Promoting the Implementation of Cleaner Production Based on Circular Economy Theory

中国环境学会  2011年 06月21日

  Kuang Shaoping( 匡少平) **, Chen Hong(陈红)
  Qingdao University of Science and Technology, Qingdao 266042, PR China

   In recent years, the relevant national ministries and departments and media have increased the publicity of Cleaner Production and its ideas. Additionally, Cleaner Production programmes have been instituted in a wide array of firms and institutions. And there are many case reports on their successes. However, there are many limitations the ministries and departments should pay attention to. This article puts forward some key strategies for promoting Cleaner Production in China. For instance, integrating CP into sustainability strategies, technology innovations, and industrial ecology are effective strategies for improving CP. Cleaner Production is not only about cleaning up production processes but about shifting these processes – and the products and services they provide – into more sustainable patterns. Most importantly, Cleaner Production requires a change of attitudes and technology improvements. Lack of capacity to track and evaluate the effects of CP programmes and to disseminate this information, still seems to be one of key challenges for CP initiatives. So development of a Cleaner Production indicator system and recommendation of technical criteria is essential.
  Key Words: Cleaner Production; circular economy; sustainability strategies; technology innovations; industrial ecology; indicator system
  From 1993, Chinese government started to advocate Cleaner Production, and now it is pushing for the circular economy. All of these are the unremitting efforts that our country is making to realize a sustainable development [1]. Some may simply regard circular economy as waste recycling, yet the fundamental goal is to systematically prevent and reduce wastes in the industrial process. And according to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development Task Force on Circular Economy and Cleaner Production, Cleaner Production is the cornerstone of circular economy. If China wants to vigorously develop the circular economy and build a resource-saving and environmental-friendly society, Cleaner Production should be an essential part of any comprehensive pollution management system, at the enterprise or the national level.
  Cleaner Production started as an integrative and preventive environmental management strategy for avoiding, or at least minimizing, environmental impacts from industrial products and services, as well as from the production, distribution and service processes they require. The field has matured over the last 25 years. During the last decade, in particular, there has been remarkable progress putting Cleaner Production on the agenda of industry, government and communities in both industrialized and industrializing countries. Cleaner Production programmes have generally been successful in demonstrating potential environmental, financial and other benefits of an integrated, preventive environmental management strategy for industrial operation [2].
  In recent years, the relevant national ministries and departments and media have increased the publicity of Cleaner Production and its ideas. After the central government proposed the thought of scientific view of development which stressed the principle of people first and coordinated and sustainable growth, the public has been better aware of the significance of the Cleaner Production.
  Cleaner Production is a ‘win-win’ strategy. It protects the environment, the consumer and the worker while improving industrial efficiency, profitability, and competitiveness. The less businesses waste, the more profitable they can become [3].The initial means to prevent industrial pollution was to “end-of-pipe” control, which was a measure that only input but not yielded economic output. Experiences and lessons from practices around the world have proven that end-of-pipe treatments are not a cost-effective way of reducing industrial pollution. Instead, Cleaner Production, first developed in the 1970s, has obtained both environmental and economical benefits in different countries. Although Cleaner Production is based on a preventive mindset, current Cleaner Production efforts are often still made in the final phases of industrial development rather than being designed in right from the start. In other words, Cleaner Production has moved industrial environmental management from the end of the production pipe to the end of the innovation pipe, but has not yet been integrated into the innovation cycle as required for the transition towards a priori clean products and processes [4].

