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close this bookIndustrial Metabolism: Restructuring for Sustainable Development (UNU, 1994, 376 pages)
close this folderPart 3: Further implications
close this folder12. The precaution principle in environmental management
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentPrecaution and "industrial metabolism"
View the documentPrecaution: A case-study
View the documentHistory of the precaution principle
View the documentThe precaution principle in international agreements
View the documentPrecaution on the European stage
View the documentPrecaution as a science-politics game
View the documentPrecaution on the global stage
View the documentReferences

Precaution and "industrial metabolism"

This book is concerned with directing industrial metabolism towards a closer integration with natural cycles and assimilative capacities. In chapter 1 Robert U. Ayres points out that the state of disruption of these cycles is large and growing, but that the demand on environmental services is falling mainly on common property systems. Ayres also argues that industrial transformations generally promote the cause of efficiency of energy and materials use, but that trends towards more integrated assemblies and blends of natural and artificial substances put limits on substitution and recyclability.

The precautionary principle, as it is discussed in this chapter, will place emphasis on the following:

1. Prevention at source to reduce the discharge of residues that are toxic or environmentally hazardous.

2. Emphasis on a transition from fossil-fuel-based energy sources to energy efficiency, renewable sources (involving cogeneration and much technological inventiveness), and "appropriate-scale" nuclear sources.

3. Promotion of deposit-refund schemes in advance of technological innovation on product development. These schemes would provide cash for conservation where victims cannot otherwise get indemnity from environmental disruption that causes suffering.

All these points are developed below. Suffice it to say here that the precautionary principle is likely to become a significant factor in altering the pattern of industrial activity and pricing. Because the principle is as much political as it is scientific, industry would be wise to anticipate its role and work with non-governmental organizations and governments to define the appropriate response. Such an approach would be novel in its mode of operation, but not in its function. Industry has always tried to anticipate the future and to help shape its influence on the evolution of regulation. Nowadays, however, that will be more of a partnership effort.