Industrial Symbiosis Programs: International Lessons

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By Tracy Casavant, Executive Director, Light House Sustainable Building Center and James Woodcock, International Manager, International Synergies Ltd (UK)

Canada is set to become the 21st country to launch a National Industrial Symbiosis Program. In the past ten years since the first NISP was launched in the UK, the NISP model has been evolving, meaning Canada is in a good position to apply the lessons learned from other countries. And so, in no particular order, here is what we have learned.

Lesson 1: It Matters Who’s in Charge

While government support of NISPs is critical, government agencies don’t make the best delivery agents, even if they are agencies that do not have a regulatory role. Delivery agents from the private sector who employ people with experience in industry are better received by businesses.

In Canada, a research report prepared by students at Concordia’s John Molson School for Business determined that a not-for-profit, arms-length organization would be an ideal delivery agent. A not-for-profit structure demonstrates to businesses that the program provider is not seeking to profit from the businesses efforts, but really is there to champion the businesses’ efforts. A not-for-profit structure is also important to access many types of government and private funding in Canada.

Cities (local governments) can be involved as financial and logistical supporters; advisory council participants; and even program participants – a municipal wastewater treatment plant can participate as a ‘business’. And of course, NISPs help cities to achieve many of their policy goals (see our previous blog post); provide important feedback regarding policy issues and economic development opportunities, and can provide data to support sustainability reporting.

Lesson 2: Capitalize on Existing Networks

Industrial associations can be important for recruiting large numbers of members. Working with trade associations, depending on how they are organised, can lead to rapid replication of synergies.

In Canada, this will mean working with organizations such as the Alberta Industrial Heartland Association, local Chambers of Commerce, or ClimateSmart, which has more than 700 business members. And, local economic development officers / agencies associated with Cities will also be important partners helping NISP-Canada to connect with local businesses.

Lesson 3: It Takes Two, Baby…. Or Three or Four

Apart from simple by-products, say wooden pallets, it is rare for materials to go from A to B without some form of transformation (which is often where jobs and new business start- ups are created) and added value. Working with a number of companies in one synergy can make something that individually would not be economical viable. The NISP model helps to identify these opportunities through its special workshop process, and through the use of dedicated regional practitioners who can connect companies working on similar synergies within a region… or even within the international NISP network.

Lesson 4: Pilot Wisely

The scope of a pilot should also be similar to the scope of a full-program, or the benefits may not be substantial enough to generate support for a full program. For example, it can be detrimental to launch a pilot without resources for at least one, dedicated practitioner to start and without at least a one year commitment so that multiple workshops can be delivered, and there is sufficient time for synergies to progress from idea to implementation (and performance measurement).

NISP Canada is seeking enough resources to launch each pilot region with at least 2 practitioners, for 2 years.

Pre-feasibility work around the specific delivery model can also be helpful.

Cities for People specifically supported pre-feasibility work for NISP-Canada that supported the development of the business plan for the pilot.

Pilot activities can raise awareness and enthusiasm but it is important that there is not too much time passing between pilot and realisation of practical delivery to not dampen expectations and enthusiasm.

The NISP model allows for frequent performance measurement. As the NISP-Canada pilot proceeds, these interim results will be used to seek support for a permanent program so that a permanent program can begin right after the pilot.

Lesson 5: Be Practical

It is important to balance academic research in potential synergies with practical delivery. Don't get lost in researching the potential of a synergy to the detriment of progressing the synergy through to practical completion. This is one of the most counter-intuitive lessons of NISPs – we do not need to conduct exhaustive material and energy flow analyses to identify synergies. Life is too short for full life-cycle analysis every time!

The NISP model relies carefully structured and facilitated workshops and specially, consistently trained practitioners to ensure a practical focus. NISP-Canada will of course adhere to that model.

Lesson 6: Research Does Have a Role

It is important to connect with research institutes, incubator companies, and venture capital to realise demand-pull on innovation from identified innovation synergies.

NISP-Canada will work with organizations such as universities or angel investor networks in each region, for example inviting representatives to observe at workshops to identify synergies from which they might benefit in supporting e.g., as an investor or to develop new technology that will remove a technical barrier.

Lesson 7: All Aboard – Engage Key Stakeholders Early

Building a broad understanding of the NISP model, such as including key stakeholders in some of the initial training, yields big benefits later in programme life.

The NISP-Canada Pilot will include key stakeholders, such as representatives from industry associations, in some of the early practitioner training. This will also help to create regional program ambassadors who can support practitioners in engaging as many businesses as possible as quickly as possible. (See also Lesson 2)

Lesson 8: Data Can Be A Common Language

The use of a common database system (SynergIE™) allows for regional programs to be linked, ensuring cross-regional activity can occur (even occasionally across different countries). The use of the SynergIE™ platform also facilitates the sharing of synergy opportunities and lessons learned across the network of countries with NISPs.

NISP-Canada, including the pilot phase, will also use the SynergIE™ platform. i.e., expertise and implementation tricks from one region will be available to all in the network.

Lesson 9: NISPs Can Be Many Things to Many People

NISPs can be driven from many directions – social, economic, and environmental. This is a strength of the model. Initially, the UK programme was based on landfill diversion because a landfill tax was due to be implemented. The tax was delayed and the drivers of the programme needed to be changed. . Although initial engagement by some companies may have been because of the landfill tax, they soon began to recognise NISP as a business opportunity programme. From institutions and governments, NISP has been recognised as a tool for climate change mitigation, eco-innovation, regional economic development and material security.

As discussed in the last blog post (URL), NISPs help cities to achieve goals as diverse as boosting businesses’ competitiveness to diverting waste from landfill. NISP-Canada is reaching out to a diverse group of partners, recognizing this strength.

Lesson 10: Return on Investment Can Be Fast!

Return on investment can be quick and often doesn’t require new regulations or complicated agreements. The experience of NISPs has shown that there are quick wins that can appear within 3-6 months. Although some synergies involving innovation/new technologies do take some time, there are many synergies that can be implemented quickly and have a culture change effect on the companies involved to want to do more. As the programme incorporates measurements, these quick wins can be quickly turned in to case studies/examples to encourage others.

Industrial Symbiosis: Helping Cities Strengthen the Circular Economy

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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 http://citiesforpeople.ca/en/story/nisp ).

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 tracy@lhsbc.com.

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.