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Unintended environmental consequences of improvement actions: A qualitative analysis of systems' structure and behavior
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Industrial Ecology. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Sweden.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7717-600X
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Industrial Ecology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9215-0166
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Industrial Ecology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2459-0311
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Environmental Strategies Research (fms).
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2015 (English)In: Systems research and behavioral science, ISSN 1092-7026, E-ISSN 1099-1743Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

We qualitatively analysed how and why environmental improvement actions often lead to unintended environmental consequences. Different theories are integrated to delineate the underlying system structure causing this system behavior. Causal loop diagram technique is utilized to explore and visualize: how incremental improvements in material and energy efficiency can unintendedly cause consumption to increase; how this consumption rebound effect is linked to generation of waste and pollution; and how this can give rise to social and negative externalities, economic inequalities and other broad unintended consequences in our society. Consumption and incremental innovation are found to be the highest leverage points and reinforcing factors driving unintended environmental consequences in this complex system. The paper in addition explores two potential modes of behaviour dissimilar to those of unintended environmental consequences. These emerging modes of behaviour are product-service systems and environmental policy instruments. Their combination forms a prominent transition pathway from a production-consumption-dispose economy to a so-called circular economy.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2015.
Keyword [en]
Unintended environmental consequences; incremental innovation, consumption rebound effect; causal loop diagram.
National Category
Environmental Management
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-164870DOI: 10.1002/sres.2330ISI: 000379955400006Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-84923340510OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-164870DiVA: diva2:806356
Note

QC 20160812

Available from: 2015-04-20 Created: 2015-04-20 Last updated: 2017-12-04Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Industrial Ecology Approaches to Improve Metal Management: Three Modeling Experiments
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Industrial Ecology Approaches to Improve Metal Management: Three Modeling Experiments
2014 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

A linear model of consumption − produce-use-dispose − has constantly increased the pressure on the environment in recent decades. There has been a great belief that technology will solve the problem, but in many cases it is only partly contributing to the solution. For a full solution, the root causes of problems need to be identified. The drivers-pressures-state-impact-response (DPSIR) framework allows the drivers of a specific problem to be identified by structuring the causal relations between humans and the environment. A state/ impact-based approach can help identify pressures and drivers, and make what can be considered an end-of-pipe response. Rather than that mainstream approach, this thesis adopts a pressure-based driver-oriented approach, which could be considered a proactive approach to environmental resource management.

In physical resource management, material flow analysis (MFA) is one of the tools used for communication and decision support for policy response on resource productivity and pollution abatement. Here, element flow analysis (EFA), a disaggre- gation of MFA for better mass balance, was applied in pollution control and resource management. The pressure-based driver-oriented approach was used to model element flows and thus identify the drivers of problems in order to improve pollution control and resource management in complex systems.

In one case study, a source-storage-transport model was developed and applied in five lakes in the Stockholm region to identify the drivers of copper pollution by monitoring the state of the environment through element flow modeling linking diffuse sources and fate in the lakes. In a second case study, a system dynamics modeling approach was applied in dynamic element flow modeling of the global mobile phone product system to investigate the drivers for closing the material flow loop through a sensitivity analysis. In a third case study, causal loop diagram modeling was used for proactive resource management to identify root causes of a problem in a complex system (product systems of physical consumer goods) by qualitatively analyzing unintended environmental consequences of an improvement action.

In the case study on lakes in the Stockholm region, the source-transport-storage model proved capable of predicting copper sources through monitoring the sediment copper content in the heavily copper-polluted lakes. The results also indicated how the model could help guide policy makers in controlling copper pollution. The system dynamics study proposed an eco-cycle model of the global mobile phone product system by tuning the drivers, which could lessen the pressures on resources by decreasing the resource demands for production and increasing resource recovery at product end-of- life. The causal loop diagram study showed that a broader systems approach is required to understand and identify the drivers for proactive resource management in a complex system, where improvement actions can lead to unintended consequences. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2014. xiii, 34 p.
Series
TRITA-IM-LIC 2014, 2014:01
Keyword
system dynamics, element flow analysis, industrial ecology, product systems, end-of-life, DPSIR, pressure-based driver-oriented approach, environmental management
National Category
Environmental Management Energy Systems
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-164872 (URN)978-91-7595-396-0 (ISBN)
Presentation
2015-05-08, Sal D3, Lindstedtsvägen 5, KTH, Stockholm, 13:00
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20150420

