The Potential Role of Life Cycle Approaches in Sustainable Development
Africa remains one of the most underdeveloped continents in the world. In the struggle to attain economic and social development, the region has _ witnessed serious unsustainable patterns of consumption and production (WSSD, 20021). In Africa in particular, the abstraction and conversion of natural resources such as minerals and forests, as well as processing of agriculture-based commodities potentially present the biggest concern for material and energy losses. It is on these sectors that economies and livelihoods of most countries in Africa depend. The unsustainable patterns of production and consumption have been attributed, first, to the piecemeal nature of interventions to environmental management, characteristic in many developing countries. Secondly, Agenda 21-the action plan towards sustainable development adopted by governments in Rio a decade ago-did not define a strategy or even provide guidance on how governments may develop one (OEeD, 2002). Thirdly, despite increasing recognition of the role of science, technology and innovation in the economic transformation of developing countries, their prominence in national development policy is generally understated". As a result, there have been massive losses of materials and energy at points of resource extraction, processing, consumption and disposal. Furthermore, much of this loss has contributed to environmental pollution on land, air and water bodies, rendered land unusable for food production due to pollution or desertification. The obsolete technology employed and the inadequate capacity to apply international quality standards in most of these production and consumption processes are largely to blame for the poor quality of goods that have frequently failed to compete on global commodity markets such as the European Union. Many export oriented small and medium scale enterprise (SMEs) have closed down with resultant massive job losses. Ironically, these challenges exist at a time when holistic, science based innovations exist. And the WSSD called for the development of policies for sustainable consumption and production using science based tools and approaches. For instance, Industrial Ecology-also known as the science of sustainability, and defined in this chapter as the study 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' - is among the latest important contributions by science in pursuit of sustainable development. Industrial ecology-related tools include inter alia Design-for-Environment (DfE), industrial symbiosis and Life Cycle Approaches. This chapter explores the potential in Life Cycle Approaches as a sustainability tool for Africa.