Trevor Zink is an associate professor of management at Loyola Marymount University. Trevor earned his BBA and MBA from Loyola Marymount University. He then attended the University of California at Santa Barbara as a UC Regents Special Fellow, where he earned his MA in economics and his PhD in environmental science and management. His dissertation examined how businesses can actively improve the environment in meaningful, physical ways by creatively competing with more damaging firms. Trevor has published a life cycle assessment comparing the environmental impacts of repurposing versus refurbishing used smartphones, and was part of a team that completed a large-scale multi-stakeholder environmental impact assessment of used engine oil in California.
University of California, Santa Barbara: Ph.D., Environmental Science and Management 2015
University of California, Santa Barbara: M.A., Economics 2012
Loyola Marymount University : MBA 2010
Loyola Marymount University: B.A., Business Administration 2007
Areas of Expertise (4)
Corporate Social Responsibility
Life Cycle Assessment
Environmental Impacts of Recycling
Capitalism is economically stable only if new investment creates jobs at least as fast as efficiency eliminates them, and physically sustainable only if sufficient material sources and pollution sinks exist to support new investment. We are passing limits on both conditions, leading to twin problems: A labor problem, where technology may begin to eliminate more jobs than it creates; and an environmental problem, where industrial activities are breaching planetary boundaries that will limit our ability to meet basic human needs. Both problems are products of a growth-based capitalist economy and are fundamentally unsolvable within that framework. We must endeavor to replace our capitalist growth economy with a system based on human flourishing. Drawing on degrowth literature, I propose several criteria for a replacement and suggest that they are met by tribal communities. Although challenges remain in design and implementation of such systems, the alternative of inaction is untenable.
Proponents of material recycling typically point to two environmental benefits: disposal (landfill/incinerator) reduction and primary production displacement. However, in this paper we mathematically demonstrate that, without displacement, recycling can delay but not prevent any existing end‐of‐life material from reaching final disposal. The only way to reduce the amount of material ultimately landfilled or incinerated is to produce less in the first place; material that is not made needs not be disposed. Recycling has the potential to reduce the amount of material reaching end of life solely by reducing primary production. Therefore, the “dual benefits” of recycling are in fact one, and the environmental benefit of material recycling rests in its potential to displace primary production. However, displacement of primary production from increased recycling is driven by market forces and is not guaranteed. Improperly assuming all recycled material avoids disposal underestimates the environmental impacts of the product system. We show that the potential magnitude of this error is substantial, though for inert recyclables it is lower than the error introduced by improperly assuming all recycled material displaces primary material production. We argue that life cycle assessment end‐of‐life models need to be updated so as not to overstate the benefits of recycling. Furthermore, scholars and policy makers should focus on finding and implementing ways to increase the displacement potential of recyclable materials rather than focusing on disposal diversion targets.
Koffler and Wang (“the commenters”) recently submitted a comment (Koffler and Wang 2017) on our article “Toward Estimating Displaced Primary Production from Recycling: A Case Study of U.S. Aluminum” (Zink et al. 2017). In it, they make three arguments that they believe limit the scope and utility of our study. This is our response.
Recycling materials from end-of-life products has the potential to create environmental benefit by displacing more harmful primary material production. However, displacement is governed by market forces and is not guaranteed; if full displacement does not occur, the environmental benefits of recycling are reduced or eliminated. Therefore, quantifying the true “displacement rate” caused by recycling is essential to accurately assess environmental benefits and make optimal environmental management decisions.
The so-called circular economy—the concept of closing material loops to preserve products, parts, and materials in the industrial system and extract their maximum utility—has recently started gaining momentum. The idea of substituting lower-impact secondary production for environmentally intensive primary production gives the circular economy a strong intuitive environmental appeal. However, proponents of the circular economy have tended to look at the world purely as an engineering system and have overlooked the economic part of the circular economy. Recent research has started to question the core of the circular economy—namely, whether closing material and product loops does, in fact, prevent primary production. In this article, we argue that circular economy activities can increase overall production, which can partially or fully offset their benefits.
Voluntary sustainability standards that establish global rules for firms’ environmental and/or social conduct and allow for verification of firm compliance via third-party certification hold the promise to govern firms’ sustainability conduct in a globalizing world economy. However, the recent proliferation of competing and overlapping global sustainability standards that have been developed by various stakeholders with different agendas, creates uncertainties for firms that likely reduce their propensity to adopt any standard. Without widespread adoption these standards cannot effectively govern firm conduct and in contrast create barriers for firms’ access to export markets.