  Since the work of the Brundtland Commission and the subsequent 1992 UN Conference on
  Environment and Development, the concept of sustainability has been enshrined as the global vision of a healthy future. The past few decades have witnessed significant advances in identifying and understanding a wide range of environmental problems: climate change, global pollution, habitat loss and over-population. The task ahead will require less attention to problem characterization, and more attention to solution development and facilitation. Cleaner Production has been a conceptual bridge connecting industrialization and sustainability. It would be useful to consider three rather conventional environmental objectives that will require progress over the next decade: detoxification, dematerialization and decarbonization [5].
  The UN’s international work programme on sustainable consumption and production patterns, adopted in 1995 by the third session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), defined sustainable consumption as “the use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations” [6]. Cleaner Production leads to increases in resource efficiency and deceases in waste generation, reducing the environmental burdens of industrial production. However, steady growth in consumption required increases in the aggregate level of production that could wipe out the impacts of these process improvements. It makes little sense to promote Cleaner Production without seeking to reduce consumption levels, particularly in the wealthier economies. In industrialized countries it means a shift from an emphasis on quantity to one of quality in consumption. The most prevalent consumption approach is demand management, whose success depends on a feedback mechanism that is information rich and culturally attuned. Product innovations such as multi-functionality, extended life products, dematerialization and even e-materialization can all work to make consumption more sustainable [7].
  To move from words to action is our primary challenge. The root causes of global environmental degradation lie in current unsustainable production and consumption patterns. The challenge before us is to reorient these unsustainable patterns by promoting a life cycle economy that incorporates a “Cleaner Production” strategy.

  Most importantly, Cleaner Production requires a change of attitudes and technology improvements. Advances in science and technology open up new opportunities and options for achieving CP. Approaches to CP can be grouped into three categories [8]:
  Level 1: Waste reduction at source
  good housekeeping; process modification; product modification; change of materials.
  Level 2: Waste recycling
  internal recycling; external recycling (among different organizations industrial ecology).
  Level 3: Use of renewable resources
  biomass as a renewable feedstock for energy, fuels and chemicals[9]; other sources of renewable energy: solar, wind, tidal, small-scale hydroelectric.
  These approaches involve a combination of technology (processes and tools) and techniques (ways that technology is used). Technology and techniques are mutually supporting in delivering CP, as seen in case studies. Performance assessment is the guide to determining the optimum chemicals and energy are critical sectors for CP technology in view of their importance to so many other industry sectors. Biotechnology also holds great promise for achieving sustainable industrial development. Most, if not all, technologies can be relevant to CP. Energy is a fundamental requirement for human activities, from cooking to industrial manufacturing to transportation and travel. The predominant energy source at present is fossil carbon, specifically oil, natural gas and coal. The industry has invested for decades, and continues to invest, in technology to divert/convert more waste into product, as well as to replace polluting chemicals and develop new more environment-friendly products [10].
  The chemical industry is a key to advancing CP, as chemical products and processes are used as inputs in so many other sectors. Chemical technology has increased in efficiency, with decreased waste as a secondary benefit. This change has largely been driven by competition and regulation. The reduction in waste per tonne of product has been accomplished by approaches ranging from improved housekeeping to improved processes and process control, development of new less polluting products, and more efficient utilization of by-products. Technology innovation has occurred in the areas of catalysts, sensors and reactor design, as well as materials and separations technologies. Recently the concept of Green Chemistry or “environmentally benign chemistry” has shifted the focus to reducing the hazard of chemical products and processes, and to controlling emissions and exposure. Industrial biotechnology can be viewed as a subset of Green Chemistry involving bioprocesses that are more eco-efficient, and biologically derived chemicals that are more biodegradable than their conventional chemical counterparts. Biotechnology has begun to play an important role in the synthesis of fine chemicals to the extent that biocatalysis is becoming part of the general tool kit used by synthetic organic chemists, often providing environmental benefits. For example, BIOCHEMIE, a subsidiary of Novartis, has reported that for the production of one tonne of cephalosporin the conventional chemical process resulted in 31 tonnes of wastes requiring incineration, while its new enzyme biocatalysis process resulted in only 0.3 tonnes of such wastes [11]. On the horizon are bioprocesses to produce a number of bulk and commodity chemicals as well as plastics utilizing biomass as a renewable feedstock. Bioprocesses naturally lend themselves to processing of biomass, a major renewable resource, into fuels (e.g. methane, ethanol) and chemicals (e.g. acetone, butanediol).
  Technology innovation can be a very powerful tool for achieving CP if it is informed by effective technology assessment and supported by effective policies at the company level. A wide range of technologies and related research disciplines can contribute to CP. However, advances in science and technology are not sufficient as a driver for achieving CP. Market forces and government policies must also work in concert with technology to advance industry’s adoption of CP. Thus, a wide range of different communities representing quite different perspectives must come together to help achieve CP. One integrating principle for CP, which focuses on sustainability, is use of CP technologies to establish a sustainable linkage between the carbon cycle in industry and the carbon cycle in the environment. Technologies based on life sciences and biotechnology, in particular, will play an increasingly prominent role in moving global production systems toward this ultimate goal of sustainability.

