Ecological modernization

Last updated

Ecological modernization is a school of thought in the social sciences that argues that the economy benefits from moves towards environmentalism.[ citation needed ] It has gained increasing attention among scholars and policymakers in the last several decades internationally. It is an analytical approach as well as a policy strategy and environmental discourse (Hajer, 1995).

Contents

Origins and key elements

Ecological modernization emerged in the early 1980s within a group of scholars at Free University and the Social Science Research Centre in Berlin, among them Joseph Huber, Martin Jänicke  [ de ] and Udo E. Simonis  [ de ]. Various authors pursued similar ideas at the time, e.g. Arthur H. Rosenfeld, Amory Lovins, Donald Huisingh, René Kemp, or Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker. Further substantial contributions were made by Arthur P.J. Mol, Gert Spaargaren and David A Sonnenfeld (Mol and Sonnenfeld, 2000; Mol, 2001).

One basic assumption of ecological modernization relates to environmental readaptation of economic growth and industrial development. On the basis of enlightened self-interest, economy and ecology can be favourably combined: Environmental productivity, i.e. productive use of natural resources and environmental media (air, water, soil, ecosystems), can be a source of future growth and development in the same way as labour productivity and capital productivity. This includes increases in energy and resource efficiency as well as product and process innovations such as environmental management and sustainable supply chain management, clean technologies, benign substitution of hazardous substances, and product design for environment. Radical innovations in these fields can not only reduce quantities of resource turnover and emissions, but also change the quality or structure of the industrial metabolism. In the co-evolution of humans and nature, and in order to upgrade the environment's carrying capacity, ecological modernization gives humans an active role to play, which may entail conflicts with nature conservation.

There are different understandings of the scope of ecological modernization - whether it is just about techno-industrial progress and related aspects of policy and economy, and to what extent it also includes cultural aspects (ecological modernization of mind, value orientiations, attitudes, behaviour and lifestyles). Similarly, there is some pluralism as to whether ecological modernization would need to rely mainly on government, or markets and entrepreneurship, or civil society, or some sort of multi-level governance combining the three. Some scholars explicitly refer to general modernization theory as well as non-Marxist world-system theory, others don't.

Ultimately, however, there is a common understanding that ecological modernization will have to result in innovative structural change. So research is now still more focused on environmental innovations, or eco-innovations, and the interplay of various societal factors (scientific, economic, institutional, legal, political, cultural) which foster or hamper such innovations (Klemmer et al., 1999; Huber, 2004; Weber and Hemmelskamp, 2005; Olsthoorn and Wieczorek, 2006).

Ecological modernization shares a number of features with neighbouring, overlapping approaches. Among the most important are

Additional elements

A special topic of ecological modernization research during recent years was sustainable household, i.e. environment-oriented reshaping of lifestyles, consumption patterns, and demand-pull control of supply chains (Vergragt, 2000; OECD 2002). Some scholars of ecological modernization share an interest in industrial symbiosis, i.e. inter-site recycling that helps to reduce the consumption of resources via increasing efficiency (i.e. pollution prevention, waste reduction), typically by taking externalities from one economic production process and using them as raw material inputs for another (Christoff, 1996). Ecological modernization also relies on product life-cycle assessment and the analysis of materials and energy flows. In this context, ecological modernization promotes 'cradle to cradle' manufacturing (Braungart and McDonough, 2002), contrasted against the usual 'cradle to grave' forms of manufacturing - where waste is not re-integrated back into the production process. Another special interest in the ecological modernization literature has been the role of social movements and the emergence of civil society as a key agent of change (Fisher and Freudenburg, 2001).

