Reinterpreting Industrial Ecology

13 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2011

Date Written: October 2011


This article argues that industrial ecology has, to date, largely engaged with the ecological sciences at a superficial level, which has both attracted criticism of the field and limited its practical application for sustainable industrial development. On the basis of an analysis of the principle of succession, the role of waste, and the concept of diversity, the article highlights some of the key misconceptions that have resulted from the superficial engagement with the science of ecology. It is argued that industrial ecology should not be seen as a metaphor for industrial development; industrial ecology is the ecology of industry and should be studied as such. There are manifold general principles of ecology that underpin our understanding of the world; however, the physical manifestation and causal effects of these principles are particular to the system and its constituent elements under analysis. It is thus proposed that context‐specific observation and analysis of industry are required before theoretical and practical advancement of the field can be achieved.

Keywords: diversity, ecological principles, industrial ecosystem, metaphor, succession, waste

Suggested Citation

Basson, Lauren and Leach, Matthew, Reinterpreting Industrial Ecology (October 2011). Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 15, Issue 5, pp. 680-692, 2011, Available at SSRN: or

Lauren Basson

The Green House

Cape Town
South Africa

Matthew Leach

University of Surrey

Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH
United Kingdom

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