The Intersections


1990s was an era where many leading institutions across the world were interested to launch programs where interests of business/profitability could be integrated with the protection of the environment/sustainability. These institutions perhaps realized that unless such an integration was pitched, there was not going to be much interest or “buy in” by the business.

UNEP’s Cleaner Production was one such “smart” Program. The concept of Cleaner Production was established by the UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) in Paris.

I feel excited even today that I was part of that small team of “experts” who worked together in one of the late evenings at the office of DTIE and coined the term Cleaner Production. Jaqueline Alosi Larderel was the director then and Donald (Don) Huisingh (who was a Professor at the Lund University) was the Facilitator. We were struggling and attempted several options of shall I say the “word play” and the “terms and definitions” to arrive finally at “What is Cleaner Production?”

We defined Cleaner Production as: “The continuous application of an integrated environmental strategy to processes, products and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment”. This definition was pretty deep yet expansive.

I recall that after the term and definition was sorted out, we walked near Rue Saint-James to a small Lebanese restaurant (Fleur de cèdrerun? I don’t exactly recollect the name now) that was run by two brothers (one used to cook and other used to play keyboard) and had a three hour long dinner and wonderful conversations. Cleaner Production was born.

I spent nearly 15 years later in the area of Cleaner Production. In 2002 I prepared the Global Status Report on Cleaner Production for UNEP DTIE , later a multimedia CDROM “Cleaner Production Companion” and Training & Guidance Manuals how to set up and operate National Cleaner Production Centers, amongst other publications.

In 1992, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) came with the concept of Eco-Efficiency. The concept was based on creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution. Eco-efficiency was measured as the ratio between the (added) values of what has been produced (e.g. GDP) and the (added) environment impacts of the product or service (e.g. SO2 emissions).  WBSCD in its 1992 publication “Changing Course,” introduced this term and at the 1992 Earth Summit, eco-efficiency was endorsed as a new business concept and means for companies to implement Agenda 21 in the private sector. The term has become synonymous today with a management philosophy geared towards sustainability and combining ecological and economic efficiency.

I was one of the contributors to the book Changing Course  courtesy my good friend Nick Robbins and was involved in the discussions on Eco-efficiency. I could therefore see the “intersections”. Both Cleaner Production and Eco-Efficiency had origins primarily from the experience of countries in the European Union. In the United States, the term Pollution Prevention prevailed.

In 1994, Yuji Yamada of Asian Productivity Organization (APO) approached me. “Dr Modak, APO has been in the productivity business for long and we recognize the importance of integrating productivity and environment as “Green Productivity” but we don’t have a definition. Can you help? Please come as a resource person to a workshop of experts I am organizing in Taipei”

I asked Yamada-san, why do you want a yet another term? Go ahead use terms like Cleaner Production or Eco-efficiency. Yamada-san said “This won’t work. We need our own definition”

So I joined Yamada-san in Taipei. Over a two days of deliberation we came up with a definition of Green Productivity. Green Productivity was defined as a strategy for enhancing productivity and environmental performance for overall socio-economic development. Green Productivity was considered as the application of appropriate productivity and environmental management policies, tools, techniques, and technologies in order to reduce the environmental impact of an organization’s activities.

In 2006, I wrote for the APO the Green Productivity Training Manual. My association with APO continues even today. I attempted to bring UNEP DTIE and APO together and we did few common meetings/conferences but the real harmonization was impossible to achieve in the Program operations. The industry used to be confused “Are you referring to CP (Cleaner Production) or GP (Green Productivity). A pity isn’t it? And as if this confusion was not enough we now have another term – Resource Efficient Cleaner Production (RECP). UNEP along with UNIDO defined RECP as continuous application of preventive environmental strategies to processes, products, and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment. RECP works specifically to advance production efficiency, management of environment and human development. So RECP was a “concoction” of CP and GP! Indeed, it’s a maze of terms and intersections today on the canvas of Productivity, Environment and Interest of Communities.

Each of the above programs made dent in their own way. Some led to more outreach, acceptance and impact. The early definitions of these terms were tweaked during the course and re-interpreted especially to reflect on the Millennium Development Goals (and now the Sustainability Development Goals).

In the early phase of these programs, the business was asking for the “evidence” that would prove that it was profitable to integrate business with environmental and social considerations. I remember I created for the UNEP DTIE International Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse (ICPIC)  and came up with an edited version of 400+ international case studies across more than 20 industrial sectors covering medium and large scale industries. These case studies did the job of convincing and were used in the outreach and  the training programs. Today, we don’t  need any more convincing. We want to know more about “how to”.

Unfortunately, the concepts of CP, Eco-Efficiency, GP and RECP have not yet penetrated in the graduate level education programs, especially in the developing world. The ocean of resources created and the practice experience documented have not yet reached the student and community of young professionals.  We need to run continuing education programs on these topics especially for the mid-level industry professionals. Those on the top layer are generally aware of the benefits of integration. But sure, we have a long way to go for mainstreaming sustainability in the business.

Few years ago, three bright and smart looking specialists from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) came to see me in my office. They were quite snappy and a bit arrogant (perhaps because they were working for IFC) and looked at me as an “environmental consultant”. One of them said “Mr. Modak, you folks (he meant consultants) should read up and practice some of the paradigm shifts in environmental management – such as Cleaner Production. Most of you think only of “end of the pipe” solutions and that’s the problem”. The other two also chipped in.

I was simply amused and I said “How exciting? Never heard of this term Cleaner Production. Could you elaborate?” And they obliged me and expanded CP to introduce terms like Eco-efficiency and Green Productivity as well. And I heard my own words!

Later, my friend from IFC called me – who was their boss and said “Dr Modak, when will you give up this habit of telling that you know nothing and have a good laugh later – I apologize on behalf of my staff for getting you through Course-101 on Cleaner Production”.

I told her – it’s not their fault – but indeed discussions with them made me re-think about the intersections. Intersections are alright if they help in better integration.




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  1. To attain the same goal we coin several catchy words waste minimization,atom balance,sustainability, ecological foot print- more the merry- sorry does not conform to 3R

  2. One more

    1. Yes, every respectable organisation has to have its own definitions, even if it sows confusion.

    2. better to change the names of the programmes after a few years to modernise, just about the time when the wider world had finally understood and stated to implement the last one.

    3. Work goes in cycles. After 10 years the bright young things start to invent the same things we did a generation ago.

    4. Doing a literature survey to see what has already been achieved is so boring. Better to forge ahead in total ignorance.

    5. No new director of a programme office sees it their job to continue to foster the programmes of their predecessor. Kill it all off, and start anew.

    6. Who said that “those who don’t know any history are condemned to repeat it” ? – Edmund Burke? – George Santayana? – other?

    A variant – Learn more at “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who *do* study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”


  3. The term ‘Cleaner Production’ has been a crucial element in shaping the understanding of environment – the shift from the traditional end-of-pipe approaches to the productive ‘preventive approaches’ which also has been leveraged by businesses, much later, to demonstrate their sustainability approaches. A huge chunk of cleaner production (call it by which ever name) work happened in India and adoption, or if I may say internalization by the businesses has been the greatest success of the concept. Businesses in India over time has been using preventive strategies in their approach to mitigate pollution, but they are no more giving it a name. The reduction in specific resource consumptions and the specific waste generations over the years is a clear indicator for this.

    Probably the need to jargonize the preventive concepts are over for they are now part of business as usual situation, particularly in India.

    That a search on the ‘Google’ for cleaner production (or associated terms) doesn’t throw up many success stories from India is another sad aspect of our poor documentation skills, And, therefore, there’s too few stories to make our history of cleaner production.

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