Yale’s Lifset Honored for Helping to
Build the Field of Industrial Ecology

As editor of the F&ES-based Journal of Industrial Ecology since 1997, Reid Lifset has done more than create a respected academic journal. He has helped the emerging field of industrial ecology develop its identity and boundaries.
Reid Lifset, a research scholar at F&ES and longtime editor-in-chief of Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology, received the International Society for Industrial Ecology’s (ISIE) top prize, the ISIE Society Prize, in July for his work to establish and institutionalize his field.
reid lifset profile
Reid Lifset
As editor of the journal since its inception in 1997, Lifset has helped the emerging field develop its identity and boundaries. And, colleagues say, the journal’s standard of quality has helped legitimize the very principles of industrial ecology as it has attracted an ever-widening community of researchers and practitioners worldwide.
Industrial ecology — which didn’t begin to coalesce into a global field until the 1990s — explores the flow of energy and materials through industrial systems, its effects on the environment, and how economic, political, regulatory and social impacts might transform these systems.
“At a time when the term ‘industrial ecology’ was neither very well established nor well defined, Reid agreed to undertake the task of building a journal around the term,” said Brad Allenby, a professor at the University of Arizona and one of the field’s pioneers. “Through a tremendous amount of hard work, persistence, and a terrific sense of what constitutes a good article and a good journal, Reid has built a respected high quality journal for this field and this society.”
Marian Chertow, an F&ES professor and colleague of Lifset’s for three decades, agreed.
“He is the gatekeeper of the whole field,” she said. “In the nearly 20 years that he’s been the editor, a time when we have really been defining the new field, he's been the decider. If an article gets in the journal, then it is industrial ecology. Over the years the patterns and the clusters of what is industrial ecology become more apparent. And it becomes a field.”
He is the gatekeeper of the whole field... If an article gets in the journal, then it is industrial ecology.
— Marian Chertow
The ISIE prize, which is awarded every two years for contributions to the field of industrial ecology, was announced during the society’s annual conference in Surrey, England. Also receiving the prize was Prof. Roland Clift of the University of Surrey.
Lifset is the second recipient from Yale. In 2007, F&ES Prof. Thomas Graedel, one of the pioneers in the field, received the ISIE prize.
“It’s been gratifying to see the increasing reach of this field,” said Lifset. “The research has gotten increasingly sophisticated over the years. And it has shaped a lot of important debates.”
In addition to editing the journal, Lifset is the Resident Fellow in Industrial Ecology at F&ES and Associate Director of the Industrial Environmental Management Program.
Although some academics and industry leaders have understood the underlying principles of industrial ecology for decades, many trace its beginnings as a field to 1989. That was the year that Robert Frosch and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos, writing in Scientific American, used the analogy of ecology in proposing a systems approach to environmental analysis, management, and policy.

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Within a few years Jared Cohon, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, invited two leaders in the emerging field — Thomas Graedel and Brad Allenby — to teach some Yale courses on the new field. Graedel eventually would be hired as the first professor of industrial ecology and then established the Center for Industrial Ecology at Yale, making the university a global center in the new field.
One of those whom Graedel and Allenby worked with back in the early 1990s was Reid Lifset, who was already exploring some of industrial ecology’s fundamental principles. At the time he was involved in research on extended producer responsibility, an environmental policy strategy that requires manufacturers to take back their products when they become waste, and on waste management more generally. And having already published a monograph series, “Working Papers in Solid Waste Policy,” Lifset also had experience with peer-reviewed publishing.
“I remember walking up the hill one day with Tom and Brad,” Lifset recalls. “And Brad turned to me and said, ‘This field needs a journal. Why don’t you do it, Reid?’
Now in its 19th year, the journal has become the face of the field. The journal has identified major trends in the field, prodded new areas of research, and published numerous special issues that dug deeper into critical emerging areas.
One special issue explored the link between e-commerce and the environment that revealed, among other findings, that substituting “bits for atoms” didn’t necessarily reduce environmental impact. A special issue on nanotechnology called global attention to impacts of nano-manufacturing, while another explored the implications of bio-based products long before public interest in biofuels and other products became mainstream.
During the journal’s early years, Lifset tried to read every single paper related to the field. By 2000, as research emerged from all corners of the planet, it was impossible to keep up. Eventually he had to recruit a network of associate editors to help review all submissions.
“When I started it was easy to have a grasp on the entire literature, and to have read a very large part of it,” Lifset says. “Now that’s just physically impossible... I was recently reading a literature review that said there have been more than 4,400 lifecycle assessments alone published in the peer reviewed literature. That’s just well beyond the ability of one person to stay abreast of.”
lifset gordon industrial ecology
Reid Lifset, right, and Ned Gordon at work on the Journal of Industrial Ecology.
The journal has also become increasingly global in reach. “Guided by Reid, this field extended geographically and culturally from the U.S. to Europe, and in the last years increasingly to Asia, thus achieving ‘internationality’ to a degree few journals display,” said Marina Fischer-Kowalski, a professor at the Institute of Social Ecology Vienna. “And that has proven to be very productive both scientifically and in terms of policy guidance.”
Lifset’s ability to help authors identify path-breaking findings — and write about them in terms that a general readership can understand — has been a key reason for the journal’s success, colleagues say.
“Over the years we’ve had many articles come in that were clearly on topic but didn’t emphasize what we thought was important,” said Ned Gordon, assistant editor of the journal. “Reid in particular has been very good at working with the authors, saying, ‘You’ve got this gem of an idea but it’s hidden… Let’s reorganize and focus.’
“We have produced much better papers as a result. And this was particularly important as the field was just developing.”
PUBLISHED: September 14, 2015
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.