Industrial Symbiosis: Helping Cities Strengthen the Circular Economy

By Tracy Casavant, Executive Director, Light House Sustainable Building Center
Cities for People is proud to be supporting the National industrial Symbiosis Program in Canada or “NISP-Canada” (see ).
Refresher – What is Industrial Symbiosis?
Industrial Symbiosis (IS) establishes relationships between organizations to improve their bottom line through more efficient and effective resource management.
IS accelerates the shift towards a circular economy by identifying waste-to-input linkages and promoting collaboration around energy, water, materials, technical expertise, and transportation.
NISP-Canada Pilot
The NISP-Canada Pilot will adapt the UK’s (and now EU’s) highly successful NISP model in several regions across Canada. The Pilot will run for two years in three to five regions and set the stage for a permanent, broader program.
The UK / EU model is the most successful in the world, having been adopted by over 20 other countries. The UK government saw an astonishing benefit cost ratio (BCR) of ~40:1 on its investment in NISP. Through independent verification and studies NISP has been found to be the most cost effective, efficient program for delivering economic, social and environmental benefits.
The NISP Canada Pilot will demonstrate that comparable benefits can be achieved in Canada and will inform the model for a long-term and fully national NISP-Canada.
NISP-Canada Will Benefit Cities
NISP Canada brings numerous benefits to local governments, and directly supports a local government goals. NISP Canada can:
Strengthen businesses’ competitiveness: IS reduces business costs, diversifies revenue streams, and fosters innovation. After 8 years, NISP-UK cut participant operating costs by $2.07 billion and increased participant sales by $1.88 billion. In the UK, 20% of all implemented opportunities involved innovation, e.g., development / demonstration / commercialization.
Attract new business: The program’s software platform creates a database of untapped resources to help local governments attract investment. In one UK region, feedstock for a paper manufacturer were identified together with markets for its by-products; the local economic development agency was able to use this information to help attract a new paper manufacturer.
Create jobs: By strengthening businesses’ competitiveness and financial positions, and by generating new business opportunities e.g., for a new business to form around transforming a by-product, NISPs help to create, and safeguard jobs. After 8 years, the UK program created and safeguarded more than 10,000 jobs, with 8,600 of those occurring in the 2005-2010 period which included the global economic downturn.
Support local waste reduction and diversion goals: NISPs divert waste materials from landfill by establishing IS relationships that result in virgin materials being substituted by ‘wastes’, or in the creation of new production lines (or entire new businesses) designed to transform waste into valuable products. In 8 years, businesses participating in NISP-UK saw more than 47 million tonnes of materials diverted from landfill.
Reduce GHGs: NISPs reduce GHG emissions by lowering embodied energy in materials through the substitution of recycled constituents; reducing energy consumption; creating fuel substitution opportunities; reducing transportation energy by driving regional supply chain opportunities with lower transaction costs; reducing biodegradable materials sent to landfill; and creating lower carbon energy generation opportunities e.g., anaerobic digestion with feedstock from multiple regional businesses. In 8 years, NISP-UK reduced GHG emissions by 42 million tonnes. In the UK, the cost per tonne of GHGs reduced or avoided was a mere $0.61 CAD per tonne!
Build skills and capacity: Other NISPs have shown that the majority of participants are small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In addition to helping SMEs establish IS relationships, the NISP workshops, also promotes knowledge exchange and business-to-business mentoring. NISPs build SME capacity in waste and energy management; business case development and development and commercialization of new technologies and products.
Support a circular, green economy: NISP is recognized internationally by organizations such as the EU, Global Green Growth Forum, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as a key platform for advancing a circular, green economy.
 Delivering NISP-Canada to Canadian Cities
NISPs are delivered regionally. For the pilot phase, a ‘region’ refers to a metropolitan area – we are exploring the following large cities, Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton / Sarnia, Montreal, and Halifax. The pilot will help to identify how small or large NISP-Canada regions ultimately should be.
Cities within each region will have access to 2 dedicated IS Practitioners: A key factor of success for the NISP model is its use of specially trained, staff (‘practitioners’) located within each region. Practitioners facilitate workshops and are dedicated to working with businesses to follow-up on opportunities generated at the workshops; identify other IS opportunities; and shepherd IS opportunities to implementation.
Within each region, the NISP-Canada Pilot will deliver at least 4 Industrial Symbiosis Workshops with full practitioner follow-up; a Bi-Annual Performance Report, summarizing participation and key indicators such as number of synergies, projected GHG savings; and a Final Performance Report, documenting lessons learned across regions and providing recommendations, including policy, to support a full NISP-Canada program.
To learn more or provide your support, please contact Tracy Casavant at Light House Sustainable Building Centre
Additional Resources:
*Resource links and descriptions courtesy International Synergies Ltd. (UK)
NISP – The Pathway to a Low Carbon Sustainable Economy
Provides an insight into how some of the issues linked to climate change can be tackled using the industrial symbiosis approach and NISP model. The report charts the program’s progress since becoming the world’s first national industrial symbiosis initiative and showcases just a number of the thousands of synergies identified by the program and implemented by its members.
The NISP model has also been analysed and evaluated by numerous international bodies, and has won several international awards.
Globe Scan Circular Economy Best Practice Feb 2015
Two NISP programs (UK and South Africa) are cited in the top 30 recommendations for governments world-wide in this multi global consultancy report.
Industrial Symbiosis 3GF 2014: Positive Action for Green Growth
This newsletter was published for the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2014 and provides an update on the progress of the Industrial Symbiosis PPP which aims to take urgent action to advance industrial symbiosis at scale globally.
Industrial Symbiosis at 3GF: Positive Action for Green Growth
This newsletter was published for the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2013 which included a dedicated session on Industrial Symbiosis, led by International Synergies. The newsletter provides an introduction to Industrial Symbiosis as well as an overview of current global applications at local, regional and national level.
Outcomes of IWCAIS: Positive Action for Green Growth
This report sets out the findings of the first International Working Conference on Applied Industrial Symbiosis (IWCAIS), held in Birmingham, UK on 12th – 14th June, 2012. The conference was convened by International Synergies Limited, and co-hosted by Birmingham City Council, to highlight the ability of industrial symbiosis to address current sustainability challenges – economic, environmental and social.
NISP – A Policy Case Study
The study provides a detailed perspective of the progression of the program and considers factors, both positive and negative, that have had an effect on the program. The conclusion of the case study looks at the lessons learned for Horizon 2020 and states, “Essential insights for the planning, design implementation and monitoring of Horizon 2020 activities can be deduced from the key performance factors of NISP.”
Industrial Symbiosis in Action
Yale University produced a report on the highly successful International Industrial Symbiosis Research Symposium hosted by International Synergies in 2006. Leading experts in industrial ecology from across the world gathered in Birmingham in August 2006, marking only the third event of its kind, and the first to be held outside the academic community.
WWF Green Game Changing Report (2010)
International Synergies’ applied industrial symbiosis approach as illustrated through NISP is acknowledged as one of the world’s top 20 Green Game Changing Business Innovations in a report commissioned by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, 2010
European Union Waste Framework Directive (2009)
International Synergies’ NISP is cited as an example of best practice in the European Union Waste Framework Directive published in 2009.