framework (Boons, F.)



First it is useful to illustrate what each level represents.  According to my perception, macro-level analysis is highly related to psychology; it analyzes the society level, complicated economic systems in different countries, etc.  Meso-level involves smaller networks, such as companies, communities, and micro-level involves individuals and their actions and choices.

I am going to analyze the micro and meso-level.


There is a variation of individuals involved, mainly creating two groups of people: (group 1) everyday people who are contributing to the establishment of ecological values only as consumers and (group 2) people who form/participate in governmental/non-governmental associations and companies that are:

  1. solely focusing on sustainability and/or
  2. could embody sustainability in their projects

Of course in all cases, except the first one, the individuals who have the most importance are those who take the decisions.  So the question is, how will it be determined how the crisis is affecting the choices and subsequently actions of individuals?

In order to find out how the recession affects the consumers’ attitude towards sustainability, a feedback plan can be developed, by looking the sales of eco-products.  But this allows us to make a feedback analysis and not discuss a future development.  Another approach could be by looking their attitude during the last decade, since the economic crisis actually began in 2008 and ecological values in Europe have been developing already since the 1970s.  So, according to the facts of the past a forecast can be made.

An empirical plan that will allow us to estimate what will happen is to directly interview individuals, either by telephone or by home visiting.  Of course the sample of people should be representative; multiple areas, ages, genders, levels of income and education.  The approach must be very careful, since when people know what you expect them to answer they might tailor their answers according to your expectation, resulting in inaccurate predictions.  Nevertheless, there should be also a margin of error for such cases.

It is more complicated to assess the behavior of individuals of group 2 towards industrial ecology issues in conjunction to the economic crisis, since the system becomes more complex.  More stakeholders are involved and there are limitations set by coercive forces, e.g. governmental policies.  In this case the plan also consists of interviews with top managers and people who make the decisions, but also investigating their background would help in making a good forecast.  E.g. President Reagan of the US in 1980-1989 was against stiff environmental regulations and was mainly supporting the industrial interests.


As mentioned, meso-level involves smaller networks, such as companies and communities.  So in this case many individuals and conditions are involved, creating a complex system.

A way to determine the effect of the recession towards ecological behavior in the meso-level is to study holistically the system; it is not enough to know the beliefs of the CEO of a company, but rather the existing legislations and policies and stakeholders that are involved. An example could be given in regard to the oil company BP.  Despite the fact that they had a disastrous 2010, they couldn’t abandon their ecological projects due to the commitment they have to various organizations (API, etc) and policies (e.g. in Europe the 20, 20, 20 goal till 2020) to protect the environment.

So, every time, we have to choose our system and set its boundaries, i.e. determine the stakeholders involved. Then an analysis on each stakeholder needs to be done.

E.g. if it is a governmental institution, then an interview with a policy maker or politician or analyst should be made to determine future developments.

In all cases I believe that personal interaction is the most important key to obtain reliable information and at the same time good observation of the global economy and politics that can lead to probable forecasts.

LCA domination!!

LCA is a tool for assessing the environmental impact of products. Think up four ways in which government can increase the use of LCAs through external control and setting boundary conditions. Which way would you choose and why?

As said, an LCA (life cycle assessment) is a tool for assessing the environmental impact of a product using a holistic approach called cradle to grave –or cradle to cradle-, e.g. analyzing all stages of a product’s life, from the raw product till its disposal and/or recycling.

Some ways in which a government can increase the use of LCAs through external control and setting boundary conditions are:

  1. Set a strict legislation that will require from industries that the environmental impact of a product from cradle to grave is less than a certain amount/year of CO2 equivalent. This assessment will be done through LCA procedures defined by scientists working for the government or for a respectable organization (e.g. ISO 14000).  If the industries fail to comply with the law, then the product cannot be distributed in the market anymore.
  2. A more flexible alternative is that instead of banning the product from the market, the industries will have to pay extra taxes per kg of CO2 emitted above limits.  However, an LCA will be still required to be conducted.  To be more effective, no stockmarket-trading of COemission rights will exist.
  3. The government establishes (by funding or by the taxes collected if case 2 is applied) special bodies that will specialize on LCAs and will conduct LCAs at different industry sectors.  This body will have the power to provide label marks saying that a product complies with environmental friendly/sustainable policies. Moreover, it could be that obligatory, labels demonstrating the environmental effects, will be on the product, whether the product has a good or bad environmental impact.
  4. Raise public awareness, by providing subsidies for related public events and R&D in universities. With public awareness raised, also individuals can take the initiative of starting their own business having as main idea an organization that will do as described in case 3.  Also, a database based on LCA analysis results could be created with free access, so that people can be aware of the environmental impact their consumption choices have.

