SD Features
Sustainability Concepts
Zero Emissions
A. Definition

Zero Emissions represents a shift from the traditional industrial model in which wastes are considered the norm, to integrated systems in which everything has its use. It advocates an industrial transformation whereby businesses emulate the sustainable cycles found in nature and where society minimizes the load it imposes on the natural resource base and learns to do more with what the earth produces.

B. Main Features

The Zero Emissions concept envisages all industrial inputs being used in final products or converted into value-added inputs for other industries or processes. In this way, industries are reorganized into clusters such that each industry's wastes / by-products are fully matched with the input requirements of another industry, and the integrated whole produces no waste of any kind. This technique is based on the well-established economic analysis tool known as the input/output approach.

From an environmental perspective, the elimination of waste represents the ultimate solution to pollution problems that threaten ecosystems at global, national and local levels. In addition, full use of raw materials, accompanied by a shift towards renewable sources, means that utilization of the earth's resources can be brought back to sustainable levels.

For business, Zero Emissions can mean greater competitiveness and represents a continuation of its inevitable drive towards efficiency. First came productivity of labor and capital, and now comes the productivity of raw materials - producing more from less. Zero Emissions can therefore be understood as a new standard of efficiency and integration. For businesses, the fundamental issue is how to organize industrial clusters based on the Zero Emissions concept. In this context, case studies and demonstration projects are being developed to show how the Zero Emissions approach differs from other pollution prevention strategies. To summarize, the control and reduction of emissions from industrial pollution sources has gone through three phases:

  • End-of-pipe pollution control technologies and practices dealing with wastes and emissions after they have been created.
  • Cleaner Production - application of integrated preventive environmental strategies to processes, products and services to increase efficiencies and reduce risks to the environment and humans. The goal is to avoid generating pollution in the first place and thus reduce costs and risks.
  • Zero Emissions - altered production technologies and approaches (including computer modeling and design of integrated industrial clusters), which individually and collectively can move business toward greatly reduced inputs and resource consumption.
The central challenge for businesses posed by the Zero Emission approach is how to maximize resource productivity at the firm/inter-firm level, rather than simply minimizing wastes or pollution associated with a given product. Under the Zero Emissions approach, long term sustainability depends on massive reductions in the generation of waste and pollution. This, in turn, implies a comparable reduction in the extraction and processing of virgin raw materials, and a gradual closure of the materials cycle.

These changes should be initiated, and implemented first, by businesses in the industrialized countries that now account for most of the world's material and energy consumption. UNU Zero Emissions argues that waste reduction and dematerialization can be made economically favourable. There are major opportunities for savings at the process level. These opportunities would be substantially increased in the event of higher energy prices, whether due to government policy or simply from gradual exhaustion of the cheapest international sources.

C. Case Studies and Examples

1. Kawasaki City, Japan:
The Kawasaki Eco-Town project aims to create a zero-emission industrial park in which the activities of all those concerned will be coordinated in an environmentally friendly manner. The zero-emission industrial park will be a resource-recycling industrial park. The individual industrial firms within the industrial park not only will reduce their own emissions but also will effectively utilize or recycle into usable resources the emissions from other facilities located there. In connection with all these efforts, the firms will strive to continually reduce their operations' impact on the environment.

2. Asahi Brewery, Japan:
For years, Asahi had been making efforts to reuse industrial wastes, including using excess yeast in pharmaceuticals and foods-after processing it at pharmaceutical and food plants-and reprocessing cans. Through these efforts it had achieved an overall trash recycling rate of 98.5%. In order to attain the goal of zero emissions, it conducted studies to identify what plant wastes were not yet being recycled and then sought out a specialist to undertake the recycling of these wastes, by type of raw material, and contracted this work to them.

D. Target Sectors / Stakeholders The Zero emissions concept is primaruly targeted at private sector companies and businesses, but local governments have also increasingly adopted the idea as a policy option to be implemented at the city level.

E. Scale of Operation

The Zero Emissions concept is applied at the level of an industry or business.

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