Industrial ecology and corporate social responsibility

Minimizing the impact of your company on the environment

By Gedden

Most companies attempt to minimize the pressures and impacts that their activities may have on the environment. For many years, procedures have been implemented to make better use of raw materials and reduce the amount of industrial waste products. In certain sectors of activity, production processes have been greatly improved. However, techniques put in place to reduce environmental impacts mainly operate towards the final phases of production. Air purifiers installed on industrial chimneys are a good example.

There is one concept that has a more global reach: it is called industrial ecology. Based on a more systemic approach, industrial ecology draws inspiration from the way in which natural ecosystems function. It recreates, on the scale of an industrial system, an organization that seeks optimal management of resources, as well as a high rate of recycling of both materials and energy. Industrial ecology is a new practice in environmental management. It tends to integrate the environment into corporate strategy thanks to performance data and life-cycle assessments, among other things.

Industrial ecology

Industrial ecology seeks optimization at the level of groupings of companies. The strategies employed include the valorisation and/or exchange of industrial residues (residues from one company may represent raw materials for another); shared services or perhaps collective management of waste; recycling or rainwater, shared equipment or resources and valorisation of by-products, among others.

This newly emerging approach applies mainly at the level of entire industrial parks. The proximity of the companies involved promotes synergy between all members of the community. These new partnerships are at the centre of a genuine and long-lasting strategy of territorial development.

Social responsibility

With respect to corporate social responsibility, the principle remains the same. Such responsibility goes beyond mere legal requirements and profits. A company that undertakes such responsibility is demonstrating that it has a social conscience. It devotes more resources to human aspects, the environment and other interest groups affected by its actions: employees, clients, suppliers, the community and society in general.

Corporate social responsibility integrates social, environmental and economic concerns into the values it wishes to promote and the activities it carries out. It allows companies of all sizes to reconcile its economic, social and environmental ambitions in cooperation with its partners. It may also lead to changes in internal management conduit that help to define how decisions are evaluated. Socially responsible companies will have developed policies and tools to this end. For example, among others we might mention, codes of conduct, sustainable purchasing, dashboards and management indicators that include the economy, the environment and the social side of things. For a given company, being socially responsible might involve implementing programs for risk management, assurance quality, increased security and new standards of internal and external communications.

Social responsibility is a voluntary initiative and involves willingness on the part of management to develop a new form of governance within the company. Whether it concerns the company’s industrial ecology or social responsibility, both concepts occupy an important place in terms of globalization, competitiveness and sustainable development.