Ecological economy, let the industry talk! (ISEE 2010)

Inclusive Economy26 Aug 2010Cyrille Peignot

The International Society for Ecological Economics conference 2010 gathered more than 750 people providing a refreshing view of the academic thinking around ecological economy. Many sub-themes were explored and assessed, from 70 different culture and nationalities point of view, providing a very interesting state-of-art of where the international scientific community is on those issues.

But although the theme of the conference was ‘Advanced sustainability in a time of crisis’, strangely enough, sustainability has been absent of the discussions, leaving the VIP seat to ‘de-growth’. It is even more surprising when one knows that the issue of sustainability has eventually just made its way in the industry world.

Among many other very interesting other presentations Tim Jackson, from the UK Sustainable Development Commissions, presented a new economic model, showing new ideas and concepts of a theoretical ecological system for example. But the overall discussions left an impression that something was missing: the ‘how’. Or in other words, what is the ‘business plan’ (using a company vocabulary) to implement those new ideas? This could be due to the fact that the different business actors, generally speaking (bank, agriculture, industry, consumers…), were absent, living room for mainly a theoretical discussion based on theoretical assumptions. Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for a strike against conferences between purely academics (I am French, but not that French), but I do think that one can do as many simulations as he wants, tuning different parameters, at the end of the day, if the model is too disconnected from the down to earth day-to-day reality, it will not be applied.

This gap of communication between academics and industry is not new. It could be coming from a bad understanding of each actor. But industry is changing, because the world is changing. Industry is about getting some raw material and transforming it to a product by adding some value. So in a time of a forecasted scarcity of resource, if we carry on exactly the way we are doing now, industry is screwed. So yes, sustainable resource management is a core issue. And, if I have got it right, this is the major challenge of sustainability. But this is way of thinking is new. The broad introduction of eco-design and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in the UK aerospace sector really started in 2010, despite the development of LCA concepts and methodologies by academics since the 1980’s. That’s 30 years ‘wasted’ (using some ecological vocabulary this time), because academics and industry have not managed to speak the same language to realise the importance of assessing the amount of resource use to manufacture a product and to produce adapted LCA tools and simulations.

So yes, industry has understood that the current economic system model is not sustainable, and is ready to adapt itself. But a much better communication between academics and industry would allow academics to develop applied concepts that would be implemented by the different business actors, allowing them to be proactive and actor of this re-thinking changing period, leading to a better fare-shared sustainable world.

After all, we’re all concerned!

Cyrille Peignot has a master in environment engineering and an MSc in environmental management. He leads eco-design for EADS UK (European Aeronautic Space and Defense), participating in different initiatives on sustainability for the UK aerospace sectors.