  Communicating the fact that end-of-pipe technologies are more expensive is the educational challenge for Cleaner Production advocates. At a more profound level, industry and governments need to achieve an understanding of systems thinking: the ecological system is the all-encompassing one, with cascading subsystems and sub-subsystems (social system, economic system, industrial system and so on). Systems’ interdependence cannot be broken. So Cleaner Production is not the domain of a single government agency, or of private sector manufacturing only; Cleaner Production and eco-efficiency remain targeted towards manufacturing processes and business strategies within industrial companies. However, Cleaner Production could be applied at the level of a cluster of various companies, an industrial zone, or even a whole region (that is, it could be applied at the level of a system). This emerging approach has become known as “industrial ecology.” The ultimate goal of industrial ecology is to determine how the industrial system could be restructured to make it compatible with the way natural ecosystems function.
  The industrial system can be seen as a certain kind of ecosystem. Like natural ecosystems, it can be described as a distribution of materials, energy and information flows. Furthermore, the entire industrial system relies on resources and services provided by the biosphere, from which it can not be dissociated [12, 13].
  Thus the concept of “eco-industrial parks” (EIPs) originated in the early 1990s. EIPs are areas where companies cooperate to make the most of resource use, namely through mutual recovery of the waste they generate (waste produced by one enterprise being used as raw material by another).
  The story of Kalundborg, Denmark, really began in 1961, with a project to use surface water from Lake Tiss for a new oil refinery to preserve limited ground water supplies. The city took responsibility for building the pipeline, while the refinery financed it. A number of other collaborative projects were introduced and the number of partners gradually increased. By the end of the 1980s, the partners realized they had effectively “self-organized” into what is probably the best-known example of a working industrial ecosystem or, to use their term, industrial symbiosis.               
  The industrial symbiosis in Kalundborg is an example of how strategic material-based planning can earn a handsome payback. There is no doubt that the Kalundborg model has fruitfully inspired recent thinking on environmental management of industrial estates and eco-industrial networks. However, there is also growing recognition that we need to look beyond Kalundborg. This is especially true with respect to implementation of industrial ecology in developing countries, where the industrial pattern is very unlike that of Kalundborg [14].

  With ongoing efforts to ensure compliance and to enhance the capacity of enterprises, communities, and local officials, valid policies could become effective tools to promote Cleaner Production in China. We wish the following suggestion could be available for the relevant national ministries and departments.
  Incorporate Cleaner Production into Government Policies and Strategies
  Continue to select and provide examples of successful integration of Cleaner Production in national/local policy frameworks. In addition, intensify work in key areas like industrial estates where there is the potential for multiplier effects.
  Policy instruments that promote Cleaner Production are not fundamentally different from other policy instruments. However, they must be wisely conceived in order to favor prevention rather than end-of-pipe approaches.
  During the 1990s, Cleaner Production was introduced in China, in the beginning especially via development aid projects. From 1992 to 1997 the focus was strongly on the introduction of Cleaner Production methodology, the training of personnel and the implementation of demonstration projects at the enterprise level. After 1997, the emphasis shifted to cleaner production policy-making, culminating in the Cleaner Production Promotion Law in 2002. This paper analyses the making of this unique law and provides a first assessment of the strengths, weaknesses and particularities of the first law on Cleaner Production.
  Our country should make elaborate chemicals policies. Which substances are restricted inacceptable emissions and which substances are urged permits regulating emissions to air and water, and waste management. It is clear to what extent licensing authorities will be able to include Cleaner Production approaches in actual permit issuing. The government should do well for this.
  Promote Cleaner Production financing

