Industrial Practices, Sustainable Development and Circular Economy: Mitigation of Reductionism and Silo Mentality in the Industry

Industrial Practices, Sustainable Development and Circular Economy: Mitigation of Reductionism and Silo Mentality in the Industry

Maarten J. Verkerk (Maastricht University, The Netherlands) and Frans Visscher (SABIC, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8006-5.ch004

Abstract

The 2015 Paris agreement challenges the industry to realize their sustainability goals. The objective of this chapter is to support engineers from R&D departments in the chemical process industry to develop processes and systems that are in agreement with these goals. The authors propose the so-called Triple I model that offers three perspectives to direct the development of sustainable practices. This model encourages engineers to identify all relevant aspects, to integrate the knowledge of different disciplines, and to meet the justified interests of stakeholders. In this chapter, the importance of ideals and basic beliefs is highlighted. First of all, ideals and basic beliefs place the sustainable development of the process industry in a broader perspective. In addition, ideals and basic beliefs motivate people to face the challenges of the 2015 Paris agreement and encourage them to develop sustainable solutions.
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Introduction

Since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the idea of a sustainable future has acquired solid ground in global and national politics. It is widely believed that the idea of a sustainable future refers not only to ecological values but also to social and economic values. The United Nations defined the Sustainable Development Goals under the title ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. It is a collection of 17 global goals with subsequent targets (UN, 2015).

The development goals cover the following social, economic and ecological development issues: poverty, hunger and food, health and well-being, education, gender equality, water and sanitation, sustainable energy, sustainable energy and work for all, sustainable industrialization, reduction inequality, urbanization, sustainable consumption and production, climate change, sustainable use of oceans and seas, sustainable use of ecosystems, peaceful and just societies, and global partnership for sustainable development.

Recently, Kate Raworth (2017) has argued that the limits of a sustainable future are determined by two factors: a social-economic minimum and an ecological maximum. She argues that a stable societal order only can develop when all countries and all population groups in these countries have reached this social-economic minimum. She proposes the following topics to constitute such a minimum: food, health, education, income & work, peace & justice, political voice, social equity, gender equality, housing, networks, and energy. Additionally, she claims that a stable ecological order requires all countries to limit their environmental load to the capacity of our planet. It goes within saying that social-economic minimum is undercut by many countries and by many population groups in rich countries. At the same time, our ecological maximum is already exceeded globally.

The industrial sector is challenged to contribute to a sustainable future. In this chapter we focus on the chemical process industry. The chemical process industry has joined forces to accelerate a sustainable development. European policy makers have launched innovation programs like Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency (SPIRE). Also, they have proposed an ambitious Circular Economy package that covers the whole cycle of materials (EC, 2017). This type of programs and packages are a mixture of visions, values, targets and concrete projects.

One of the main challenges in industry is to mitigate the phenomena of reductionism and silo thinking. Reductionism refers to the idea that the challenges of a sustainable future are completely described in terms of technology and economy. With that, the social, moral and spiritual aspects of sustainability are ignored. Silo thinking refers to the idea that actors think and act too much from their own perspective and overlook the perspective of others.

This inhibits effective communication between different disciplines, and as a consequence, increases the likelihood of invalid assumptions due to insufficient mutual understanding. Silo thinking may occur both within and outside the company. Reductionism and silo thinking result not only in ‘reduced’ and ‘narrowed’ analysis but also in ‘reduced’ and ‘narrowed’ solutions.

Engineers in Research & Development (R&D) play a key role in transforming the chemical process industry. After all, they have to develop processes and systems that meet the requirements for a sustainable future. This brings us to the research question of this chapter: How to support engineers in R&D to mitigate the phenomena of reductionism and silo thinking?

Positively formulated: How to support engineers in R&D to analyze the relevant aspects, to integrate the knowledge of different disciplines, and to meet the justified interests of stakeholders, in order to transform the chemical process industry into a sustainable sector? This research question falls apart in three sub-questions:

  • 1.

    What type of approach is required?

  • 2.

    How to analyze the relevant aspects, to integrate the knowledge of all disciplines, and to do justice to the justified interests of stakeholders?

  • 3.

    How to motivate engineers to find creative solutions and to effectuate change?

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