I believe that case 1 & 3 are forms of external control, since the government is saying to the industries what to do and when.  On the other hand, case 2 & 4 are boundary conditions, in respect to which industries have the flexibility to behave accordingly and/or decline.

It is important to highlight that there is no standalone solution.  This is also evident from the solutions that are proposed, since some of them are linked to each other.  Also, a weak point of an LCA is the great amount of data required from many different fields, which are usually not available and thus the inability to compare different LCA analysis, since the references and the boundaries of the systems will have to be the same.

Personally, I think case 3 is the most effective of all the above mentioned ways of LCA adoption.  In this way, public awareness will be raised by using labels and perhaps having a negative effect on companies that are not environmental ethical.  In this way companies will strive to improve and perhaps run their own LCAs in order to do so.

Nevertheless, I believe that all 3 last cases should initially be implemented.  LCA is not a new tool, but rather existing since the 1990’s and even before.  Industries do know the environmental impact their products have, so if they don’t do anything to reduce it, they will have to cope with the consequences.

Social Networks

The questionfor this week is:

Think up two social networks of which you are currently  a member. Analyze the structure of each of these networks, make clear what the dependency relationships are, and what coordinative mechanisms are used.

  • The first network, after facebook, that I currently participate in and came directly to my mind is the Erasmus Mundus Program network.

First, I will give a little detail about the structure of this network and the dependencies of each actor.  This can be illustrated from the following graph:

Main actors involved and their dependencies

Erasmus mundus is a European Union program, which offers Master and PhD programs, which involve at least two universities (in different European countries) to which students will have to attend during their studies.

The specific program involves universities in three different European countries; Leiden & Delft University in the Netherlands, Chalmers University in Sweden and Graz University in Austria.  It also involves 3 non European universities; Waseda University in Japan, Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and Rochester University in New York.

So in total we have 6 universities, and 18 students spread on the 1st year to each of the 3 European universities.  Specifically 5 students are in the Netherlands, 5 in Sweden and 8 in Austria.

It is logical that the main actor, which is decisive for the existence of the program is the European Commission who is the one approving the programs and the scholarships distributed.  The funding from the European Union is catalytic, since the existence of such a program is expensive, both for students as well as for the universities.  So this explains the two arrows deriving from the European commission box.  Moreover, it is a more perplex system regarding administrative matters, especially when the universities don’t have already a master program with the same title and the students will have to enroll to a program from which they will not graduate, because they are going to move to another country/university.

For the program to run, the universities must be responsibly organized and correspond to the demands of the program and offer a quality education.  The main university which is responsible for administrative matters is Graz university, which is the one that coordinates the program.  But still the main guidelines are decided by all universities together and each university is self organized regarding the exact curriculum and structure of program.  So the Erasmus Mundus program functions like an external control for the universities framing the general concept of the program.

Another significant actor are the students, whom without their participation the program wouldn’t exist.  On the other hand students are also dependent on the program and they have to follow the rules set by the university or otherwise they will fail to survive in this “system”.  It seems like when students are in the system they are fully dependent on the demands of the program and have no choice of refusing following it, without severe consequences for their end results.

  • The second network I recently became a member of is the SHIFT association network.  Shift is an association for industrial ecology students, consisting of 43 members. There is a 4 person board, of which each chair person is responsible for
  1. IT/communication
  2. Business
  3. Administration
  4. Public relations

There is also a president, who is the main coordinator and is one of the 4 chair persons.  So there are four groups to which the rest of the members belong, with the opportunity of participating in as many of the groups they like if they have the time for it.  It is voluntary to participate, so there are members that are not active at all, attending only some of the events and members who are involved to more than one group.  Of course belonging to the board, doesn’t mean that someone has more power decision making than the rest of the members, but is responsible in  coordinating and taking immediate decisions when necessary.

Main actors involved in SHIFT and their dependencies to each other

Shift is recognized as a student association by the university but not from the government.   So this means that there is no funding opportunity and the main argument for that is that it is a very small network and not every small group of students can receive funding for creating their own association.  Students give a symbolic amount of money for their member subscription only the very first time they subscribe.  For upcoming events students will have to pay on their own unless sponsors are found!  So the main actor for the existence of the organization and of course influencing SHIFT the most, is the students, who are strongly motivated to continue being involved, although the situation is not fruitful yet.

