How global challenges become local advantages

Posted January 20, 2017

Kalundborg city in Denmark is an outstanding example of industrial symbiosis – a place where a company’s waste is another company resource in a closed cycle. It has been so for the last 25 years.
How is it that the rest of the world is catching on circular economy way now, and not earlier? Stefan Danielsson from Symbiosis Centre Denmark has some ideas.

Industrial symbiosis is a subset of the concept of Industrial Ecology, which in turn is a subset of circular economy. In reality it is when two or more industries exchange concrete resources, such as energy, water, material and other bi-products. It can also be sharing of space, equipment, services, or perhaps even labour. The benefits are twofold; economic and environmental. A lose-lose situation can turn into a win-win for both companies. The benefits appear on both a local and a regional level in terms of e.g. climate change mitigation and job creation/retention.

Kalundborg city shows the way
The first industrial symbiosis in Denmark, Kalundborg, started 1961, but the circular economy paradigm is new.
In Kalundborg huge corporations such as Novo Nordisk, Statoil, Novozymes, Gyproc, DONG Energy power plant as well as Kalundborg municipality work together. It all started from the need of resources, says Stefan Danielsson environmental engineer and project officer from Symbiosis Center Denmark. “There was not enough ground water in Kalundborg for cooling purposes in the heavy industry. Everyone involved needed to think differently. The water from nearby Tissø lake was jointly piped into the Symbiosis and later re-used by different companies as they all had become aware of the need to use water efficiently.” Stefan was one of the process leaders at the Industrial symbiosis workshop at The Bridge 2016, and points out that innovation is based on co-operation, and co-operation needs trust.

Finding a recipe that works in Scandinavia
Symbiosis Center Denmark is a national project financed by the Region of Sjælland. In one of the sub projects “Rest til Ressource”, different small and medium size enterprises (SME) are screened for what bi-products and motivation they can utilize for engaging in industrial symbiosis with other companies. “Large corporates are better positioned to have specific process engineering or environmental departments, specialized to investigate opportunities like that, unless hiring external consultants, Stefan Danielsson points out. “However, SME’s lack competencies and time to deal with this question alone. Therefore a knowledge center or facilitator is highly needed.” Potential clients are selected and then they get a technical developmental plan and green business model that further decides what to do on a small scale. Symbiosis Center Denmark aims to spread the methodology and the research on it, possibly to make a recipe that other cities and countries in Scandinavia can modify or follow themselves.

Trust and proximity are key prerequisites
Stefan Danielsson says that we have in-built trust in Scandinavia – a key prerequisite to collaborate business to business. Another vital precondition is proximity. Companies should to be within a relatively short distance from each other to begin a fruitful and lucrative symbiosis. In Kalundborg, the proximity encouraged meetings between the corporate people that otherwise was unlikely to happen. Danish researcher Noel Brings Jacobsen has investigated the social aspects on creating industrial symbioses in Kalundborg, and stresses that informal gatherings such as Rotary and in other clubs, were very important in forming the symbiosis. What happens if you do not engage in industrial symbiosis? “Everything that doesn’t happen when you do so; potential opportunity loss of improving competitiveness, money saving and environmental benefit”, says Stefan Danielsson. For more information: