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Designing a Sustainable Industrial Park

Originally appears in the Spring 2006 issue

While most educators would agree that societies should work towards achieving sustainable development, there are few classroom exercises that help students better understand how that goal can be promoted. The following team exercise attempts to demonstrate how sustainable development can be achieved in designing an industrial park. The activity addresses concepts of recycling, energy and resource conservation, and renewable energy. It could be incorporated into science, geography, or social studies from upper elementary grades through high school. Since many communities are contemplating industrial parks to bolster their tax base and promote employment, this is not an abstract lesson. Further, the setting could be modified to reflect the economic activities of your area. For example, the proposed park site could be an abandoned mill or former military base, and the candidate companies could be manufacturers in your region. The activity also could be enriched by involving representatives from regional planning agencies, chambers of commerce, and manufacturing companies as resource people and advisors.


In this exercise, students work in teams to incorporate sustainable development practices in the design of a fictitious industrial park. They are presented with simplified descriptions of the operations and environmental impacts of various manufacturers who are interested in building a plant in the new park. Together, the candidate companies require more land than is available on the site. Therefore, students must choose which companies to include, based on the raw materials (including energy) the plants would use, the wastes they would generate, and other environmental impacts they would have. Students must also consider ways of generating energy on the site and of conserving natural resources in the infrastructure and operation of the park as a whole.

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Phyllis A. Sweeney is vice president of the environmental consulting firm R.A. Sweeney & Associates. Robert A. Sweeney is the executive director of the Pisgah Forest Institute, an in-service environmental training program for K–12 educators, based at Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina.