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.                                                               .
.           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #650           .
.                      ---May 13, 1999---                       .
.                          HEADLINES:                           .
.                   CLEAN PRODUCTION, PART 1                    .
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Over the past decade, a loose-knit group of environmental
activists, progressive business people and government officials
has developed a new concept for sustainable living. It is called
"clean production" and it is an exciting idea because it offers
hope in a world of bad news, and it offers activists something
to be FOR instead of AGAINST.

Until now, it has not been clear exactly what the phrase "clean
production" might mean. Some people speak of "industrial
ecology" while others discuss "zero waste systems." Now,
FINALLY, a new organization in Canada, called Clean Production
Action, has published a first-rate CITIZEN'S GUIDE TO CLEAN
PRODUCTION[1] and suddenly everything is clear. Written by
Beverley Thorpe, the CITIZEN'S GUIDE tells us what "clean
production" is, why it is important, what organizations are
working to achieve it, and the main strategies that citizens can
pursue at the local level to promote the needed shift to clean

Here we are quoting Beverley Thorpe:

What is Clean Production?

Clean Production is not just about producing things in factories
in a "clean or cleaner way" as some people think. Instead it is
a holistic way of looking at how our design and consumption of
products is causing severe ecological problems. Clean production
offers a way to reverse our current non-sustainable use of
materials and energy.

Clean Production is rooted within circular concepts of
product life cycle and

** implements the Precautionary Approach to material selection
and system and product design [see REHW #586];

** questions the need for products in the first place;

** designs products for durability and reuse;

** minimizes the use of renewable energy, water and raw

** uses non-toxic or safer inputs in production processes;

** re-circulates ecologically safe materials;

** reduces consumption in current material-intensive economies
while maintaining quality of life and materials;

** assures sustainable work;

** protects biological and social diversity;

Clean Production ultimately means the use of renewable energy
and materials, the minimal use of resources, the design of
sustainable products, the production of sustainable food and the
generation of waste that is benign and returnable back into the

Clean Production begins with a systems look at material flows in
society. In particular it looks at the Product Chain: where raw
materials come from, how and where they are processed, what
wastes are generated along the product chain, what products are
made from the materials and what happens to these products
during their use and at the end of their commercial life.

It also questions the need for the product itself. Often the
service that the product provides can be supplied by other
means, using less consumption of materials and energy.

For example, one-use aluminum beverage cans -- even if they are
recycled -- are highly energy intensive and displace tons of
minerals in bauxite mining compared to refillable glass bottles
that are reused on a local basis. Similarly, good reliable
public transport is more efficient than cars because it moves
more people with the same amount of resources and energy. Better
still, we can redesign our systems of habitation to be even more
effective. We can design cities and towns to incorporate a mix
of residential, commercial and retail service that reduces the
need to move from the suburb into the city and back every day.

The Four Elements of Clean Production

According to various definitions developed over the years, there
are four main elements that make up the concept of Clean

1. The Precautionary Approach

When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or
human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if
some cause and effect relationships are not fully established
scientifically. [See REHW #586.] This places the burden of proof
on proponents of an activity to prove there is no safer way of
proceeding, rather than on victims or potential victims of the
activity to prove it will be harmful.

2. The Preventive Approach

It is cheaper and more effective to prevent environmental damage
than to attempt to manage or "cure" it. Prevention requires
examining the entire product life cycle from raw material
extraction to ultimate disposal. It encourages the exploration
of safer alternatives and the development of cleaner products
and technologies. For example, prevention requires process and
product changes to entirely avoid the generation of incinerable
waste streams by designing non-toxic products made from
materials that can be safely recycled or composted.

3. Democratic Control

Clean Production involves all those affected by industrial
activities, including workers, consumers and communities. Access
to information and involvement in decision-making, coupled with
power and resources, will help to ensure democratic control.
Clean Production can only be implemented with the full
involvement of workers and consumers within the product chain.

4. Integrated and Holistic Approach

Society must adopt an integrated approach to environmental
resource use and consumption. We need to think in a systems way.
For each product we buy, we need to have information accessible
about the materials, energy and people involved in making it.
Access to this information would help build alliances for
sustainable production and consumption. Integration also means
taking a holistic approach whereby we don't shift risks between
media or the environment and workers or consumers and don't
create new problems while addressing an older one (e.g., genetic
engineered plants as a replacement for pesticides).

