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close this bookIndustrial Metabolism: Restructuring for Sustainable Development (UNU, 1994, 376 pages)
close this folderPart 1: General implications
close this folder4. Industrial restructuring in developing countries: The case of India
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIndustrial metabolism and sustainable development
View the documentIndustry and sustainable development
View the documentResource utilization
View the documentEnergy efficiency: An overview
View the documentEnergy use in Indian industry: A case-study
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences

Industry and sustainable development

The industrial base of developing countries is undergoing diversification and moving into more capital-intensive areas such as metal products, chemicals, machinery, and equipment. Heavy industries, traditionally the most polluting, have grown in relation to light industries (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). The expected growth in these industries foreshadows rapid increases in pollution and resource degradation unless care is taken to control pollution and waste (especially hazardous wastes) and to increase recycling and re-use. However, these options have to be economically viable for them to be adopted. In several industrialized countries efforts at recycling have not been successful, because the large quantum of energy used and the other costs involved in the recycling process render these possibilities economically unattractive. This is in line with Georgescu-Roegen's view that since dissipated matter is inevitably lost, only "garbo junk" is recycled (GeorgescuRoegen, 1980). Further, recycling tends to be labour-intensive, and for most industrialized countries labour costs are high. Also, pollution-control measures often require heavy capital investments at the initial stage. In most developing countries, with constraints in access to capital resources, these measures are often not acceptable even when they are economically viable.

Industry has an impact on the natural environment through the entire cycle of raw materials exploration and extraction, transformation into products, energy consumption, waste generation, and use and disposal of products by the final consumers. If industrial growth is to be sustainable over the long run, it will have to change radically in terms of its quality. This does not necessarily suggest a quantitative limit to industrialization in developing countries. However, governments and international funding agencies could encourage those industries and industrial processes which are more efficient in terms of resource use, which generate less pollution and waste, which are based on the use of renewable rather than non-renewable resources, and which minimize irreversible adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

With the emergence of new process technologies that reduce the length of process chains, the possibilities of efficiency in resource use are enormous. The developing countries could take advantage of improvements in the efficiency of resource use already achieved in industrialized countries, and by adapting them to local conditions could not only reduce environmental costs but also "stretch" the resource base.

The increasing pressure on non-renewable resources (petroleum, copper, etc.), as well as the increasing constraints on sinks (ozone depletion, deforestation, dumping of solid wastes, etc.), suggest that throughput in the world economy has reached the global biophysical limits, and partially even surpassed them (Meadows et al., 1992). Yet it is neither ethical nor efficient from an environmental point of view to expect the developing countries to cut or arrest their industrial growth, which has the potential to absorb the large and growing population of the South. In the future, however, more growth for the poor must be balanced by negative throughput growth for the rich.