Process eco-innovation: assessing meso-level eco-efficiency in industrial water-service systems

Levidow, Les; Lindgaard-Jørgensen, Palle; Nilsson, Åsa; Skenhall, Sara Alongi and Assimacopoulos, Dionysis (2016). Process eco-innovation: assessing meso-level eco-efficiency in industrial water-service systems. Journal of Cleaner Production, 110 pp. 54–65.



Eco-innovation combines economic advantage with lower ecological-resource burdens. Eco-innovation has been generally directed at energy input-substitutes, component recycling, etc. Some companies have made investments reducing resource burdens in the production process. This study investigated options for eco-efficiency improvement in two large manufacturing companies, Volvo and Arla Foods. Their impetus for eco-innovation comes from the companies' environmental policies, as well as from external drivers such as future higher costs and resource scarcity. Relative to their respective industrial sector, these companies represent strong prospects for reducing resource burdens in water-service processes, especially from chemical inputs and wastewater. Such eco-innovations involve more complex interactions beyond the production site, so the options warrant a whole-system comparative assessment.

The EcoWater project has analysed the entire water-service value chain through meso-level interactions among heterogeneous actors (process-water users, providers and wastewater treatment companies). The project has developed a methodology to obtain the necessary information, to involve stakeholders in the assessment and to facilitate their discussion on alternative options. Each study stimulated internal company discussions on the need and means to evaluate whole-system effects of investment decisions. Inter-organisational cooperation helped to anticipate how meso-level resource efficiency relates to lower burdens in wastewater treatment.

The assessment method can be extended to any water-service system. By comparing options, the method can facilitate better decisions improving meso-level resource efficiency. As wider implications, some improvement options may complicate ‘eco-innovation’ as double-eco benefits: win-win for whom, where and what level?

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