The Small Picture Business Enterprises

The economy is based on the production of goods and services by businesses motivated by profit. As with the case of an ecosystem, a business operates as an

Emissions of polluting waste into air, water, and soil

Emissions of polluting waste into air, water, and soil

Recyclers Disposal

Figure 1.5. Schematic representation of a plastics-related industry.

Recyclers Disposal

Figure 1.5. Schematic representation of a plastics-related industry.

open system consuming energy inefficiently to deliver useful goods or services. In the process, it generates by-products and waste products as ecosystems do. To perform its function, the business entity relies on a supply of raw materials and fossil fuel energy. For convenience, a business enterprise might be viewed as a black box with energy and material inputs and product and waste outputs (see Fig. 1.5). This simple model applies to the polymer industry as well. For instance, petroleum-derived monomer raw materials and an adequate source of energy are used in resin manufacture. The process invariably yields some amount of wastew-ater as well as emissions discharged into the atmosphere. However, the simple representation in Figure 1.5 sometimes used in the literature [14, 15] suffers from several significant limitations. Most importantly, it depicts environmental interactions solely in terms of fluxes (of energy or of materials), ignoring the many impacts of the operation not easily quantified. For instance, the aesthetic intrusion of a landfill in an urban location or the anxiety of residents downstream from a chemical processing plant are important social factors that elude description in a simple flow model. Even the quantifiable fluxes are handled rather formally with no distinction being made between a continuous, low-level discharge of a pollutant into a waterway over a period of time and the sporadic discharge of an equivalent quantity of the same pollutant in a single burst. The two modes of discharge have very different ecological implications. For the present limited purpose of comparing the ecological and business systems, however, this simple model is adequate.

The business system depicted in the figure uses up fossil fuels and dissipates the once-concentrated veins of raw-material resources in its quest to generate marketable products. In this regard it is not all that different from a living system that uses the same solar energy either directly or indirectly. Interestingly, relationships analogous to those in the biosphere, such as competition, symbiosis, parasitism, or commensalism are at times found in business arena as well. The term industrial ecology has been used to emphasize this analogy [16] between living and industrial systems. The ideal of industrial ecology is a set of interlocking business operations (embedded within and interfacing with the natural ecosystem). The waste collected and recycled from one operation then serves as the raw material for another. However, significant differences apparent between the two systems make this a less than satisfactory analogy. The sophisticated interdependencies characteristic of ecosystems simply cannot be achieved in commerce because of certain fundamental differences between the two systems. The "missions" of the two "ecologies" differ as well; the living systems consider reproduction a very high priority while businesses aim at rapid growth and acquisition of other businesses.

Figure 1.6 gives a schematic diagram for a simplified ecosystem and might be compared with Figure 1.5 on a polymer-based business. At least two major differences between the biosphere and industrial ecology are readily apparent:

1. A crucial difference is that natural ecosystems are energy constrained and evolve strictly within a diurnal budget of solar energy while the industrial systems operate on a user-controlled supply of fossil fuel reserves. The sum total of processes in nature draw energy from the 5 x 1022 j of solar energy reaching Earth's surface on a daily basis.22 The supply of energy (fossil-fuel-derived energy) into a business system is not constrained and

22 By comparison, the amount of energy derived from burning a gallon of gasoline is about 108 J.

Emissions of oxygen and biogenic VOCs into the atmosphere

Emissions of oxygen and biogenic VOCs into the atmosphere

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Getting to Know Anxiety

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