Clean Production Criteria

1. Clean Production systems for food and manufactured
products are

** Non-toxic;

** Energy efficient;

** Made using renewable materials which are routinely
replenished and extracted in a manner that maintains the
viability of the ecosystem and community from which they were

** Made from non-renewable materials previously extracted but
able to be reprocessed in an energy efficient and non-toxic

2. The products are

** Durable and reusable;

** Easy to dismantle, repair and rebuild;

** Minimally and appropriately packaged for distribution using
reusable or recycled and recyclable materials; or

** compostable at the end of their life.

3. Above all, Clean Production systems

** Are non-polluting throughout their entire life cycle;

** Preserve diversity in nature and culture;

** Support the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

4. The life-cycle includes

** The product/^technology design phase;

** The raw material selection and production phase;

** The product manufacture and assemblage phase;

** The consumer use of the product phase;

** The societal management of the materials at the end of the
useful life of the product.

[Now we skip two excellent sections of the CITIZEN'S GUIDE, the
8 reasons why clean production is important, and a brief section
describing some key actors in the field of clean production
research and advocacy. The CITIZEN'S GUIDE then describes 5
strategies that activists can use:]

1. Measuring Resource Use and Working to Reduce Materials and

Several methods exist for advocates to measure resource and
material use that can serve as excellent tools for campaigning
for Clean Production. They provide easily understood visual or
numerical estimates of unsustainable practices and allow
advocates to engage in discussions for change.

Ecological Footprint is one way of measuring the amount of space
we need in a year to supply all our material use and absorb all
our waste. [See REHW #537 and see
~mathiswa and related links.] The results are displayed on a map
as a "footprint" to show how big an area is needed to provide
for the needs/demands of the citizenry of that area  Global
calculations show that we are consuming over one third more than
nature can reproduce. For industrialized countries this rate is
even faster. As mentioned earlier, North American consumption
and waste generation would necessitate 2 extra planet Earths if
the rest of the world copied our production and consumption

[The CITIZEN'S GUIDE describes other techniques for measuring
just how unsustainable our lifestyles have become, and for
determining specific steps we can take to bring them back into
line with the constraints of nature.]

2. Consumer Right to Know: Life Cycle Assessments?

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool to holistically evaluate
the environmental consequences of a product across its entire
life, or from its "cradle to grave." It can be used to support a
decision about a purchase, innovation of production processes or
product approval. LCA is a method to evaluate the environmental
effects associated with any given activity from the initial
gathering of raw material from the earth until the point at
which all residuals are returned to the earth....

Life cycle assessments are not perfect by any means:

** In some ways the pitfalls of LCAs mirror the pitfalls of
attempting to do a "scientifically sound" risk assessment for
chemicals. It depends on the assumptions used and the
availability of data.

** LCAs never factor in social criteria such as who is impacted
and where the materials are extracted or where the product is
made. This is seen as too difficult to quantify on top of all
the other assumptions necessary in analyzing material and energy
flows. Worker and consumer health are included to some degree in
environmental assessments of the data.

Why should we demand life cycle assessments? Because

** Public availability of this type of information will promote
environmental responsibility on the part of producers leading to
process and product innovation and more environmentally sound
product design, rather than a simple focus on facility specific

** It will allow consumers and public interest groups to
independently verify environmental claims made by producers to
ensure that they are not merely "greenwash."

** It allows us to form new coalitions with people affected
along the chain of production, such as trade unions and consumer
groups. In particular it allows advocates, as well as producers,
and government agencies, to identify hot spots during the
life-cycle of a product.

[To be continued]

(Montreal, Canada: Clean Production Action, April 1999).
Available from Clean Production Action, 5964 Avenue Notre Dame
de Grace, Montreal, Que, Canada H4A 1N1; tel: +1 (514)484-4207;
fax: +1 (514)484-2696. E-mail:

Descriptor terms: clean production; sustainability;

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 this material is
distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes.
Environmental Research Foundation provides this electronic
version of RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY free of charge
even though it costs the organization considerable time and money
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                                        --Peter Montague, Editor

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