Last week was the biennial conference of the International Society of Industrial Ecology, held at the lovely University of California Berkeley. At four days, plus an extra workshop for the Sustainable Urban Systems section, it was a long event but the week went quickly with a number of excellent talks and interesting attendees. Here are some of my highlights:
- Various (Manfred Lenzen’s group), University of Sydney. One of the most popular techniques at the conference was environmentally-extended input-output analysis, i.e. the use of trade data to determine how the consumption of finished goods and services drives upstream resource consumption. The Sydney group are developing a comprehensive tool called Eora which will offer data at much higher resolutions than previously available: 160 countries, 20 to 500 sectors, 5 sets of prices, 2000–2009 time series data, and 34 auxiliary indicators. It’s a massive computing project too, involving an optimization problem of 509,987,242 variables, 6.6 million constraints, and an 8 GB result file.
- Marian Chertow, Yale. A pioneer of industrial symbiosis, Prof. Chertow’s talk examined the slow uptake of these ideas using the language of market intermediation and behavioural economics. Industrial symbioses typically involve by-products and the associated markets can be small, informal and driven by tacit knowledge, hence the need for market intermediaries to identify opportunities and facilitate transactions. From the behaviour economics side, four ideas were identified as barriers to change: the status quo bias, the bystander effect, prospect theory and framing, and the planning fallacy.
- Various (Igor Nikolic’s group), TU Delft. The researchers at TU Delft always present interesting work and this conference was no exception. Among the projects discussed were: the excellent Enipedia, a semantic wiki application for describing global energy systems; an application of the tool to a case study in the port of Rotterdam; an agent-based model to study the planning and operation of the Dutch electricity grid under climate scenarios; and an agent-based model of the metabolism of metals in mobile phones.
- Various, University of Toronto. Chris Kennedy’s Sustainable Infrastructure Group presented a number of good talks including: a model for designing “satellite” district energy systems (where network expansion incorporates the boilers of each building, rather than relying on a single central plant); the PURGE model which uses technology diffusion curves to estimate Pathways to Urban Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (see also Carbon City Planner); and two models looking at heating and cooling in buildings, and the thermodynamic performance of cities.
- Clemens Deilmann, IOER. Data envelopment analysis is an efficiency assessment technique usually applied by the regulators of natural monopolies, such as electricity networks. However Deilmann and colleagues applied it to the ecological and environmental performance of 116 German cities. The results weren’t entirely surprising – “efficient” cities are those of medium population size, with lower levels of debt and more doctors per capita – but it’s an interesting application of the technique.
- Julia Steinberger, University of Leeds. In one of the last talks of the conference, Dr Steinberger gave a high-level overview of the links between economic performance and resource efficiency, and tackled the question of CO2 sufficiency (i.e. how much CO2 is needed for a “good” life?). She had two graphs that were particularly interesting. In this first one, you can see how over time countries have been able to achieve higher standards of living (as measured by the human development index), with successively less energy and carbon (Steinberger and Roberts, 2010).
The second plot, which I can’t find a copy of, was a nice comparison of national carbon emissions from both production and consumption based perspectives.
For my part, I presented some of our recent work on how activity-based modelling can be used to simulate urban resource demands at high spatial and temporal resolutions.
The conference also marked the first time that I have used Org-mode for taking notes and I can highly recommend it. The simple way of thinking in outlines naturally fits a conference format, and you can fold away unused parts of your notes to get a clear workscreen. Even better you can add tags for subject categories, TODOs, and insert hyperlinks, making it easy to review your notes later and find what you’re looking for. It’s likely to be my main note-taking tool for years to come.
Steinberger, J., & Roberts, J. (2010). From constraint to sufficiency: The decoupling of energy and carbon from human needs, 19752005 Ecological Economics, 70 (2), 425-433 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.09.014