The question is as follows:

NOKIA seeks to extend its sustainability strategy into its supply chain. Thus Chinese suppliers have to fit with criteria established by NOKIA.

  • Is this an effective way of diffusing sustainability criteria?
  • How would another governance mechanism improve on this?

NOKIA is a Finnish multinational telecommunications corporation and so it must be following the ISO 14000 series, which means being in compliance with the environmental legislation of each country in which the company has activities.  So NOKIA is a private market based organization, a self organized system with its own environmental management program.

  • It appears to me that when NOKIA is asking from the Chinese suppliers to follow a certain EMS, it is forcing a coersive pressure to them to behave according to the standards they set.  But on the other hand NOKIA is dependent on the suppliers, since the Chinese suppliers have the know-how  to produce NOKIA’s products and could sell them to another company if NOKIA will push them too much.  So NOKIA cannot demand from them to apply sustainability criteria.  Both systems are dependent to each other.   Probably the Chinese suppliers are in compliance with the minimum environmental restrictions in order to be eligible for  an ISO certificate.  But since the legislation is not strict, this has no real positive effects in improving the quality of the environment.  So, in this case having NOKIA asking them to adopt policies beyond-compliance it is an effective way of diffusing sustainable criteria.  Of course it is not expected that the industry’s policy will change overnight, but still one step at a time is significant in order to achieve the final goal.  So, I believe that for develiping countries with loose legislation it is effective to have e.g. a corporation asking for more strict policies.
  • Although it is effective, it is only effective to some extent.  It could be more effective if the government was mainly regulating and so legislation was more stringent and the  fear of a fine existed.  So legislation should be redrafted, but to a level that will be feasable to be applied by the industry.  Also, even without a government regulating system dominating, it would be practical for the industry to follow the regulations of an international organization that would have rules that were applied globally.  This international organization should be more specific than ISO 14000 and taking more into account developing countries.  So then we would have the trend of  isomorphism, i.e. the industry would comply, because it would know that it is a model that has succeeded to other industries and it is globally accepted and enabling trade.  Nevertheless, I am in favor of compulsory standards rather than voluntary, since everybody would have to comply.



First of all it was a great opportunity to see in which way the environmental approach can “penetrate” to all departments of  a company, from Industrial design to the actual production of the end-product and to the marketing department .  I was amazed by the idea of what can be changed in an environmental friendly way to give us the desirable outcome.   Of course everything is doable in theory and usually reality most of the time proves us wrong.  So it would interesting to try to make changes in a real company/institution and see how feasible it is practically.

Considering that we have almost 10 different nationalities in class it was very interesting to see the different approach each of us had at the problem and of course how creative we can be in a short period of time!  Well done!

I am going to write about the Bhopal disaster, which happened in India in 1984.   The involved company was UCIL – Union Carbide India Limited -, a subsidiary of  Union Carbide Corporation, with the Indian public having the 49.1 % of the UCIL.  It is considered as one of the greatest industrial catastrophes, since thousands of people died and many are still affected by what happened so many years ago.  It all happened when somehow water entered one of the tanks leading to uncontrolled reactions and chain exposure of chemicals mainly to the atmosphere in the form of a dense cloud (“heavy”, being near the ground), causing the immediate death of thousands of people living in the close area.

The factors in this case are too many, since it was a global market company administrated from the main company being far away and with many employees.

  • A rational explanation of why this disaster happened is that the majority of the employees were not well educated and probably ignorant of the situation.  The managers ordering the cuts had no idea about the consequenses and the high risk situation.   It could be that the indian government was badly organized and didn’t realize what was happening at the plant.
  • A bounded rationality explanation is that blue collar workers or simple workers conscious of the risks taken working there under the circumstances, continued to do so because they knew
  1. their oppinion wouldn’t matter to high position employees and/or
  2. because they needed the money

Still, these explanations show that they didn’t care about the long term consequenses and in the end this decision was irrational.  Also, high position employees, such as managers insisted in having cuts since the company was not profitable any longer.  This could be either because they identified with the institution, neglecting about safety rules and focusing on profit or even because this was their company’s principle, which is also irrational, since in long term they lost much more than if they had preserved their safety rules and well work conditions.  After all, this decision was bad for the company.


