Off-campus PhD Program on Cleaner Production, Cleaner Products, Industrial Ecology and Sustainability


Current patterns of industrial and economic growth are causing a mounting burden upon the life support system of nature. It is now increasingly evident that the corrective approaches of pollution control and top-down environmental regulation are not sufficient to solve these problems, and to prevent new ones from arising. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift to pollution prevention, and for economic development strategies that sharply minimize negative environmental and social impacts while restoring past damage wherever possible. Case studies in Cleaner Production, Eco-Product Design, and Industrial Ecology approaches show considerable promise in what some scientists call “the next industrial revolution.” Interest is mounting on the part of industry, and among governments whose regulatory structures are grossly inadequate to address the scale of environmental degradation that results from existing industrial practices. As a result, there is rapidly growing awareness of the need for in-depth scientific research and theoretical elaboration of the foundations of cleaner production and sustainable development, and thus for a new generation of scientist-practitioners.

In leading universities and research centers, efforts are coming to life to translate the abstract notion of sustainable development into clear concepts and concrete standards of practice. New fields -- such as industrial eco-design, intrinsically safer chemistry, conservation biology, and bio-ethics -- have come into being in the last generation as sources of theory and practice. The major professions, from law to finance to management, are being deeply challenged as environmental considerations are brought into their scope of concern. Systems of environmental and social standards, supported by auditing regimes, are now in wide usage in industry -- so much that measuring their effectiveness is becoming a field of study in itself. Entirely new approaches to product and service development, such as partnerships between environmental NGOs and industrial corporations, are challenging conventional notions of management training and business strategy. Virtually every sector can show examples of the new, multiple bottom line business paradigm -- with social, environmental and financial objectives counterbalanced or, ideally, integrated. These innovations have given rise to a new discourse, with concepts such as extended producer responsibility, and social responsible or sustainable enterprises; new scholarly journals (Business Strategy and the Environment; Journal of Cleaner Production; Journal of Sustainable Product Design; Journal of Industrial Ecology); new conferences (The Greening of Industry, the regional Round Tables on Cleaner Production, and the International Society of Industrial Ecology conferences)); and a demanding new research agenda.

PhD level education must be an integral part of this transformation. Leadership in industry and government requires a high degree of technical expertise, and a mature understanding of the human dimensions of sustainable development, at least at the level of the PhD Doctoral thesis research is a rich source of data, as well as exploration of sustainable development themes from fresh perspectives. And, especially in developing countries, there is an urgent need to establish more indigenous work opportunities with leadership potential, building national capacity and countering the enormous pressure on young intellectuals to short-change the needs of their own people in favor of the global labor market.

At the same time, this real-world challenge has potential to help transform PhD level education, in ways that have been widely called for in the higher educational community in the last decade. In response to these needs and opportunities, the Erasmus University has launched a new International off-campus PhD Program on Cleaner Production, Cleaner Products, Industrial Ecology and Sustainability in October 1995. It supports the development of a scientific program on this material in three respects: establishing a conceptual framework; disseminating core knowledge from natural and social science disciplines, including problem definitions, change strategies, technological and social methodologies; and teaching and applying clear, appropriate methods of evaluating present research and revising the research agenda to reflect lessons learned. The program is specifically designed to provide qualified students the opportunity to pursue substantive research, while continuing to work in related occupational settings. Its title reflects an original mandate to work with industries needing environmental improvement, and with the infrastructures of industrial economies, combined with expanding student and faculty research interests related to the broader agenda of environmentally sustainable economic and social development.

One WAY to meet these needs is through PhD thesis research. This document presents a outline of the "INTERNATIONAL Off-campus PhD program in CLEANER PRODUCTION, CLEANER PRODUCTS, INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY & SUSTAINABILITY", that is designed to provide "qualified students," the opportunity to pursue research in these exciting and important areas, while continuing to work in related occupational settings.

PhD program in Cleaner Production, Cleaner Products, Industrial Ecology and Sustainability

The development of a scientific program in Cleaner Production, Cleaner Products, Industrial Ecology and Sustainability needs a comprehensive basis in:

  • The definition of the Cleaner Production concepts;
  • The core knowledge, essential for a PhD in Cleaner Production, Cleaner Products, Industrial Ecology, Social Responsibility & Sustainability


The report of WCED (1987) defined sustainable development as: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (p. 43).

An elaboration of this definition is provided as: "In essence, sustainable development is a process of change in which the exploita-tion of resour-ces, the direction of invest-ments, the orientation of technical development and institu-tional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations" (p. 46).

This definition and elaboration give several (societal, technological and economically) interdependent dimensions, that can be influenced by human activities. An operationalization of these concepts can be found in the concepts of Cleaner Production, Cleaner Products & Sustainability. The term Cleaner Production was developed by an expert working group in 1989 as advice for UNEPs "Industry and Environment Program". The first definition of Cleaner Production was: "The conceptual and procedural approach to production that demands that all phases of the life-cycle of a product or of a process should be addressed with the objective of prevention or the minimization of short and long-term risks to humans and the environment".

In 1992, UNEP IE/PAC Newsletter of Cleaner Production contained four additional statements designed to answer the question "What is Cleaner Production?":

  • Cleaner production means the continuous application of an integrated, preventive environmental strategy to both processes and products to reduce risks to humans and the environment;
  • Cleaner production techniques include conserving raw materi-als and energy, eliminating toxic raw materials, and reducing the quantity and toxicity of all emissions and wastes;
  • A Cleaner production strategy for products focuses on reducing environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of the product -from raw material extraction to the product's ultimate disposal;
  • Cleaner production is achieved by applying expertise, improving technology and changing attitudes.