Available from: 2015-04-20 Created: 2015-04-20 Last updated: 2015-04-20Bibliographically approved
2. The Karma of Products: Exploring the Causality of Environmental Pressure with Causal Loop Diagram and Environmental Footprint
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Karma of Products: Exploring the Causality of Environmental Pressure with Causal Loop Diagram and Environmental Footprint
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Environmental pressures from consumer products and mechanisms of predetermination were examined in this thesis using causal loop diagram (CLD) and life cycle assessment (LCA) footprinting to respectively illustrate and provide some indicators about these mechanisms. Theoretical arguments and their practical implications were subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis, using secondary and primary data. A study integrating theories from various research fields indicated that combining product-service system offerings and environmental policy instruments can be a salient aspect of the system change required for decoupling economic growth from consumption and environmental impacts. In a related study, modes of system behaviour identified were related to some pervasive sustainability challenges to the design of electronic products. This showed that because of consumption and investment dynamics, directing consumers to buy more expensive products in order to restrict their availability of money and avoid increased consumption will not necessarily decrease the total negative burden of consumption. In a study examining product systems, those of washing machines and passenger cars were modelled to identify variables causing environmental impacts through feedback loops, but left outside the scope of LCA studies. These variables can be considered in LCAs through scenario and sensitivity analysis. The carbon, water and energy footprint of leather processing technologies was measured in a study on 12 tanneries in seven countries, for which collection of primary data (even with narrow systems boundaries) proved to be very challenging. Moreover, there were wide variations in the primary data from different tanneries, demonstrating that secondary data should be used with caution in LCA of leather products. A study examining pre-consumer waste developed a footprint metric capable of improving knowledge and awareness among producers and consumers about the total waste generated in the course of producing products. The metric was tested on 10 generic consumer goods and showed that quantities, types and sources of waste generation can differ quite radically between product groups. This revealed a need for standardised ways to convey the environmental and scale of significance of waste types and for an international standard procedure for quantification and communication of product waste footprint. Finally, a planning framework was developed to facilitate inclusion of unintended environmental consequences when devising improvement actions. The results as a whole illustrate the quality and relevance of CLD; the problems with using secondary data in LCA studies; difficulties in acquiring primary data; a need for improved waste declaration in LCA and a standardised procedure for calculation and communication of the waste footprint of products; and systems change opportunities for product engineers, designers and policy makers.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm, Sweden: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2016. 77 p.
Series
TITRA-IM-PHD, 2016:01
Keyword
Products, Environmental Pressure, Causal Loop Diagram, Environmental Footprint
National Category
Environmental Engineering Other Environmental Engineering
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-184223 (URN)978-91-7595-910-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-05-11, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Sing-Sing, våningsplan 2, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

Jury committee

Henrikke Baumann, Associate Professor

Chalmers University of Technology

Department of Energy and Environment

Division of Environmental System Analysis

Joakim Krook, Associate Professor

Linköpings Universitet

Department of Management and Engineering (IEI) / Environmental Technology and Management (MILJÖ)

Karl Johan Bonnedal, Associate Professor

Umeå University

Umeå School of Business and Economics (USBE)

Sofia Ritzén, Professor

KTH Royal Institute of Technology

School of Industrial Engineering and Management

Department of Machine Design

Integrated Product Development

QC 20160405

Available from: 2016-04-08 Created: 2016-03-30 Last updated: 2016-04-11Bibliographically approved
3. Beyond Waste Management: Challenges to Sustainable Global Physical Resource Management
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Beyond Waste Management: Challenges to Sustainable Global Physical Resource Management
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Current physical resource management (PRM) was investigated in a global perspective in this thesis, to gain a deeper understanding of its implications in a sustainability perspective. In particular, the main challenges to the current PRM system and the kinds of systemic changes needed for sustainable PRM were examined. In five separate studies, different theoretical and practical challenges to current PRM approaches were analysed. A descriptive literature review, causal loop diagrams and semi-structured interviews were performed to gather qualitative and quantitative inferences. Perspectives from industrial ecology, life cycle thinking, systems thinking and environmental philosophy were then applied to analyse global resource/waste management issues.

