Keywords: industrial symbiosis, Erich Zimmermann, Porter hypothesis, madder, indigo, synthetic dyes, industrial ecology, international trade, history, sustainable development, regional sustainability, inter-regional trade, division of labour
Bringing interregional linkages back in: industrial symbiosis, international trade and the emergence of the synthetic dyes industry in the late 19th century
Many sustainable development theorists and environmental activists often take two basic assumptions for granted. The first is that local production is generally preferable to long-distance trade. The second is that renewable sources of energy or materials are preferable to nonrenewable sources. These assumptions are, to a large extent, implicit in much of the industrial symbiosis and eco-industrial park literature. This paper takes a critical stance on these issues through a discussion of the contribution of the economist and geographer Erich Zimmermann (1933) on the nature and geographical extent of byproduct linkages. Zimmermann's insights are further illustrated through a discussion of the development of synthetic dyes from coal gas residuals and their worldwide impact on some ecosystems and agricultural production centres in the late 19th and early 20th century. The case is made that, while valuable, the industrial symbiosis perspective should not frame the discussion of regional sustainability in a way that downplays the environmentally beneficial role of interregional trade and the larger division of labour in which human actions are embedded.