Six months after Yale launched a program to bring environmentally friendly practices to developing countries, a team of faculty and students are working in India to make the University’s global goal a reality.
The Yale Center for Industrial Ecology’s “Program on Industrial Ecology in Developing Countries” was launched last April to promote the study of industrial ecology in developing countries. Program participants are currently working on the first study in India, where there is a severe strain on natural resources as a result of rapidly growing industries. The Yale team eventually hopes to encourage ecologically sustainable industrial practices by helping firms share resources and waste.
Program director Marian Chertow said the program was established as a response to the urgent need for better resource efficiency in developing countries. In countries where industry is developing rapidly, she said, resources are being depleted, creating major roadblocks to sustainable development.
“Research on two recent papers has made me acutely aware that industrial ecology principles of resource productivity and eco-efficient industry are even more urgently needed in developing countries.” Chertow said.
The Yale team will work abroad with international companies to adapt Western industrial ecological theory to countries increasingly experiencing a scarcity of resources, she said.
During the first two years, Chertow said Yale will establish projects in both India and China — two countries whose rates of industrialization pose significant problems for sustainable practices. Students and faculty will study the flow of materials, water and energy through industry and natural environments in each location, she said.
“We should always ask ourselves, ‘Where do things come from and where do they go?’ ” Chertow said. “The flow of materials is important in the industry since one facility’s waste can become a neighboring facility’s feedstock.”
The Yale team is currently in India, teaming with colleagues at the Resource Optimisation Initiative in Bangalore, the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi, the State Environmental Protection Administration and the National Center for Innovation Research on Circular Economy in Nankai University.
Work will begin in China in two months. The Chinese government has already identified 16 demonstration eco-industrial parks projects for the Yale team to work on, all of which are developing resource-sharing initiatives.
Chertow said officials are now working to extend the program to Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, the Caribbean and other central Asian Countries in the former Soviet block.
“The model we are developing is a lateral one with Yale at the center of the nodal structure among and across geographical partners,” she said. “In this way, if colleagues in India have useful ideas about agricultural practices and biofuels, for example, we can pass these through to industrial ecologists in Africa, where similar crops are grown and so forth.”
The team in India is working with regional planners to identify and map resource flows using small-scale rapid-assessment tools, Chertow said.
Matthew Eckelman, a researcher from the Yale School of Engineering, is currently working with Ramesh Ramaswamy at the Resource Optimisation Initiative in India.
He said implementing industrial ecological principles in India has had a dramatic impact on improving energy, material and water use.
But Tara Parthasarathy FES ’08, who works for the program in India, said it is still too early to ascertain whether the initiative will have any lasting impacts on sustainability. But, regardless, she said she finds the program’s objectives worthwhile.
“I think the program is a great idea that fulfils a need,” she said. “I am very excited to be working on it.”
In the future, officials said they hope the program will provide learning opportunities for the University’s students and formalize the understanding of industrial ecology.
Chertow and Eckelman said a seminar on environmental ecology and the flow of natural resources will be taught next spring. Two students will also have the opportunity to travel to India and participate in the ongoing research in Bangalore.