  CP often results in sufficient cost savings. The payback period for investment in CP technology innovation may be a few years or less. A key element for bringing in financing, whether from the company’s own resources, the government or a financial institution, is building awareness of CP’ s economic benefits and the costs of continued pollution of the environment in the organization providing the financing. In this regard, tools such as LCA and Environmental Accounting can be useful. The use of Environmental Management Systems can also provide comfort to investors that the objectives of CP technology development will be met.
  More work needs to be done to develop capacity for integrating preventive strategies in accounting and due diligence practices among related stakeholders such as financial institutions, enterprises, business schools and the media. Revolving funds should be encouraged, and governments should formulate rules and incentives to stimulate investment in Cleaner Production implementation.
  Much more attention needs to be paid to issues of financing when examining technical option, at the enterprise or the sector level. This may require training both industry staff and financiers in the preparation and analysis of project proposals.
  Development of a Cleaner Production Indicator System and Recommendation of Technical Criteria

  Develop a standard set of measurements for CP. Rhetoric from governments, industry, and others about their CP actions is high. But, we lack agreement on affordable ways to measure CP progress. Without measurement standards, people cannot be held accountable.
  Cleaner Production programmes have been instituted in a wide array of firms and institutions. There are many case reports on their successes. Yet these programmes lack common metrics for measuring performance. They are seldom assessed against their full costs, and there is little possibility to compare one project against another to determine the effectiveness of differing strategies. Few government programmes publish annual trend reports on their environmental impacts, and even fewer have been evaluated for cost-effectiveness. The highly contextual character of Cleaner Production programmes makes it difficult to develop common metrics or units of analysis. Without measuring performance against financial or environmental objectives, the specific impacts of cleaner technologies and practices cannot be effectively assessed.
  Interest in corporate environmental reporting and sustainability indicators is growing rapidly [15]. Professional bodies, including Dow Jones, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AICE), the Social Venture Network and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), have developed environmental indicator systems for corporations. The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economics (CERES) is developing an ambitious Global Reporting Initiative to track corporate environmental performance. These efforts suggest how useful and feasible indicators of Cleaner Production might be; China should inspire Cleaner Production promoters to work towards developing such indicators.
  Formulation of Supporting Incentive Policies to Implement Cleaner Production

  Government has a responsibility to provide conditions for economic development and environmental betterment. In this context, government should play a key role in the promotion of CP. Government policies that support incentive policies will be beneficial for the implementation of Cleaner Production.
  Specific reforms in the energy and other public utilities sectors and direct financial incentives for energy and water conservation and for reduction of discharges into the environment can have a much more direct impact. The removal of price subsidies and the incorporation of environmental costs are two important policy actions for the energy sector. In the water sector, pricing of ground water would be essential to drive water conservation. Furthermore, environmental levies for waste water discharges, as well as for air emissions and solid waste disposal, will improve the cost effectiveness of Cleaner Production and thereby drive the financing of Cleaner Production. At a more general level, trade and investment liberalisation also have proven to be helpful for Cleaner Production and energy conservation, as have investment incentives.
  Focus on the Service Sector [16]

  Experts noted that much of the work done to date in Cleaner Production has focused on the manufacturing side of existing production systems. This focus should be expanded to include the service sector. Acquisition of goods as a measure of affluence is replaced by measures of wellbeing based on continuous satisfaction of changing expectations for quality, utility and performance.

