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Sustainable development and industrial ecology; a review

A threatening misconception is evident in our country about environmental and social protection is that; it comes at an expense of economic development and vice versa. That is, some of the industrialists believe they have only one choice between profit and protection. They believe eco-friendly and socially beneficial business approaches are expensive and cuts profit margin considerably. As a result we see a Lackluster approach from the industrial conglomerates of the country towards society and environment. This misconception can be dangerous for the future generation as without the consideration of our surroundings, environment and people businesses can’t be sustainable. This is a review article for the readers to explain what sustainability and industrial ecology is all about.


Every year the export basket of our country is increasing considerably and we are growing economically. Thanks to the ever growing apparel industry of the country that has been experiencing formidable surge in exports for the last two decades. Today we have a 32 billion USD export industry which is growing every year by 8-9 percent.[4] This is a good sign as with industrialization there is more employment, more economic growth and more investment scopes. But we never pay much heed on how we are developing economically rather than only growing. Growing in numbers doesn’t always indicate development. More industries, more workers, more effort, more resource endowment must results in more cash flow. Today we have around five thousand factories yielding 25 billion USD export earnings; in 2021 hopefully we would reach 50 billion but there must be double the factories, double the workers and double the resource endowment with the present trend. That is, the more we are spending our resources, the more we are earning money as foreign revenue.


This is not what economic development is all about. Economic development can be characterized with the up gradation of the living standards of the mass people, which is not evident today. This is because we are retaining a very small part of our earning and spending the bigger part in the process. Bangladesh is going to be the 23rd largest economy of the world by 2050 is a great news but with the prevailing trend of industrial and business practice the net income from huge cash flows would be very less and not enough to contribute towards economic development. There is no point of economic growth if it is not bringing any change in the life style of the common citizens.

And to add more, all those industrial production and manufacturing of the export goods are coming at a high price of environmental degradation, the loss of which is not being taken into consideration.

The entire above phenomenon makes the industrial sector of the country growing and promising but surely not sustainable.

01Defining sustainable development

Sustainable development is formally defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) as “development that meets the needs of the people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Therefore, sustainable development refers to a shared commitment towards steady economic growth, given that this economic growth does not compromise the satisfactory management of available environmental resources.

Resource allocation, financial investments, and social change are directed in a sound manner that guarantees their sustainability or continuation with time and thus they are made consistent with both future and present needs.

Another notable definition for sustainable development can be given as “economic and social changes that promote human prosperity and quality of life without causing ecological or social damage”. Industries are of course encouraged to flourish but also to realize their impacts on the environment and society around them. It is the balance between three key elements: economy, environment and social equity.

Most importantly, sustainability is nothing very new rather the concept of sustainable development has become a benchmark for years for the developed countries in order to conserve their resources for the future. Sustainability focuses on the interactions and impacts among social, technological, economic and environmental aspects of each other. The elements of environmental, technological, social, and economic growth should reinforce each other thus attaining “win-win” solutions that do not compromise any aspect.

In order to develop a methodology for sustainable development, a number of tools are required. The main tools necessary for implementing sustainable development are cleaner production (CP), environmental management system (EMS), industrial ecology (IE), environmental impact assessment (EIA), and information technologies (IT) etc.


The info graphics in figure 1 shows the environmental and social impacts of textile, clothing and fashion in different stages. In our country textiles are the largest water and energy (gas, power) consumer along with a huge amount of toxic chemicals being used in the production processes. All these have big negative impact on the environment and natural eco-system of the country the consequences of which are easily noticeable in our surroundings. The water levels are going down alarmingly, rivers, canals and lakes dumped with toxic chemicals, open water sources are becoming un-usable, serious power crisis due to shortage of gas; are some of the environmental effects that will start to take its toll very soon if not later.

The other social impacts of the textile and clothing industries are the exploitation of labor conditions and human rights. Around 5 million garments workers along with another two million employees are working in the garments industries of the country and exploitation of their labour rights and human rights are available in news.

