People with interests in the field of Industrial Ecology from around the world gathered in the city of Leiden (Netherlands) from the 2nd to the 5th of July. They met for the conference set up by the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE). The overall theme was "transitions in a world of turmoil". For some, this mainly stirs up thoughts of sectoral transitions like in the energy, construction, or mining sector. Others think of cultural transition. I thought of my own transition, specifically how I perceive and evaluate problems of global climate change and biodiversity loss that, especially in our field IE, we are faced with on a daily basis. I assume everyone thought a bit about all of it.
As the theme states, we are "in a world of turmoil", turmoil is (according to Oxford Languages) "a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty." In this case I would exchange the "or" with an "and". This turmoil became very visible as the conference symbolically ended with the greatest storm ever recorded in the Netherlands for summer months. Two people died (not related to the conference), and the country was on code red shut down most of the day. But most staff and visitors of the conference went through the storm to shelter in the university building Kamerlingh Onnes Gebouw (KOG - mind your pronunciation), wherein the search for a better way forward was unfaltering.
A better way forward has for a long time been painted in the colors of improving technology and efficiency. But at the ISIE2023 we saw a remarkable focus on "limits to growth" and/or "de-growth", planetary boundaries, and critique of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as indicator of welfare, all being mentioned by multiple keynote speakers. This indicates a life-style transition, a rather hot topic on the conference.
With that in mind, the transition to a more sustainable life-style must be mapped, and I suspect it to be a more complex issue than that of the transition to green energy - alone in terms of being more cross-disciplinary from humanities to natural sciences. That being said, IE is in the eye of the storm (as it was quite literally). We can evaluate the potential impacts from industry and human societies to ecosystems, and I saw some working with feedback models - so industry to ecosystems, and then ecosystems to industry impacts as well. I felt a recognition that we are part of the ecosystem, not the user of it.
I have been inspired by how much complexity our modelling tools can sometimes encompass, although admittedly I sometimes think that maybe we are overcomplicating our quantitative approach when in fact the problem is something else. Many asked: "How do we get word to the policy-makers?". Greta Thunberg's name was mentioned more than once, she has said: "For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away..." And here we were, repeating our science, but somehow our message does not go through well enough.
Maybe science is sometimes too dull to attract the interest of the masses. One alternative shot at getting the message out there was setting up the "creative abstracts". Here people sang, animated, painted, and poetically rhymed out their work. At NTNU we made a board-game where the player must balance between meeting energy-demands and avoiding biodiversity impacts on an island in the midst of green transition and growth. And that won a 1st place for Dafna Gilad's creative group.
From NTNU, Francesca Verones also managed to set up a special session focusing solely on "Biodiversity Loss and Impact Indicators in LCA [Life Cycle Assessment]", stealing some of the typical spotlight from climate change and energy transition. And then we, the "biodiversity enthusiasts", expanded our reach outside of LCA as Jan Borgelt presented results of an input-output (IO) study.
As we were in the midst of the mindboggling problems we ask ourselves to solve, the pressure of their urgency, and the frustrations of seeing almost any trendline continuing towards damnation, we took a break. On the 4th of July many attendants met for drinks and food in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center for a rather unique opportunity to cheers with the long extinct T-rex.
I think the best part of the conference, was seeing old and new friends within this international society of industrial ecologists, both on a professional, but also less professional level. Till next time!