Circular Economy in Practice #2: A Guide To Activating Industrial Symbiosis in Your Region

Produced by Camille Duran / Coordinated by Han Nguyen / Published by Gabriela Lemos Borba / Senior Editors Eleen Murphy & Camille Duran / Transcribed by Tuly Sarah Costa/ Music Credits: License by Ins. Green White Space. 

What does circularity mean for industry? Besides the materials and products that are being manufactured as part of companies’ core businesses (which we will cover later on in the series), there are a number of ways a local or regional industry can create synergies in efforts to create efficiencies and closed loops.

This episode features views from Peer Olander Noergaard from Industrial Symbiosis Denmark.

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Transcript from the Episode

Camille Duran (CD): In the previous episode we’ve talked about municipal waste streams and increasing recycling rates in our cities. Good start. It was fun. Now let’s talk about Industry. It’s time to get practical there as well and you know it, you people working in industry. You go to all those conferences where there is a bit of circular economy blah-blah. Let’s get practical.

You’re listening to The Green Exchange – episode 2 of our Series: Circular Economy in practice.

CD: [Aside] You did say you would be practical?

CD: Coffee, computer, microphone, script, and my crazy sounds machine. I am ready to rumble.




CD: Industrial symbiosis. You’ll see that on the paper it’s not very complicated. It just takes time and dedicated efforts to put everything in place but once it’s rolling…it’s rolling

[VOICE]: Tom, I am sorry to say, but you really need to inject some circular economy in your business model.

CD: First off, have you heard of the term before?
[COMPUTER VOICE]: Symbiosis.
CD: Symbiosis. Industrial symbiosis.
[COMPUTER VOICE]: Symbiosis.
CD: Hey, would you like some industrial symbiosis with me?

CD: It’s a subset of industrial ecology. I am going to read a definition for you. Not sure it’s THE official definition though…I don’t want to get in any trouble with researchers right now…

An Industrial Symbiosis is a business relationship focused on sharing resources. This kind of co-operation reduces the total impact of the industry on the environment, and the individual businesses improve their bottom-line figures as well as their competitiveness.

So here we’re talking about sharing water, energy, electricity, fuels, heat. In short, waste & residues from your company become a resource for my company.

And here we are clearly in the commercial world which means that any significant change to the way a plant operates needs to make economic sense (unless regulations come into play).


[VOICE]: Hi, my name is Adam. I listen to The Green Exchange when I am sailing into the Baltic Sea. And I use a good pair of headphones because of the wind!




CD: We’re lucky to have a world leading industrial symbiosis project not too far from here, in Kalundborg, Denmark. Some of you may have heard of it.

I wanted to give them a call so we can ask for practical tips and learning lessons from the project. We have Peer-Olander-Noergaard on the line. He is Head of Communications for Symbiosis Center Denmark – it’s an organisation which is trying to spread the symbiosis mind-set across the country.

CD: Hi Peer.

Peer-Olander-Noergaard (PON): Yes, hello.

CD: How are you?

PON: Fine fine.

CD: So let’s jump right in – the case study in a few words:
• A symbiosis project between commercial entities. It’s an association between 8 partners, one of which is the municipality of Kalundborg.
• It is the first full scale operating industrial symbiosis in Denmark.
• It counts more than 50 exchanges, energy, water, materials in different forms. We have published the PDF with all the details on the episode page.
So to begin, let’s start with a classic: what do you think was the key success factor in making this project happen?

PON: The key success factor was collaboration, I would say, and it started in need for cooling water for the refinery and in that sense it was a scarcity of resources that made them work together.

CD: Yes ok so it started from a business need which is access to cooling water. How did it take shape from there? Is it the municipality that took a leading role in facilitating the process, the symbiosis?

PON: Well, yes and no. Actually, the Kalundborg symbiosis is a collection of agreements between these companies and here at the Symbiosis Centre, we don’t actually know the content of these agreements. They are classified.

CD: Classified? Interesting! There must be some interesting numbers in there…

[VOICE, female]: What?
[VOICE, male]: Classified. I can tell you but then I’d have to kill you.

PON: But we support and facilitate. We can make some new projects, and we can inspire the Kalundborg Symbiosis to check on new projects. But mainly they know how to do it and some of the companies have already made common investments and now planning to turn the power plant into the biomass and biogas era. So that is a big business and they are quite keen to have that confidential.

CD: And one thing to understand here is that companies are willing to move down that road because it’s a good business case and it does make economic sense.

PON: That’s the key factor for surviving that many years. This symbiosis has grown organically. So there has never been a master plan.

CD: OK so this came together out of good common sense and collaborative efforts, without a particular culture or mind-set.

