Towards the end of the 1950s, we witnessed the first successful implementation of industrial ecology (IE): in Kalundborg, Denmark, several large companies and the municipality, all very resource-intensive, agreed to pool and recycle their resources in order to achieve a true industrial symbiosis. Exchanging flows, reducing all forms of waste, treating waste efficiently and economically: this pioneering site has become a blueprint for industrial ecology, saving up to 3 million liters of water, 20,000 tonnes of oil and 200,000 tonnes of gypsum every year.
The major challenge of our century is climate change, and companies have understood that they can take action. Indeed, even if their need for digitization is increasingly present, they have everything they need to support their growth with good practices in order to produce in a more ethical way and to limit their impact on the environment. Industrial ecology is emerging as a viable solution as it focuses on reducing the consumption of natural resources, saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Who is industrial ecology for?
In short, industrial ecology (IE) aims to make a shift towards ecological transition by involving all stakeholders in the field. It is characterized by the pooling of resources in order to save and transform them. It is found at different levels of the industry: sharing equipment, materials, services, infrastructure...
Groups of companies, sectors, regions or even entire industrial systems can take on the challenge and make this transition, regardless of their motivations. Whether they’re companies seeking economic and environmental performance, public actors in charge of territorial development or even civil societies, they will find the answers to their needs.
To understand how industrial ecology will help them, organizations can take stock of their practices and think about how to improve them. They now understand that the industries’ traditional approaches are no longer sufficient nor compatible with current world development and the climate change that threatens us.
There can therefore be multiple motivations, but they are very often financial, as waste management can represent an unprecedented financial burden for companies. IE provides an answer to this problem since it promotes an almost closed-loop operation, anchored in circular economy logic. It implies that resources must be recycled and shared in order to achieve true sharing: to do so, stakeholders must, therefore, be complementary and diverse, since one man’s waste is another man’s resources. Secondly, they must be located in the same territory in order to minimize the transportation costs associated with these exchanges and be prepared to communicate well to establish a climate of trust.
A well-defined scope of application
Industrial ecology is a global movement, a real meeting point between different approaches, based on the desire to exploit raw material sources in a sustainable way, to approach a form of circular economy and to treat waste efficiently.
Raw material sources
The stated objective of industrial ecology is to minimize emission and dispersion of environmentally hazardous products, while completing the life cycle of the materials used. The other major idea in terms of exploiting natural resources is based on the fact that the quantity of raw materials exploited must be equivalent to their availability, in order to limit the environmental impact as much as possible. In this sense, we must identify a precise need to avoid making a dent in the deposits without taking into account their capacity for renewal.
More broadly, companies that adopt this logic must keep in mind that they have a major role to play in restoring sites after their operation. This is why they can obtain recycled raw materials, which will have a much lower impact on the environment than the use of virgin materials at the same level.
Being part of a circular economy logic
Once again, industrial ecology goes hand in hand with circular economy, which aims to adopt a completely different point of view compared to linear economy. The challenge is simple: we have to limit the waste of used resources to drastically reduce our environmental impact and save products as much as possible. Obviously, this strategy requires a systematic recycling approach where all forms of waste are eliminated.
It is part of a comprehensive action plan that includes the following concepts:
Sustainable supply: aiming for efficient exploitation and extraction and ensuring that waste is minimized.
Ecodesign: when designing a process, service or good, it is essential to consider the entire life cycle by limiting environmental impacts.
The economy of functionality: a type of organization between companies, which will exchange flows or share their needs.
Responsible consumption: use is given priority over possession so that it is preferable to sell services related to products rather than the products themselves.
Extension of the duration of use: we will tend to repair, sell, give or buy second-hand rather than throw away.
Effectively manage waste
One of the major aspects of this approach is of course waste management, and more specifically the best way to optimize its treatment. The objective is to recover waste from one sector so that it can then be used as a resource, whether for this sector or another.
This desire to be part of a continuous loop has several notable advantages:
Cost reduction: reducing the quantities of materials and packaging means savings, which allows you to better control your costs.
Reducing environmental impact: to engage in such an approach, this notion must be at the heart of your concerns since reducing your consumption helps limit your environmental impact.
Regulatory compliance: every company must be aware of the regulations in force on the issue of waste management, since all have their share of responsibility, and therefore design products that generate less waste and opt for greener production, treatment and distribution methods.