As a strategy of change, some forms of ecological modernization may be favored by business interests because they seemingly meet the triple bottom line of economics, society, and environment, which, it is held, underpin sustainability, yet do not challenge free market principles. This contrasts with many environmental movement perspectives, which regard free trade and its notion of business self-regulation as part of the problem, or even an origin of environmental degradation. Under ecological modernization, the state is seen in a variety of roles and capacities: as the enabler for markets that help produce the technological advances via competition; as the regulatory (see regulation) medium through which corporations are forced to 'take back' their various wastes and re-integrate them in some manner into the production of new goods and services (e.g. the way that car corporations in Germany are required to accept back cars they manufactured once those vehicles have reached the end of their product lifespan); and in some cases as an institution that is incapable of addressing critical local, national, and global environmental problems. In the latter case, ecological modernization shares with Ulrich Beck (1999, 37-40) and others notions of the necessity of emergence of new forms of environmental governance, sometimes referred to as subpolitics or political modernization, where the environmental movement, community groups, businesses, and other stakeholders increasingly take on direct and leadership roles in stimulating environmental transformation. Political modernization of this sort requires certain supporting norms and institutions such as a free, independent, or at least critical press, basic human rights of expression, organization, and assembly, etc. New media such as the Internet greatly facilitate this.

Criticisms

Critics argue that ecological modernization will fail to protect the environment and does nothing to alter the impulses within the capitalist economic mode of production (see capitalism) that inevitably lead to environmental degradation (Foster, 2002). As such, it is just a form of 'green-washing'. Critics question whether technological advances alone can achieve resource conservation and better environmental protection, particularly if left to business self-regulation practices (York and Rosa, 2003). For instance, many technological improvements are currently feasible but not widely utilized. The most environmentally friendly product or manufacturing process (which is often also the most economically efficient) is not always the one automatically chosen by self-regulating corporations (e.g. hydrogen or biofuel vs. peak oil). In addition, some critics have argued that ecological modernization does not redress gross injustices that are produced within the capitalist system, such as environmental racism - where people of color and low income earners bear a disproportionate burden of environmental harm such as pollution, and lack access to environmental benefits such as parks, and social justice issues such as eliminating unemployment (Bullard, 1993; Gleeson and Low, 1999; Harvey, 1996) - environmental racism is also referred to as issues of the asymmetric distribution of environmental resources and services (Everett & Neu, 2000). Moreover, the theory seems to have limited global efficacy, applying primarily to its countries of origin - Germany and the Netherlands, and having little to say about the developing world (Fisher and Freudenburg, 2001). Perhaps the harshest criticism though, is that ecological modernization is predicated upon the notion of 'sustainable growth', and in reality this is not possible because growth entails the consumption of natural and human capital at great costs to ecosystems and societies.

Ecological modernization, its effectiveness and applicability, strengths and limitations, remains a dynamic and contentious area of environmental social science research and policy discourse in the early 21st century.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services based upon which the economy and society depend. The desired result is a state of society where living conditions and resources are used to continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural system. Sustainable development can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Industrial ecology (IE) is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems. The global industrial economy can be modelled as a network of industrial processes that extract resources from the Earth and transform those resources into commodities which can be bought and sold to meet the needs of humanity. Industrial ecology seeks to quantify the material flows and document the industrial processes that make modern society function. Industrial ecologists are often concerned with the impacts that industrial activities have on the environment, with use of the planet's supply of natural resources, and with problems of waste disposal. Industrial ecology is a young but growing multidisciplinary field of research which combines aspects of engineering, economics, sociology, toxicology and the natural sciences.

Environmental sociology The study of interactions between societies and their natural environments

Environmental sociology is the study of interactions between societies and their natural environment. The field emphasizes the social factors that influence environmental resource management and cause environmental issues, the processes by which these environmental problems are socially constructed and defined as social issues, and societal responses to these problems.

Over the years, as countries and regions around the world began to develop, it slowly became evident that industrialization and economic growth come hand in hand with environmental degradation. Eco-efficiency has been proposed as one of the main tools to promote a transformation from unsustainable development to one of sustainable development. It is based on the concept of creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution. "It is measured as the ratio between the (added) value of what has been produced and the (added) environment impacts of the product or service ." The term was coined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in its 1992 publication "Changing Course," and at the 1992 Earth Summit, eco-efficiency was endorsed as a new business concept and means for companies to implement Agenda 21 in the private sector. Ergo the term has become synonymous with a management philosophy geared towards sustainability, combining ecological and economic efficiency.

The green economy is defined as economy that aims at making issues of reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment. It is closely related with ecological economics, but has a more politically applied focus. The 2011 UNEP Green Economy Report argues "that to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair. Fairness implies recognizing global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a just transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive."