Touting products like LEDs and recycled plastic packaging as “green” is misleading, because it fails to account for their effects on markets and consumer behavior and for the resulting environmental consequences. The authors offer what they say is a better approach: measuring the overall “net green” impact of the product.
Geyer, R., Kuczenski, B., Zink, T., Henderson, A. The recycling of material resources lies at the heart of the industrial ecology (IE) metaphor. The very notion of the industrial ecosystem is motivated by the idea that we should learn from natural ecosystems how to “close the loop.” Recycling is not just central to IE, it is part of everyday life. Unfortunately, how the IE community and the public at large think about recycling includes several misconceptions that have the potential to misguide environmental assessments, policies, and actions that deal with recycling and thus undermine its environmental potential.
Zink, T., Geyer, R. & Startz, R. The most significant environmental benefit of recycling or reusing a wide range of products and materials is typically the potential to displace primary material production; lack of displacement significantly reduces the environmental benefits of these activities.
Adeleye, A. S., Bradley, D., Brandt, W. T., Callery, P., Feraud, M., Garner, K. L., Gentry, R. Huang, Y., Mccullough, I., Pearlman, I., Sutherland, S. A., Wilkinson, W., Yang, Y., Zink, T., Anderson, S. E., Tague, C. Adaptive management is broadly recognized as critical for managing natural resources, yet in practice it often fails to achieve intended results for two main reasons: insufficient monitoring and inadequate stakeholder buy-in. Citizen science is gaining momentum as an approach that can inform natural resource management and has some promise for solving the problems faced by adaptive management. Based on adaptive management literature, we developed a set of criteria for successfully addressing monitoring and stakeholder related failures in adaptive management and then used these criteria to evaluate 83 citizen science case studies from peer-reviewed literature.
Kuczenski, B., Geyer, R., Zink, T., & Henderson, A. Abstract Petroleum lubricating oils, used throughout the economy, are distinct among petroleum products in their capacity to be recovered and recycled at the end of their useful life. Used lubricating oil is regulated at the state and federal level because of concerns about environmental impacts arising from improper disposal, although rates of recovery are not known. We present a material flow analysis of lubricants through California's economy in the years 2007–2012. We introduce a novel technique for computing aggregate waste ...
Human activities continue to degrade the natural environment in myriad ways, and at the heart of the problem is industrial activity—the extraction of resources, production, transportation, and use of goods, and the eventual disposal or recycling of materials. Yet, opportunities exist to engage industrial activity in creative, strategic ways that will actively improve the natural environment and help restore it to a state that can sustain human and nonhuman life into the future. This dissertation is intended to be a step toward that future by progressing our understanding in three separate but related topics in the context of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Zink, T., Maker, F., Geyer, R., Akella, V. & Amirtharajah, R. Abstract Purpose Waste management for end-of-life (EoL) smartphones is a growing problem due to their high turnover rate and concentration of toxic chemicals. The versatility of modern smartphones presents an interesting alternative waste management strategy: repurposing. This paper investigates the environmental impact of smartphone repurposing as compared to traditional refurbishing using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Methods A case study of repurposing was conducted by creating a smartphone “app” that replicates the ...
Geyer, R., Henderson, A., Kuczenski, B. & Zink, T. Petroleum products are among the most significant material flows in the economy (Adriaanse et al., 1997). In 2010 the world production of crude oil was 3.97 billion metric tons (Gt), of which 0.85 Gt was consumed in the United States (International Energy Agency, 2011). The vast majority of this material is combusted in some form as fuel. However, a fraction of crude oil is appropriated for non-combustion uses including petrochemical production, asphalt and paving materials, and lubricating and industrial oils known in aggregate as “lubricants.”
Zink, T. 2010. Case study: Stonyfield Farm. In D. Choi, & E. Gray (eds.) A new brand of entrepreneurs has arrived on the business scene, carrying with them a whole new set of values. They possess a sense of mission – to be socially responsible, protect the planet, and do the right thing for all of their stakeholders. Rather than focus exclusively on financial gain, they aim to achieve a balance between profits and one or more causes of their choosing. In fact, they view for-profit entrepreneurship as a vehicle for social change. The authors call these pioneers "values-centered" entrepreneurs.