Upon analysis, it is clear that these statements represent different dimensions of the preventive approaches of Cleaner Production. However the further question can be posed, "Is Cleaner Production a method or a philosophy?"

Further analysis of these statements, reveals that it is both philosophically significant and methodologically grounded. Statement a, gives the policy goals and the strategy of the prevention approach. Statements b, and c, address the objects of reduction and the strategy to achieve them. Statement d, reflects the method. By these statements, attention is given to all phases of production processes and of product life-cycles. These points and how to elaborate the theoretical and practical implementation of these concepts in society so as to help ensure "Societal Sustainability," provide a starting basis for the new PhD program.

Scope of the PhD program

The scope of the new Cleaner Production PhD research program can be focused on, but not be limited to, the following four themes:

  • Human dimensions of the use of resources. Human dimensions of the use of resources involving demographic trends and interactions of the population, economic growth, technology and the use of material and energy resources. Demographic changes are one of the driving forces of global environmental change. The size, characteristics and geographic distribution of the world's population greatly influence economic, social and technological changes. Better projections of the dynamics and impacts of the use of resources necessitates the development of much better data about the variables involved.
  • Perception and judgment of global environmental issues. Policy-makers, industrial managers and other societal stakeholders have influence on the reaction and behavior of people. Individual estimations and perceptions are dependent on many interacting factors, including their individual skills and the manner and frequency of confrontation with environmental changes. Another set of influencing factors involves the type and content of information about causes and effects of environmental changes, given by the media, industrialists, governmental representatives, labor union leaders, members of financial institutions, and NGOs.
  • Effects of local, national and international social, economic and political structures and institutions upon the global environment. The effects cover direct and indirect consequences, both intended and unintended. Many formal and informal structures and institutions shape and influence human behavior and have great impacts upon the natural and built environment. At the same time, the formal and informal institutions are shaped and influenced by perceptions of and judgments about the societal implications of changing environmental conditions.
  • Industrial reorientation to sustainability: The development of science and technology and their application throughout the whole world, is another factor behind industrial and economic growth. This is causing a growing burden upon the assimilative capacity of nature. Since it is now clear that the "pollution control" approaches cannot solve these problems, the need for a paradigm shift to "pollution prevention" is needed. However, more research is needed on how to most effectively proceed to effect this paradigm shift.


By virtue of its structure, the program achieves several goals that have proven difficult for conventional, campus-based PhD education:

It does not exacerbate the “brain drain” from countries that suffer from loss of their more educated citizens who may gravitate to traditional intellectual centers for advanced study, and may even be reluctant to return home once they have received the PhD Through the program’s high-caliber virtual community of scholars, and bringing the support of the faculty advisor into the student’s home region, the student gains in intellectual support without the country’s loss of brain power.

It encourages the organization of PhD research according to the needs of industry, governmental agencies, NGOs and other end-users, rather than exclusively along disciplinary lines. It thus provides a counterbalance against overspecialization and the student’s over-dependence on the research agenda of a university-based principal investigator. As an additional benefit of the workplace-based approach, the student acquires the practical career development skills such as oral and written communication, fundraising and project management, as an integral part of the doctoral program.

The Cleaner Production PhD program is housed within the Graduate School of Environmental Management in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Erasmus University. Under this coordination, the Erasmus Centre for Sustainable Development and Management has developed its scientific content by linking it to ongoing research, and provides program coordination. Additional multidisciplinary synergy is achieved by research involvement of other faculties within the Erasmus University, and among universities worldwide.

Once each year, the program staff plans and holds a 14-day intensive retreat for all students. Especially for the new candidates the retreat includes lectures, demonstrations, interactive simulations, role-playing exercises, problem solving exercises and discussions. Among the topics and areas to be addressed during the 2-week intensive are:

  • Concepts and approaches of Cleaner Production, Cleaner Products, Industrial Ecology, Social responsibility and Sustainability;
  • An introduction and assessment of the societal and political implications of issues such as, ozone layer thinning, global climate change and loss of species diversity;
  • An introduction and evaluation of the results of the application of these concepts and approaches in industrial contexts (Bench-marking, Environmental Performance Indicators);
  • An introduction to the political and non-political tools and instruments being used to promote implementation of Cleaner Production and Cleaner Products and Industrial Ecology approaches;
  • Hands-on training with the methods of "Waste Reduction Auditing," "Risk Reduction Auditing," "Product Life-Cycle Analyses," and "Product Improvement Analyses";
  • Introduction to "Green Economy", "Environmental Policy Analysis" and "Sustainable Banking";
  • An introduction in the `triple bottom line' approaches in sustainable corporations;
  • An introduction to PhD Thesis theory, research methods, expectations and procedures ("What is a good PhD thesis?")

During the annual Intensive, each candidate presents his/her research proposals, describes progress made on the research and outlines future plans. Candidates exchange comments and are encouraged to keep in contact with each other via a BlackBoard communication system. During the yearly Intensive, meetings are scheduled between each candidate and his/her advisor-promoter, and with relevant outside experts.

Program staff and candidates keep in regular e-mail contact bi-laterally and via a BlackBoard system. Progress is formally evaluated every year. Also a professor in the PhD candidate’s region can take part in the supervision. It is estimated that candidates with more than five years of professional experience need approximately 3360 hours in four to five years to complete the requirements of the PhD thesis.

Quality Assurance and Evaluation

In order to ensure that the highest academic standards are established and adhered to by all within the new program, the Board of Deans at Erasmus University is formally responsible authority for the acceptance of and admission to the PhD Program. The Dutch Organization for International Co-operation in High-Level Education (NUFFIC) independently advises the Board of Deans in the PhD candidate acceptance procedure.