In the end all puzzles are solved. But may be there are more than one ways to reach a solution!!

The second question is:

“Choose your own Industrial Ecology inspired puzzle and think up three alternative explanations”.

Well, I don’t know if this is a puzzle or not, but it keeps puzzling me at least.   I keep on asking myself how easily people change their mind about issues they don’ t/can’t  really have a deep knowledge about, i.e. how easily would they accept an information as true only because it derives from a trustworthy source? And last, how easily would they adapt it into their lives? Lets give some examples:

Recycling.  Of course it is boring and time consuming to have different bags for paper, cans, plastic, etc, especially when the recycling containers are not close to your house.  So, why do people recycle? Is it because:

  1. The law/environmental agencies demand so and they are afraid of getting a fine?
  2. They have the ideology of helping the environment.  Even though, that makes me think of another question.  How far would they go if for example no recycling containers exist in the area and  they would have to storage the garbage for a while?
  3.  They want to pretend they care for the environment, just to have a good image in the society
  4. They just got used to it, because they were taught to do so since they were born
Are you recycling?? And if yes, why?

Water from sewage.  The water from waste water treatment plants, after being properly treated could be recycled and mixed with “pure”  drilled water and so end up being drinking water.  So people would partly drink what used to be “poo” water.  My questions are:

  • Would people drink it?
  • If the local people are convinced would a tourist, who is not familiar with the idea, drink it?
  • Even if you have this kind of ideology and the knowledge that this water is clean, would you drink it?
  •  How can you convince a person to drink this water?

Why wouldn’t they drink it?  Because:

  1. of psychological reasons. You cannot get out of your head the image of toilet/poo water
  2. they don’t  really believe it is clean
  3. they believe that a mistake in the water treatment plant would eventually happen and have contaminated water
  4. they don’t want others to think that they are drinking poo water
Would you drink this water?

Climate change.  Lets assume that the whole {CO2 emissions and the temperature} increase  of the planet is a LIE or not unnatural for the planet.  How can an average educated person (or even with education) judge if this information is true or not?  Nowadays everything is produced under the name of “green” or “sustainable”.  Why do people accept it?  Because:

  1. they trust the scientists/sourse who said so
  2. they can see the climate change
  3. they are ignorant
  4. they don’t care to discover the truth, because it is not affecting their every day life
  5. they want to feel that they belong to a group (that of  people who care for the environment) and feel commended for their actions
  6. they are too “small” to have a say against government/industries, etc

But why would someone give false data?  Because:

  1. they did a mistake in measurements or they are mislead by the model/mechanism they use for their predictions
  2. the scientists are bribed by companies
  3. it created a lot of profit
PS  I don’t believe recycling is boring!
PS2 Also, I don’t believe that the increase of CO2 emmissions and earth temperature is a lie!! It was only an assumption
PS3 Bribery of scientists? Ok, I have to admit the 3rd example reminds of conspiracy theories… No, I am not a supporter

Hmm, I am called to answer to the following question:

“What are your first impressions with the social science perspective on Industrial Ecology and how do they relate to earlier experiences with the social sciences”?

Social Sciences?? What is that?  Well, according to Wikipedia it is the field of scholarship that studies society.  Moreover, social sciences is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences.  These include: anthropology, archaeology, business, administration, communication, criminology, economics, education, government, linguistics, international relations, political science, sociology and in some contexts geography, history, law and psychology.

Wow, that was a huge list. As I perceive it social sciences is a multidisciplinary field, that always takes into account the human dimension?!

Before stating my impressions, I think it is important to mention that Industrial Ecology embodies not only a scientific approach to environmental problems, but also a social sciences, including economics, approach.  Although Industrial Ecology is a relatively new field of study not many would argue that the essence of it has concerned the Social Sciences for many decades now. It is interesting to see that there are proponents and opponents of this field and also is interesting to analyze the arguments for that.  Furthermore, I feel that it is an essential need to analyze why things are done the way they are.  The mechanisms of decision-taking are not always clear.  What is really taking place behind the scenes?  I think that social sciences do exactly that.  Analyze the decisions that are taken and argue about it.

Unfortunately my earlier experiences with social sciences are almost negligible.  What thrills me is when I hear new theories I never imagined myself and so become intrigued to think about it all over again and produce new thoughts, ideas and why not… theories!!

What would you answer to this question???!

It seems I.E. needs collaboration!!