Environmental resource management Type of resource management

Environmental resource management is the management of the interaction and impact of human societies on the environment. It is not, as the phrase might suggest, the management of the environment itself. Environmental resources management aims to ensure that ecosystem services are protected and maintained for future human generations, and also maintain ecosystem integrity through considering ethical, economic, and scientific (ecological) variables. Environmental resource management tries to identify factors affected by conflicts that rise between meeting needs and protecting resources. It is thus linked to environmental protection, sustainability and integrated landscape management.

William McDonough American architect

William Andrews McDonough is an American architect, designer and author. McDonough is founding principal of William McDonough + Partners, co-founder of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) as well as co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things and The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance. McDonough's career is focused on creating a beneficial footprint. He espouses a message that we can design materials, systems, companies, products, buildings, and communities that continuously improve over time.

Environmental policy the totality of the government efforts to promoting the protection of the natural environment

Environmental policy is the commitment of an organization or government to the laws, regulations, and other policy mechanisms concerning environmental issues. These issues generally include air and water pollution, waste management, ecosystem management, maintenance of biodiversity, the protection of natural resources, wildlife and endangered species. Concerning environmental policy, the importance of implementation of an eco-energy-oriented policy at a global level to address the issues of global warming and climate changes should be accentuated. Policies concerning energy or regulation of toxic substances including pesticides and many types of industrial waste are part of the topic of environmental policy. This policy can be deliberately taken to direct and oversee human activities and thereby prevent harmful effects on the biophysical environment and natural resources, as well as to make sure that changes in the environment do not have harmful effects on humans.

Ecotechnology is an applied science that seeks to fulfill human needs while causing minimal ecological disruption, by harnessing and manipulating natural forces to leverage their beneficial effects. Ecotechnology integrates two fields of study: the 'ecology of technics' and the 'technics of ecology,' requiring an understanding of the structures and processes of ecosystems and societies. All sustainable engineering that can reduce damage to ecosystems, adopt ecology as a fundamental basis, and ensure conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development may be considered as forms of ecotechnology.

Cleaner production is a preventive, company-specific environmental protection initiative. It is intended to minimize waste and emissions and maximize product output. By analysing the flow of materials and energy in a company, one tries to identify options to minimize waste and emissions out of industrial processes through source reduction strategies. Improvements of organisation and technology help to reduce or suggest better choices in use of materials and energy, and to avoid waste, waste water generation, and gaseous emissions, and also waste heat and noise.

Religion and environmentalism is an emerging interdisciplinary subfield in the academic disciplines of religious studies, religious ethics, the sociology of religion, and theology amongst others, with environmentalism and ecological principles as a primary focus.

David Allan Sonnenfeld is an American sociologist and Professor of Sociology and environmental policy at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, known for his work in the field of ecological modernisation.

Ariel Salleh is an Australian sociologist who writes on humanity-nature relations, social change movements, and ecofeminism.

Ecological design or ecodesign is an approach to designing products with special consideration for the environmental impacts of the product during its whole lifecycle. It was defined by Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan as "any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes." Ecological design is an integrative ecologically responsible design discipline.

This page is an index of sustainability articles.

Index of environmental articles overview about the index of environmental articles

The natural environment, commonly referred to simply as the environment, includes all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth.

The history of sustainability traces human-dominated ecological systems from the earliest civilizations to the present. This history is characterized by the increased regional success of a particular society, followed by crises that were either resolved, producing sustainability, or not, leading to decline.

Sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal.

Gert Spaargaren is a Dutch professor at the Wageningen University, author, and editor. Spaargaren is from Aalsmeer, Netherlands, and is currently teaching Environmental Policy for sustainability and patterns of consumption in the Department of Social Sciences. His fields of expertise are Consumer Studies and Environmental policy.

Eco-restructuring is the implication for an ecologically sustainable economy. The principle of ecological modernization establishes the core literature of the functions that eco-restructuring has within a global regime. Eco-restructuring has an emphasis on the technological progressions within an ecological system. Government officials implement environmental policies to establish the industrial- ecological progressions that enable the motion of economic modernization. When establishing economic growth, policy makers focus on the progression towards a sustainable environment by establishing a framework of ecological engineering. Government funding is necessary when investing in efficient technologies to stimulate technological development.

References