The industries that are gaining huge benefits from the country’s natural resources and people, there must be some mechanism for them to give back to the society so that there is something left for the future generation to live on. Sustainability will only be achieved when there is an acceptable balance between the economic growth, environmental protection and societal benefits.

Industrial ecology, a tool for sustainability

Since the beginning of human history, industry has been an open system of materials flow. People transformed natural materials; plant, animal and minerals into tools, clothing and other products. When these materials were worn out they were discarded or dumped, and when the dump-buildup became a problem, the habitants changed their location, which was easy to do at that time due to the small number of habitants and the vast areas of and.But today with the current trend of population growth there is no such escape to change location and move on to other lands. Especially in the developing countries where the density of population is very high, industrialization takes a great impact on the environment, society and eco-system.  Due to globalization the MNCs are developing their production base in those developing regions and thus there is no other alternative to industrialization for countries like Bangladesh for economic development. The more the industrialization the more is the detrimental impacts on environment and society. In this situation there is no other option but to adopt the tools and mechanisms for sustainability. Cleaner production and environmental management systems are in operation in some industries as far as textile industries in our country is concerned. But industrial ecology is a new concept here which can be an effective tool for sustainable industrial development.

Industrial Ecology (IE) is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems. The global industrial economy can be modeled as a network of industrial processes that extract resources from the earth and transform those resources into commodities which can be bought and sold to meet the needs of humanity.


There is a complex energy and material flow in the textile and apparel industry as well and industrial ecology is concerned with the approach towards designing a sustainable system to reuse or dispose the waste in the most economic and environment friendly way. Industrial ecology is the study of industrial systems that operate more like natural ecosystems. A natural ecosystem tends to evolve in such a way that any available source of useful material or energy will be used by some organism in the system. In the industrial ecology it is ensured that the waste from one industry is processed and provided to other (if there is a need) or dispose effectively. The following theories or concepts of industrial ecology can be useful for the industries operating in our country.

♦ Close material loops.

♦ Use energy in a thermodynamically efficient manner; employ energy cascades.

♦ Avoid upsetting the system’s metabolism; eliminate materials or wastes that upset living or inanimate Industrial ecology is the net resultant of interactions among zero pollution, cleaner production, and life cycle analysis according to the cradle-to-cradle concept which is more likely for the textile and garments industries. There are things to optimize in every stage of industrial process as illustrated in the table 1. A 10-line garments industry produces around 300 kg of hard cutting-wastes every day. A 10-ton textile dyeing industry emits 40,000 litres of toxic water every shift. Industrial ecology theories can be helpful for optimizing or redesigning on what to do with those wastes so that they are not doing any harm to the natural ecosystem.



For sustainable development there is no chance to keep environment and society aside. The barriers to sustainability are many. For countries like Bangladesh the technical barriers is a big problem. Industries are not familiar with modern technologies in this regard. It requires a lot of innovation to convert waste into money or prevent it at the source. There are market and informational barriers too. Businesses have financial barriers for ecological investments. There are regulatory problems from the government as well. All these short comings sometimes instigate industrialists to compromise with sustainability issues. But for effective economic development there must be a way out to preserve our resources for the future generations. For sustainable development strategies especially for the textile industrial clusters there should be:

♦  Integration of recycling economy into firm’s development strategy

♦  Carryout cleaner production where required and possible

♦  Improve quality and introduce green product

♦ Develop eco-industrial parks

♦ Accelerate innovation and R&D.


  1. Sustainable Industrial Design and Waste Management; Cradle to Cradle for Sustainable Development by Dr. Salah-El-Heggar, The American University of Cairo
  2. Sustainability in Fashion and Textiles: Values, Design, Production and Consumption, Miguel Angel Gardetti and Ana Laura Torres, Greenleaf Publishing Ltd
  3. Research on Sustainable Development of Textile Industrial Clusters in the Process of Globalization, LI Xiong-yi, School of Management Zhongyuan University of Technology, P.R.China.
  4. Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) statistics 2014-2015
  5. The Financial Express, Business News accessed March, 2016


If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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