The analysis resulted in an overview of the global ecological sustainability challenges to current PRM and identification of major challenges to the global waste management system. Causal loop diagrams were used to qualitatively analyse the structure and behaviour of production and consumption systems responsible for unintended environmental consequences of purposive actions to improve material and energy efficiencies. Ways in which resource quality could be maintained throughout the system of production and consumption systems were determined by identifying challenges facing product designers while closing the material loops. A planning framework was devised to operationalise the sustainable development demands in society, including production and consumption systems.

A broader systems approach is proposed for future sustainable global PRM, focusing on ensuring societal functions within the human activity system. The approach involves designing and managing anthropogenic stocks of physical resources to reduce inflows of physical resources and outflows of wastes and emissions. Life cycle-based databases linking resource consumption with waste generation are needed for improved global PRM.

Abstract [sv]

I denna avhandling undersöktes fysisk resursanvändning i ett globalt perspektiv, för att få en djupare förståelse av dess konsekvenser i ett hållbarhetsperspektiv. Framför allt undersöktes de största utmaningarna med den aktuella fysiska resurshanteringen och vilka typer av systemförändringar som krävs för en hållbar fysisk resurshantering. I fem studier analyserades olika teoretiska och praktiska utmaningar för den nuvarande fysiska resurshanteringen. Litteraturstudier, kausala loopdiagram och semistrukturerade intervjuer genomfördes för att samla kvalitativ och kvantitativ information. Perspektiv från industriell ekologi, livscykeltänkande, systemtänkande och miljöfilosofi tillämpades för att analysera globala resurs- och avfallshanteringsfrågor.

Analysen resulterade i en översikt av den nuvarande fysiska resurshanteringens globala ekologiska hållbarhetsutmaningar och identifiering av stora utmaningar för den globala avfallshanteringen. Kausala loopdiagram användes för att kvalitativt analysera strukturen och beteendet hos de produktions- och konsumtionssystem som gör att ändamålsenliga åtgärder för att förbättra material- och energieffektivitet får oavsiktliga negativa miljökonsekvenser. Hur resurskvalitet kan upprätthållas i produktions- och konsumtionssystemen som helhet bestämdes genom att identifiera de utmaningar som produktdesigners möter när de sluter kretslopp av material. En planeringsmodell utformades för att operationalisera kraven på hållbar utveckling i samhället, bland annat produktions- och konsumtionssystem.

Ett bredare systemtänkande föreslås för en hållbar global fysisk resursförvaltning i framtiden, med fokus på att säkerställa samhällsfunktioner inom det mänskliga aktivitetssystemet. Tillvägagångssättet innebär att utforma och hantera antropogena fysiska resurser i syfte att: minska inflödet av fysiska resurser; och utflödet av avfall och utsläpp. Livscykelbaserade databaser som länkar resursanvändning till avfallsgenerering behövs för att förbättra den globala fysiska resursförvaltningen.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2016. 145 p.
Series
TRITA-IM, ISSN 1402-7615 ; 2016:03
Keyword
Sustainable global physical resource management, global waste management, systems thinking, life cycle thinking, planning framework, global environmental justice, circular economy
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-186517 (URN)978-91-7595-917-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-06-09, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Projects
India4EU
Note

QC 20160516

Available from: 2016-05-16 Created: 2016-05-12 Last updated: 2016-05-16Bibliographically approved

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Laurenti, RafaelSingh, JagdeepSinha, Rajib

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