Yale journal identifies products that cause greatest environmental damage

October 24, 2006

New Haven, Conn. -- Cutting-edge research identifying the types of products that cause the greatest environmental damage is the focus of a special issue of Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Seventy percent to 80 percent of the total environmental impact is from automobiles, air transport, food (meat and dairy, chief among them), home and related energy use, including heating, cooling and energy-using appliances.

Contributors to the special issue, Priorities for Environmental Product Policy, examined the impacts of products in Cardiff, Wales, in Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, and in the European Union (EU) as a whole.

The most recent and influential studies on the relative impact of consumption activities are featured. All independently conducted, the studies conclude that a consistent and robust priority list of product groups can serve as a guide for environmental improvement programs undertaken by industry and government.

In many countries, environmental policy that is centered on production, use and disposal of products, rather than just pollution from smokestacks and drainpipes, is gaining acceptance. The European Union and China are banning hazardous substances from electrical and electronic products, for example, and Japan is implementing a green purchasing law.

"The research findings reported in the special issue are important because they help pinpoint the most problematic types of consumption, which include activities that are now commonplace in our lives such as air transport," said Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "That should lead to clearer priorities and better decisions."

"This special issue demonstrates the power of industrial ecology," says Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Ecology. "Concepts and tools that lie at the core of this field, such as life-cycle assessment and input-output analysis, help us to gain a much better understanding of the relative importance of specific categories of consumption for the pressures on the environment."
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The Journal of Industrial Ecology is a peer-reviewed international quarterly owned by Yale University, published by MIT Press, and headquartered at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The special issue is based in part on research prepared for the EU-funded project Environmental Impacts of Products (EIPRO). The project was led by Dutch research organizations TNO and CML, and provides an important basis for the EU's Integrated Product Policy.

Arnold Tukker, manager of the Sustainable Innovation Program at TNO and manager of EIPRO, served as guest editor. The articles in the special issue are available in electronic form through www.mitpressjournals.org/toc/jiec/10/3.

Yale University

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