|Abstract: ||The aim of this thesis is to support the evaluation of sustainable development strategies for industrial networks in the context of industrial ecology (IE). Industrial networks are a group of units which carry out, or contribute to, industrial activity, and are connected by material and energy flows, but also capital and information exchanges. The components of an industrial network encompass resource extraction, processing and refining, forming and assembly, use, disposal, as well as recycling and reprocessing. The motivation behind this research is the realisation that much of the current environmental system analysis focus within IE lacks a structured approach to considering:
• system environment
• dynamic nature of the system and its environment
• economic and social impacts
• the effect of uncertainty on analysis outcomes.
It is argued in this thesis that current environmental analysis approaches used in IE can be improved in their capacity to capture the complexity of industrial systems, with the objective of promoting sustainable development. While IE emphasises the benefit of a systems approach to identifying environmental strategies in industry, analysis tools have to date not engaged extensively with important aspects such as the influence of system environment and dynamics on the viability of an environmental strategy, or with the economic or social impacts of industrial system development, which are equally important for sustainable development. Nor is the assessment of the effect of uncertainty on analysis outcomes an integral part of environmental analysis tools in IE. This is particularly significant when, in fact, the degree of uncertainty in assumptions and data used increases with the scope, and therefore the abstraction, of the system under consideration.
IE will have to engage with the network and contextual complexities to a greater degree if it is to evolve from a concept to the application of its principles in practice. The main contribution of this thesis is therefore the development of a structured approach to analysing industrial networks for the purpose of identifying strategies to encourage sustainable development, while accounting for the complexity of the underlying system as well as the problem context. This analysis is intended to allow the identification of preferred network development pathways and to test the effectiveness of sustainable development strategies. A top-down, prescriptive approach is adopted for this purpose. This approach is chosen as the industrial network analysis is intended to identify how a network should develop, rather than focusing on how it could develop.
Industrial networks are systems which are complex in both their structure and behaviour. This thesis also delivers a characterisation of these networks, which serves two purposes – quantifying key elements of structure and behaviour; and using this information to build a foundation for subsequent industrial network analysis. The value of such an approach can be seen in the following example. With a detailed understanding of individual network characteristics, both separately and collectively, it is possible to determine the source of issues, the means available to address them, any barriers that might exist, and the consequences of implementing any strategic interventions.
The analysis approach proposed in this thesis is based on multi-criteria decisions analysis (MCDA), which, as a process, combines initial problem structuring and subsequent quantitative analysis stages. The tools employed within MCDA have been employed variously around considerations of sustainable development. Their value in this thesis is their integration within a rigorous analytical framework. Rigorous problem structuring is attractive as it helps elucidate the complexities of the system and its environment and is, by definition, designed to deal with multiple environmental social and economic criteria that would have to be considered to promote sustainable development. For the quantitative analysis, the industrial network analysis draws from existing analysis tools in IE, but predominately from other systems research disciplines, such as process systems engineering (PSE) and supply chain management (SCM). These fields, due to their maturity and practical focus, have invested a lot of research into system design and strategic planning, capturing system dynamics and uncertainty to ensure, within selected system constraints, that a proposed system or changes to a system are viable, and that the system is capable of achieving the stated objectives. Both PSE and SCM rely heavily on optimisation for system design and planning, and achieve good results with it as an analytical tool. The similarity between industrial networks and process systems / supply chains, suggests that an optimisation platform, specifically multi-objective dynamic optimisation, could be employed fruitfully for the analysis of industrial networks. This is the approach taken in this thesis. It is consistent with the “top down” approach advocated previously, which is deemed preferable for the identification and implementation analysis of strategic interventions. This enables the determination of a structure (design) that is “best” able to operate under future conditions (planning) with respect to the chosen sustainable development objectives.
However, an analysis is only ever as good as its underlying data and assumptions. The complexity and scope of the industrial network and the challenge of articulating sustainable development target(s) give rise to significant uncertainties. For this reason a framework is developed within this thesis that integrates uncertainty analysis into the overall approach, to obtain insight into the robustness of the analysis results. Quantifying all the uncertainties in an industrial network model can be a daunting task for a modeller, and a decision-maker can be confused by modelling results. Means are therefore suggested to reduce the set of uncertainties that have to be engaged with, by identifying those which impact critically on model outcomes. However, even if uncertainty cannot be reduced, and the implementation of any strategy retains a degree of risk, the uncertainty analysis has the benefit that it forces an analyst to engage in more detail with the network in question, and to be more critical of the underlying assumptions.
The analysis approach is applied to two case studies in this thesis: one deals with waste avoidance in an existing wood-products network in a large urban metropolis; the other with the potential for renewable energy generation in a developing economy. Together, these case studies provide a rich tableau within which to demonstrate the full features of the industrial network analysis. These case studies highlight how the context within which the relevant industrial network functions influences greatly the evolution of the network over time; how uncertainty is managed; and what strategies are preferred in each case in order to enhance the contribution of each network to sustainable development.
This thesis makes an intellectual contribution in the following areas:
• the characterisation of industrial networks to highlight sources of environmental issues, role the characteristics (could) play in the identification of (preferred) sustainable development strategies, and the need to explicitly consider these in a systems analysis.
• the synthesis, adaptation and application of existing tools to fulfil the need for analysis tools in IE that can handle both contextual and system complexity, and address the above mentioned issues of lacking consideration of
o system environment
o dynamic nature of the system and its environment
o economic and social impacts
o the effect of uncertainty on analysis outcomes.
• the development and demonstration of an industrial network analysis approach that
o is flexible enough to model any industrial network at the inter-firm level, regardless of form and configuration of materials and products circulated, and depending on the existing network and the proposed strategies.
o is able to encompass a wide range of environmental strategies, either individually or in combination depending on what best suits the situation, rather than focusing on any strategy in particular.
o ensures long term viability of strategies, rather than short term solutions delivering incremental improvement.
• the development of a comprehensive approach to capturing and assessing the effect of uncertainty on solution robustness for industrial network analysis, including the screening to determine the most important parameters, considering valuation and technical uncertainties, including future uncertainty.
The industrial network analysis approach presented in this thesis looks more to how a network should develop (according to a set of sustainable development objectives), rather than how it may in actual fact develop. Consequently, the influence of agent interests and behaviour is not considered explicitly. This may be construed as a limitation of the industrial analysis approach. However, it is argued that the “top down” modelling approach favoured here is useful at a policy-making level. Here, for example, government instrumentalities, trade organisations and industry groupings, non-government organisations and community-based organisations are likely to be interested more in the performance of the network as a whole, rather than (necessarily) following the behaviour of individual agents within the network. Future work could well entertain the prospect of a mixed approach, in which the top-down approach of this thesis is complemented by a “bottom-up”, agent-based analysis. In this manner, it would be possible to give an indication of how attainable the identified industrial network development pathways are. Furthermore, the use of government incentives can be explored to assess if network development could approach the preferred development pathway which is identified using the methodology and results articulated in this thesis.|