Keywords: ecosystems, economic system, material flow, energy flow, agriculture and food industry, sustainable development, environmental management, environmental policy, corporate social responsibility
What is the potential of the ecosystem metaphor in agricultural and food industry systems?
The scavengers and decomposers in ecosystems are presented as metaphors for agricultural and food industry systems' sustainability. These organisms of ecosystems can both take in wastes from other organisms as well as produce materials for them to use. We argue that the metaphor is beneficial for considering the physical flows of matter and energy in economic systems as it can yield models with which a vision of a more sustainable material and energy flow system can be constructed. But the difference of ecosystems and economic systems is so radical that the metaphor can only be used as a source of inspiration for simulations and future scenarios, not for giving practical and concrete design, management or policy objectives and action-proposals. Our analysis reveals that the metaphor cannot be used to study the human dimension or the societal context of the material and energy flows. The human dimension is critically important to achieve a real change toward sustainability in environmental policy, corporate environmental management and corporate social responsibility.