My research interests are driven in significant part by my interest in exploring the intellectual productivity and practical value of tools and frameworks emerging from industrial ecology. This emerging field examines the environmental consequences of production and consumption by studying of the flows of materials and energy in industrial and consumer activities, of the effects of these flows on the environment, and of the influences of economic, political, regulatory, and social factors on the flow, use, and transformation of resources. The objective of industrial ecology is to understand better how we can integrate environmental concerns into our economic activity. My research efforts inform and are informed by my work in setting the intellectual direction of the Journal of Industrial Ecology through my role as editor-in-chief of that publication.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR):
My primary area of research focuses on the emergence, rationales for, and evaluation of EPR (more commonly known as, but not limited to, product take-back). EPR typically takes the form of requirements for producers to “take-back” their products for recycling and waste management. It is a prominent element of emerging efforts to take a product-centered/life cycle-based approach to environmental policy (“integrated product policy” or IPP), a central theme in industrial ecology. I am especially interested in the extent to which EPR has lead to changes in product design. My interests in EPR have led me to work with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and regular columns in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. I am currently researching the role and limitations of local government initiatives in EPR.
Substance flow accounting (SFA) and waste management:
I am interested in the possibility that stocks of waste (e.g., landfills and other waste deposits) may represent a reservoir of materials of economic value that could be used in lieu of virgin material sources. This research is being conducted in the context of a long-running project jointly directed with Prof. Thomas Graedel and Prof. Robert Gordon (Yale Geology Dept.). This research is of interest not only for its own sake but also as a means of testing the efficacy of tools and frameworks emerging in the field of industrial ecology. My current focus is on calculation of dissipative releases of copper, assessment of landfill mining, and the indeterminacy of recycling rate calculations.
Bio-based industries and use of biomass:
Because of concerns about climate change, resource security and rural livelihoods, industrial production based on biologically-sourced raw materials and residuals has generated investment and debate. This is most conspicuous with regard to biopolymers and builds on long standing research and development in biomass fuels. My interest focuses on the evaluation of the environmental consequences of bio-based strategies on a life cycle basis. My work currently focuses on the use of nonwood fibers for papermaking and on efforts to develop approaches for the environmental assessment of bio-based technologies.