PON: In Symbiosis Centre Denmark, we are working on spreading this mind-set of creating industrial symbiosis, also among small and medium size companies (SMEs). And there you have or meet more barriers because it’s not their main core business. Some of them are not quite conscious on this mind-set of not seeing waste but seeing resources.

CD: Yes so there is a challenge here of education and empowerment in smaller structures.

PON: You have to build up this knowledge and this mind-set in the companies. When we work with the companies here, we also start asking them about their internal optimization of resources (energy, water, materials) because that’s the nearest logic, and they can see, “Oh, If we use better, we can earn on it.”

CD: mmh.. So adapting the language, starting from existing optimisation activities, what else?

PON: We also need to put it on their agenda, not to mention before, this is not in many small and medium size companies, and it is not their core business to optimize their resources. So they are not focused on it. That’s natural. But we have to put it on agenda because the first thing if you want to succeed within industrial symbiosis is that the company takes ownership of it.

CD: I have a question: Don’t we lose incentives in making our systems less wasteful with industrial symbiosis, isn’t there a sort of lock-in effects created from the economic benefits of waste exchange?

PON: Yes you could say, it could in a way extend some old industries but it can also transform the old industry. So I can’t give you a ‘yes and no’ answer on that.

CD: A good point to keep in mind when making investments then. Don’t put your chips on technology that you know is going to disappear or damage your brand in 10 years time, because it is not sustainable.

So Peer, if I am working with a local government, or a region or agency of some sort and I have in my area strong industrial activity, what is a good way to get things going in terms of facilitation?

PON: Our learning from that was that, it is not enough just to make the report and say, “Hey you have a potential”, because you have to facilitate it, you have to make adjustments. The first barrier is to create the acknowledgment but then you have maybe some investments to be made, and how do you decide which part of the company is going to take the most investment and the benefit? You have to find the balance between that. Maybe there are some technologies you have to develop. You have to facilitate this process. There are some risk management, “Will the companies be here within five years when we have made our agreements for five years?; “What are the legislations in the area etc.?”

CD: so you really need a third party organisation that is a driving force

PON: You always need to push this process to have the companies talk together and understand each other.

CD: Yes so a third party facilitator is always good for that. And in your case this facilitation project is a public initiative jointly funded by the municipality, by the region, and by the EU.

When I am gathering is that public facilitation seems to be most effective, at least when trying to stimulate SMEs that won’t have the manpower and resources to invest in such a planning exercise. In the case of large businesses, it’s more likely that their own optimisation exercise will lead to creating symbiosis.

Peer this was very helpful, thank you for your contribution.
Do you have any closing remark before we move on?

PON: Yes one thing more is that you are creating local resources, so you are more resilient to the fluctuation of the world market.

CD: Good point, resilience of your system. That’s important indeed. And maybe some job creation as well?

PON: We’re sure, but we do not have any figures on that. We are quite sure that there are big potentials to help the small and medium size companies to have a better competitiveness by not only using less resources and having less emissions but it is creating more jobs.

CD: Well that sounds very promising. We wish you all the best for the next stages of your project, and thank you very much for your time!

PON: Thank you, bye.

CD: Bye




CD: So in practice, here is how it goes:

You need to start by mapping material flows – what are the materials?

Wait… let’s put some music on!


No…no…there you go!

Alright let’s start over. So in practice, here is how it goes:

– You need to start by mapping material flows: what are the materials or energy inputs and outputs for each target facility? Then translate the potential interactions between them into economics.

– Share your report – Make some noise about it.

– Get buy-in, try to create this culture of collaboration. Even if the symbiosis will be driven by economic incentives, it’s important to get everyone on board on a common vision for how the partnership may develop and should be facilitated, especially when it comes to engaging SMEs & helping their research, etc.

– Define specific scenarios & pilot projects so you can validate technology and economic benefits.

– From here you will be able to develop and finance infrastructure, and reach scale. That’s it!

Here again we have collected a couple of interesting case studies that will give you a good idea of state of the art projects from around the world. You know where to find it.

Practical enough? Alright! See ya!


CD: Forgot to say something…

This episode was much shorter, and it’s on purpose. It comes in the context of a series, it was about a distinct topic and it may be easier to digest our content if we serve it bit by bit because sometimes it’s a lot to take on.

Let us know what you think, what you need and please send us feedback on our new website. It is on air, We’ve organised everything as “series” now and it just became easier to follow our investigations and train of thoughts.

Much more to come. Next episode will be about “Product Policy & Consumer Markets”. This where a major shift needs to happen, and it’s a tough nut to crack.

So get your painkillers ready, will be back soon to discuss the big shift. Keep up the good work in the meantime.


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