To go even further, companies can even move towards a zero-waste approach, in order to complete material cycles, dematerialize products and economic activities, etc. Finally, a company that is committed to reducing its waste and optimizing its treatment will see its image enhanced among its customers, partners and employees.
How to make these changes?
Making such changes requires the full commitment of the entire structure. It is important that each part of the chain is involved in this industrial ecology approach so that it can bear fruit.
Informing, mobilizing and raising awareness among all staff will ensure that teams are fully committed to the project. Each type of trade can and must be involved in this change since everyone has the opportunity to act at their own level.
It is clear that industrial ecology seems like a very beautiful project, though still somewhat utopian. However, it is based on irrefutable observations: natural resources are not unlimited, waste disposal is costly and the linear approach of economic models is highly questionable with regard to the climate change that is taking place.
Bear in mind that the success of such a strategy depends on the teams’ commitment: it is therefore essential to start by raising their awareness and, above all, by observing their processes, since it is at this level that improvements can be made. It is necessary to carry out a real diagnosis by questioning the field teams, who are in the best position to talk about their work processes and therefore to help to identify solutions. For example, production technicians will be able to identify potential energy losses and their origin as well as suggest ways to counter and improve them.
In the end, the more teams are consulted and involved, the more relevant the suggested and implemented solutions will be. It goes without saying that these improvements and other changes, if they are to continue, must be accompanied by permanent support from management and the hierarchy.
Adopting the right tools
Finally, as the last aspect of industrial ecology, companies must ensure that they dematerialize their products and economic activities. This involves decarbonizing energy, optimizing packaging and reducing paper consumption.
Some companies have overlooked CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management Software), which is an absolutely essential tool for industrial maintenance teams. Indeed, if a plant is regularly confronted with breakdowns, leaks and other malfunctions that could threaten the production line, it will see the costs of maintenance and replacement of parts increase significantly.
If machines are not properly maintained, the environmental risk and financial repercussions increase (due to the frequent replacement of spare parts or equipment, for example), which proves that teams need a tool that helps them communicate and exchange all information relating to their plant's activity in real-time.
The next-gen Mobility Work CMMS, a mobile software available in SaaS, then appears as a viable solution since it gives teams the possibility to access, from a PC or their mobile, the history of all the activities performed. Technicians can enter their activities in the application within a few seconds: each recorded intervention and hour of maintenance spent on an equipment will feed the free analytical tool available in the CMMS, which shows which equipment required the most intervention hours, which types of actions had to be performed most often (preventive, mechanical, electrical...), etc.
Mobility Work CMMS is provided with an analytic tool to help you analyze all your maintenance data and adapt your strategy
In parallel, the teams can install sensors directly on the machines in order to monitor their health status in their application. Technicians will receive alerts if an engine overheats, an oil level is too low or suspicious vibrations are detected.
Going further: lean manufacturing
While deploying a CMMS will undoubtedly enable industrial maintenance teams to adopt a greener behavior, thanks in particular to the reduction in paper use, the changes will also be visible on a larger scale.
Many companies are becoming aware of the impact that their production has on their environment, which is why they are turning to lean manufacturing, which essentially means optimizing industrial maintenance and production processes and avoiding industrial waste.
Lean manufacturing can be applied to overproduction as well as unnecessary trips or scrap, which can be avoided with next-gen CMMS software, such as Mobility Work. This type of mobile tool allows teams to exchange information using the online discussion tool, to upload photos, videos and technical documents directly to the equipment sheets, to record the slightest replacement of parts or repairs carried out on a machine or to gather all the data from the machine fleet to monitor the maintenance actions carried out.
In addition, Mobility Work CMMS can be interfaced with any ERP system, which allows maintenance managers to know the level of spare parts stock and thus only order the necessary parts at the right time. Unnecessary expenses are avoided and information flows better between teams.
Once again, the analytical tool will be very useful since it will help you implement the right industrial maintenance strategy: preventive, predictive... This dashboard compiles all the data relating to your equipment, so that you can see which equipment is most likely to fail or need repairs and anticipate the necessary production volumes.
In conclusion, even if the concept of industrial ecology may initially seem rather complex and difficult to implement, it must on the contrary be approached gradually and be broken down into different stages to achieve improvements at each level of the production chain. Once the concept has been mastered, it is possible to move towards an even more advanced approach of eco-design, functional economy and to be at the origin of a voluntary development of local sectors.