Is the Next Industrial Revolution On the Horizon?


Last week’s edition of Newsweek featured an article titled “The Next Industrial Revolution.” The piece contained an interview with five executives: Ian Chesire, CEO of Kingfisher; Noel Morrin, VP for sustainability and green construction at Skanska; James Smith, chairman of Shell U.K.; Reinoldo Poernbacher, CEO of Klabin S.A; and Jeffrey Swartz, CEO of Timberland. Speaking about retrofitting houses, James Smith said, “There is a set of technologies that can actually solve our problem.” That is true for many problems humanity is facing today, including climate change.

As Smith put it, “What we have got to be now is economically viable so that industry can get them out of the laboratory and operating on an industrial scale, and that means putting a price on carbon and getting the carbon market working.” One idea mentioned in a Los Angeles Times 2008 article for putting products in the hands of consumers is to lease machines. The article cites car sharing as an example. The article also mentions “dematerializing economic activity” something that is needed, and uses Netflix offering online movies as an example of this.

New way of designing industrial production

In 1998 The Atlantic ran an article titled, “The Next Industrial Revolution”  which said there needs to be a “new way of designing industrial production.” Products and materials that are manufactured “must after each useful life provide nourishment for something new.” William McDonough and  Braugert, founders of the firm, McDonough Braungert Design Chemistry, call it “cradle to cradle,” which is also the title of the book they co-authored.

The Atlantic article stated that industrial product must respect the regional, cultural, and material diversity of an area. It needs to use waste and emissions to “regenerate rather than deplete” and design must be “flexible, to allow for changes in the needs of people and communities.” It also needs to use renewable energy.

According to the Atlantic article, the next industrial revolution must design an industrial system that:

  • Introduces no hazardous materials into the air, water, or soil
  • Measures prosperity by how much natural capital we can accrue in productive ways
  • Measures productivity by how many people are gainfully and meaningfully employed
  • Measures progress by how many buildings have no smokestacks or dangerous effluents
  • Does not require regulations whose purpose is to stop us from killing ourselves too quickly
  • Produces nothing that will require future generations to maintain vigilance
  • Celebrates the abundance of biological and cultural diversity and solar income

Low carbon revolution

“The low carbon revolution is next,” states an article by Lars G. Josefsson, president and CEO of Vattenfall; Jamshyd N. Godrej, chairman of Godrej & Boyce Mfg.  Co. Lt; Peter A. Darbee, chairman of the Board, CEO and president of PG&E; and Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid. The article points out that new businesses are emerging worldwide which focus on “low-carbon solutions to energy generation and use, from light bulbs to transport, but they are still at the pioneering stage.”

Nicholas Stern states in a New Scientist article that a “rapid dissemination and use of low-carbon technologies” is needed. In order for low carbon technologies to be disseminated rapidly, the right polices must be in place and measures taken that “remove barriers and provide incentives for technological development.” Breakthrough technologies need to be created that will lead to major emissions cuts beyond 2030. Carbon markets and energy efficiency standards are also needed, along with support for the development of technologies like second generation biofuels.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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