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1 Sustainability and Discontinuity

tive processes towards greater autonomy from the natural resources and ecosystems they were based on. Also in this case the amount and quality of products and services provided by such system are limited: the framework of non-interference allows only productive processes that are based on and compatible with the materials already existing inside the isolation and have optimised usage of energy.

1.3.3 Industrial Ecology and Dematerialisation In principle, various sustainable production窶田onsumption systems can be imagined, based on combinations between the orientations of biocompatibility and noninterference. Blocks of integrated bio- and technocycles can be derived that found the material basis for any hypothetical sustainable system, and what can be called industrial ecology 9. An elaborate discussion on its meaning and implications, however, exceed the scope of this book; hence, only the difficulties of integrating two proposed orientations (biocompatibility and non-interference) will be observed. The first difficulty arises from their very definition: if biocompatibility means integration and non-interference isolation, then the conditions suitable for the first signify difficulties for the second, and vice versa. Biocompatible production窶田onsumption cycles are by default consistent with activities dispersed along the territory (in turn consistent with diffused functions of ecosystems with which they have to be integrated). Meanwhile, technological cycles based on non-interference are reasonable only in situations of high density of productive窶田onsumptive activities (the only efficient way to handle and integrate the materials and energy flows in isolation; besides, the only economically feasible way is to keep the distances short). On the other hand, it is evident that the difficulties that arise from combining two orientations increase together with the scale of the system: the greater the employed flows of materials and energy, the greater the difficulties, either of making them biocompatible or of closing them in the industrial ecology. To decrease these difficulties reducing the employed flows of materials and energy will clash with production processes that we have had so far, and with the final products (in the end, it is the amount and quality of products demanded by society that determines the magnitude of these flows). Operating in this way entails activating a process of dematerialisation of social demand for a better quality of life. This expression signifies a drastic decrease in the amount (and in the material intensity 10) of the products and services necessary for a socially acceptable quality of life, together with a collateral decrease in the flows of materials and energy employed. 9

Cf. Hawken (1993, 1999); Pauli (1997, 1999); Fussler and James (1996); McDonough and Braungart (2002). 10 Material intensity referring to products or services, implies the quantity of natural resources necessary for a service unit (e.g. transportation of one person for 1 km, 1 kg of cleaned laundry, 1 m2 of painted surface etc.).

Design for Environmental Sustainability  

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