This editorial recaps and updates an item in the newsletter of the International Society for Industrial Ecology.
Raising the Bar for Symbiosis, Life Cycle Assessment, and Material Flow Analysis Case Studies
Article first published online: 16 JAN 2013
© 2013 by Yale University
Journal of Industrial Ecology
Volume 17, Issue 1, page 1, February 2013
How to Cite
Lifset, R. (2013), Raising the Bar for Symbiosis, Life Cycle Assessment, and Material Flow Analysis Case Studies. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 17: 1. doi: 10.1111/jiec.12003
- Issue published online: 21 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 16 JAN 2013
As industrial ecology develops as a field, the standards for what constitutes an article appropriate for the Journal of
“Of course, any good paper in a scientific journal will be based on an explicit statement of its contribution to human knowledge and societal advancement. The evolution of the standards for symbiosis, LCA, and MFA papers reflects the growing sophistication of industrial ecology research…”
Industrial Ecology (JIE) change.1 When the field was young, there was a need to establish an empirical base so that the research community could have documented characterization of the phenomena of interest—characterizing, as it were, the dependent variable for our investigations. And there was also a need to be able to point to concrete research for practitioners who wanted to understand what industrial ecology was all about. This was especially true of industrial symbiosis, where there was a strong need to build the empirical record to establish that symbiosis—beyond the iconic case of Kalundborg—was really occurring. In other domains—life cycle assessment (LCA) and material flow analysis (MFA)—the need was more to develop methodology and practice. Thus, for industrial symbiosis papers, this often meant documenting the scope and character of eco-industrial parks and industrial ecosystems. The analog for LCA papers is what the LCA community calls LCA case studies: the straightforward application of LCA to a specific product or service (not to be confused with case studies that document the organizational, managerial, or policy context of the use of LCA).
It is now well documented that industrial symbiosis exists and that various forms of symbiosis are being established building on that knowledge. As the articles in last year's special issue on this topic (JIE 16:1)2 show, more systematic empirical work is emerging allowing the testing of hypotheses and the development of theory. There will always be a place for case studies, but the emphasis is shifting to those that are effectively structured to test current claims in the literature in a rigorous fashion.
With the widespread use of LCA software, producing an LCA has gone from an exotic task to one that is common, almost routine. So, as expertise spreads and the research literature evolves, what is novel evolves. It will come as no surprise to most in our community that the JIE receives a considerable number of submissions of LCA case studies. Given the evolution of the field and the finite page budget in the JIE, it is important that LCA case studies make a contribution to the literature. They must
- bring new data into the literature (including the provision of substantial raw, documented, or important data),
- employ a novel methodology, or
- shed light on a specific topic or problem of interest or significance.
Regarding the first criterion, the threshold is high: providing data in an important sector/field that have hitherto not been analyzed with the LCA lens or data derived in a new and novel manner that significantly alters our view of the impacts of the system under study.
As with industrial symbiosis and LCA, MFA research has come a long way. A methodology has been put in place and a range of studies at various scales provide exemplars and an initial body of empirical understanding. So, here too, submissions need to provide a contribution, and in many cases that means articles need to go beyond providing an accounting of material flows; they must move theory, our understanding of substantive issues, or the methodology forward.
To assist the reviewers and editors and to expedite the review process, the JIE will start asking that authors describe the contribution of their article as part of the submission process. This, it is hoped, will reinforce the need for authors to make clear and specify precisely what their work adds to the research literature and how it relates to existing work.
Of course, any good paper in a scientific journal should be based on an explicit statement of its contribution to human knowledge and societal advancement. The evolution of the standards for symbiosis, LCA, and MFA papers reflects the growing sophistication of industrial ecology research—of which we all should be proud.