A taxonomy of metrics for testing the industrial ecology hypotheses and application to design of freezer insulation

Thomas P. Seager, Thomas L. Theis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Industrial ecology is sometimes referred to as the science of sustainability, but unlike mature sciences, it has yet to establish reliable modes of inquiry or a uniform framework for dialogue - partly because sustainability is difficult to characterize, and partly because industry-environment interactions are difficult to model quantitatively. A number of sustainability metrics have recently been proposed that partially address the quantification problem, but inevitably oversimplify the problem of sustainability characterization. This paper proposes an overarching taxonomy for classifying the quantitative criteria of sustainability as financial, thermodynamic, environmental, ecological, socio-political or aggregated. Several examples are presented. Pollution potential, which is an environmental metric related to the ideal thermodynamic work (of mixing) per mole required to remove pollutants from the environment, is discussed in particular. However, because no single metric can capture sustainability per se, industrial ecology may be limited to elucidating the trade-offs that exist between different types of complementary (rather than substitutable) criteria. The life cycle of polyurethane foam insulation in freezer applications is presented as a quantitative example of how different environmental criteria can lead to different design recommendations. Lastly, the framework proposed herein suggests a research agenda for industrial ecology, especially regarding the linkages between different measures of sustainability and cross-comparison of the investigative methods found in different sciences related to sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)865-875
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue number8-10
StatePublished - Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Exergy
  • Pollution potential
  • Sustainability metrics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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