July 25, 2005 New Haven, Conn. -- The environmental impact of what we buy and use is increasingly drawing the attention of business, governments, and consumers. The connection between consumption and environmental impact is analyzed in new and important ways in a special issue of Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology.
Articles in the special issue analyze the environmental impact of consumption and U.S. house size, diet change, work time reduction, time use, product life spans and the quality of life. Articles also examine consumption at the household, city and national levels.
"This special issue demonstrates the power of industrial ecology," says Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Ecology. "Techniques that lie at the core of this field, such as materials flow analysis, life-cycle assessment, and input-output analysis, help us to understand much better the pivotal role consumption plays in shaping the quality of our environment."
This special issue includes evaluation of water use in China, energy use in Sweden, the "export" of environmental impacts via Dutch consumption, and risks from exposure to scented consumer products. Articles consider the strategies advocacy groups use to influence global production and consumption, and explore the role of the "rebound effect"--the possibility that reduced purchase of one set of products can, by saving the consumer money, lead to increased consumption of other goods and services with their attendant environmental effects.
The research represents a broadening of the scope of environmental concern that has traditionally focused on the impact of production-related activities such as emissions from factory smokestacks. It brings systematic analysis of the role of consumption in environmental management to a new and higher level. Questions addressed include: how big is the footprint of households taken as a whole, and which activities are the most damaging.
"The research in this special issue is a striking advance," said Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "It takes the understanding of consumption and the environment well beyond the platitudes and bromides that have dominated previous discussions by exploring the role of consumption in a systematic and quantitative way."
Industrial ecology is a rapidly growing field that examines local, regional, and global uses and flows of materials and energy in products, processes, industrial sectors, and economies. The Journal of Industrial Ecology is an international, peer-reviewed quarterly on industry and the environment, owned by Yale University, published by The MIT Press and headquartered at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
Edgar Hertwich, professor in the Department of Energy and Process Engineering and Program Leader of the Industrial Ecology Programme at the Norwegian University of Science & Technology in Trondheim, Norway, served as the guest editor for the special issue. Support for the special issue was provided by the Garfield Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme, Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics.
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