The study of the socioeconomic metabolism – society’s material and energy use – is a young field of research which has recently gained a lot of prominence in the science and policy communities, mainly due to its strength as a conceptual framework that allows for an integration of traditionally fragmented research domains. Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology published a special issue on this topic.
When I started with the study of the socio-economic (or anthropogenic) metabolism a little more than 20 years ago, there were just a handful of researchers who shared a conviction that this framework had a potential to become highly policy-relevant. Today, this framework is largely embraced by industries that heavily depend on resources, by UNEP’s International Resource Panel (IRP), and it gains prominence in the energy and climate community, including the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). The Industrial Ecology Research Group (IndEcol) at NTNU has contributed significantly to this development in the last years, mainly through contributions of conceptual framing, model development, and applications with different industries.
The Chaplin movie Modern Times (1936) captures the industrial revolution with the danger of being caught by the gearwheels we create.
Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology (JIE) just published a special issue called “Frontiers in Socioeconomic Metabolism Research”. Several of our current and former IndEcol researchers made excellent contributions in this issue, amongst them Stefan Pauliuk, Guillaume Majeau-Bettez, Tao Wang. I was an editor of this special issue.
In the new special issue, Frontiers in Socioeconomic Metabolism Research, Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology presents cutting edge research on the physical interaction between the economy and the natural resources that support it. In its early years, research in industrial ecology conducted under the rubric of industrial or socio-economic metabolism focused on material flow analyses (MFA). These quantified the inputs, outputs and changes to characterize resource flows, especially at the country level. However, over time, the application of MFA was increasingly applied to firms, facilities, supply chains, substance and product life cycles, cities, regions and groups of countries. It was also combined with other methodologies, such as footprint analysis, input-output analysis, and network analysis.
A quarter century after the notion was proposed as a key element in industry ecology, socio-economic metabolism and the material, energy, substance flow analyses that are used to explore it have become richer, more methodologically sophisticated, and engaged in providing reliable scientific information about the magnitude of material use, related environmental impacts, supply security for specific resources, and the potential for decoupling material use from human well-being.
The special issue includes
- Analyses of the concept, its soundness, and its foundations
- New historical understanding of its antecedents
- A proposal for terminology across the different methodological approaches including MFA, SFA, IOA, and general equilibrium modeling
- Uncertainty analysis for material flow accounts
- A review of MFA in the domain of waste management
- Analysis of embodied land use in trade, options for land footprint analysis, and human appropriation of net primary productivity
- Calculation of the circularity of the economy of the European Union and the globe
- Integration of water metabolism into research on socio-economic metabolism
- Accounting for stocks, long-term material flows, and urban metabolism
- Material flow analyses of iron, steel, and specialty metals
The Journal of Industrial Ecology is a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal, owned by Yale University, published by Wiley-Blackwell and headquartered at the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
Articles in the special issue are freely downloadable for a limited time.
I do not know for how long these articles are freely downloadable, so you should probably hurry!
This blog post was written by Professor Daniel Beat Mueller (int. Müller), at NTNU – The Industrial Ecology Research Group at the Department of Energy and Process Engineering.