  In general terms, there appear to be two major challenges with respect to improving Cleaner Production programmes and policies: 1) enhancing the innovativeness of Cleaner Production programmes in terms of technologies considered, as well as methodologies and instruments used and partnerships established; and 2) broadening and deepening the involvement of non-environmental governmental and non-governmental stakeholders in the design, implementation and management of Cleaner Production programmes[17].
  Cleaner Production needs to be institutionalized by integrating it with ISO 14000 and other sustainability management systems. With respect to both regulations and economic instruments, the enforcement of existing legislation is one of the main problems in many countries. Economic instruments such as environmental charges, for instance, require a monitoring system that accurately measures emissions subject to the charges. Poor enforcement systems risk perverting the steering effects associated with environmental charges. It is essential to measure the environmental performance of products, processes, and the technologies embedded in them if CP is to be achieved. Measuring a technology’s performance includes consideration not only of the technology but also of how and how well it is used. Tools such as life-cycle analysis (LCA) have been developed to measure the environmental impacts of products and processes and the technologies embedded in them systematically.
  We cannot only rely on gradual technological improvements to achieve Cleaner Production. We need quantum leaps, which innovative technologies can make possible. The primary challenge is to move from rhetoric to implementation. Awareness is important, but it is not the same as taking action. Governments can and must play a leading role in establishing enabling legislative and economic frameworks for Cleaner Production and Sustainable Consumption. Companies should widely apply existing management tools; they should also integrate the environmental dimension into overall decision-making. Consumers, whether they are companies or individuals, need to understand that Cleaner Production and Sustainable Consumption are two sides of the same coin.
  [1]Zhou Hongchun. Circular economy in China and recommendations[J]. Ecological Economy, 2006, 2: 102-114
  [2] Hammer B. Financing cleaner production. In: Report for promotion of cleaner production policies and practices in selected developing member countries, Seattle, Wash, 2001
  [3] Eco-Efficiency and Cleaner Production: Charting the Course to Sustainability. World Business Council for Sustainable Development. UNEP Environment Programme
  [4] Van B R, Willems E, Lafleur M. The Relationship between Cleaner Production and Industrial Ecology[J]. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 1997, Vol. 1, No. 1: 51-66
  [5] Ken Geiser. Integrating CP into sustainability strategies. UNEP Industry and Environment January – June, 2001
  [6] Third Session of the Commission for Sustainable Development, 1995
  [7] World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Eco-Efficiency and Cleaner Production: Charting the Course to Sustainability
  [8] John F J, David E M. Technology innovations and Cleaner Production: possibilities and limitations. UNEP Industry and Environment January – June 2001
  [9] See the site for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (
  [10] See, for example, the Royal Dutch Shell Group site (
  [11] OECD (in press) Case Studies of Biotechnology and Cleaner Production. OECD Task Force on Biotechnology for Sustainable Industrial Development. OECD, Paris
  [12] Frosch, Robert A, Nicholas E G. Strategies for Manufacturing[J]. Scientific American, 1989, Vol. 261, No. 3: 94- 102, September (special issue on Managing Planet Earth)
  [13] Erkman, Suren. Industrial Ecology: An Historical View[J]. Journal of Cleaner Production, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 1-2: 1-10
  [14]Gertler, Nicholas, John R E. Industrial Ecology in Practice[J]. The Evolution of Interdependence at Kalundborg, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 1997, Vol. 1, No. 1: 67-79
  [15] Bennett, Martin and Peter James, eds. Sustainable Measures: Evaluation and Reporting of Environmental and Social Performance. Greenleaf, Sheffield (UK), 1999
  [16]Sixth International High-level Seminar on Cleaner Production 16-17 October 2000, Montreal, Canada Recommendations. UNEP Industry and Environment January – June 2001
  [17] René Van Berkel. CP and industrial development. UNEP Industry and Environment January – June 2001
  * The study is jointly supported by the Qingdao Social Scientific Foundation of China (No. QDSKL070216) and The Key Project of QUST Social Scientific Foundation, China (No. 07SKA19).

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