The major challenge of our century is climate change, that is no big news. Companies have understood that they need to take action. “Business as usual” approaches are no longer sufficient nor compatible with current world development. Although the need for digitization is increasingly present - and Cozero is there to support that - , what’s missing is collaboration.  

A sustainability transformation is successful when stakeholders are engaged in the transition. Through our communication tool - Cozero Share - we support clients in sharing their achievements and progress with their stakeholders. This is an amazing opportunity to strengthen partnerships, collaboration and start new projects. Sharing and transparency are paramount and we will see it in today’s topic: industrial ecology.

Industrial ecology is emerging as a viable solution as it focuses on reducing the consumption of natural resources, saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a network of organizations.

Definition: The circular economy is an economic system for exchange and production which, at all stages of the product life cycle (goods and services), aims to increase the efficiency of resource use and reduce the impact on the environment, while enabling people to live well. (Ademe)

Fundamentally, circular economy adopts a completely different point of view compared to linear economy, which is the “business as usual” case (as you can see on the picture below). For many years the linear economic model of take-make-use-dispose has been the dominant social logic with regard to production and consumption. This way of thinking has a negative impact on the planet’s resources, and the circular economic perspective provides a new way of thinking: decoupling economic growth from virgin resource extraction.

The challenge of circular economy is simple: limit the waste of used resources and save products and materials as much as possible to minimize the impact on the environment. It is part of a comprehensive action plan that includes, among others, the following elements:

  • Sustainable supply: aiming for efficient exploitation and extraction and ensuring that waste is minimized.
  • Ecodesign: when designing a process, service or good, it is essential to consider the entire life cycle by limiting environmental impacts.
  • Economy of functionality: a type of organization between companies, which will exchange flows or share their needs.
  • Responsible consumption: use is given priority over possession so that it is preferable to sell services related to products rather than the products themselves.
  • Extension of the duration of use: we will tend to repair, sell, give or buy second-hand rather than throw away.
  • Recycling and reusing

Industrial ecology goes hand in hand with circular economy. It is a relatively new field that is based on a natural paradigm: an industrial ecosystem may behave in a similar way to the natural ecosystem in which everything gets recycled. It mainly focuses on assessing the potential role of industry in reducing environmental burdens throughout the analysis of flows of materials and energy in products’ lifecycle and processes.

Benefits from industrial ecology are multiple:

  • Cost reduction: reducing the quantities of materials and packaging means savings, which allows a better control over costs.
  • Reducing environmental impact: to engage in such an approach, this notion must be at the heart of stakeholders’ concerns since reducing consumption helps to limit environmental impact.
  • Regulatory compliance: every company must be aware of the regulations in force on the issue of waste management, since all have their share of responsibility, and therefore design products that generate less waste and opt for greener production, treatment and distribution methods.

Motivations and actors can be multiple and varied in an industrial ecosystem. Whether they are companies seeking economic or environmental performance, public actors in charge of territorial development or even civil societies, involving all these stakeholders to take on the challenge can have tremendous positive impacts on communities and decarbonization as you will see now.

A successful implementation of Industrial Ecology: the case of Kalundborg

Towards the end of the 1950’, the first successful implementation of industrial ecology was witnessed in Kalundborg, Denmark. Several large companies and the municipality, all very resource-intensive, agreed to collaborate and recycle their waste and resources in order to achieve industrial symbiosis. Today, there are 11 stakeholders working together.

Industrial symbiosis describes how a network of diverse organizations can foster eco-innovation and long-term culture change, create and share mutually beneficial transactions, improve business and technical processes.

At Kalundborg, collaboration is based on trust, confidentiality, openness and cooperation. The mission was to create sustainable development within members through joint projects around circular economy with the following strategic objectives:

  • Create a network to connect for full resource utilization
  • Strengthen partnerships to increase commitment
  • Promote by sharing knowledge and inspire others to be part of the symbiosis

More practically, resources are recycled and shared in an almost closed-loop operation, anchored in a circular logic. A very important element of industrial ecology implemented in Kalundborg is the application of an effective waste management: recover waste from one stakeholder that can be used as a resource by another (you can see these links on the plan below).

Example of Kalundborg Bioenergy (see the plan above): Novozymes (Novogro) and Novo Nordisk are sending their residual biomass to the biogas plant. Indeed, this residual biomass can be exploited to produce biogas and fertilizer. At the plant, biogas is upgraded to natural gas quality through a refining process where carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide are removed from the product. Natural gas is sent to local companies (Gyproc, Equinor) and to end consumers via the national gas grid. Sulfur from the hydrogen sulphide is collected and reused in fertilizer products together with the gasified biomass residual.

As a result, Kalundborg has become a blueprint for industrial ecology. By exchanging flows, reducing and treating waste efficiently, it saves up to 665,000 tons of CO2, 3 million liters of water, 20,000 tonnes of oil and 200,000 tonnes of gypsum every year. Even more interesting, every year, roughly 24.2 million € are saved.

In practice: how to implement it easily?

The first thing to know before starting such a project is that:

  • Stakeholders must be complementary and diverse: one man’s waste is another man's resources,
  • Stakeholders must be located in the same territory to minimize transportation costs and facilitate communication.

Creating industrial ecology is an iterative process that will improve and grow over time. There are three steps that can be taken:

Step 1 - Eco-management: Brainstorm, test, and implement ways to reduce or eliminate pollution and waste

Step 2 - Eco-auditing: Identify specific examples of materials use, energy use, and waste reduction

Step 3 - Eco-accounting: Count how much was saved, then count how much is still being spent creating waste and start the cycle over.

Each of these steps is divided into tasks. The table below shows that these steps overlap and are repeated within the approach.

(Implementation process for applying industrial ecology at corporate level)

It goes without saying that mobilizing teams is paramount for a successful project. Because everyone has the opportunity to act at their own level and therefore should be involved in the process, informing and raising awareness within the team will ensure commitment to the project: for example, production technicians will be able to identify potential energy losses and their origin as well as suggest ways to counter and improve them.

Moreover, to create a culture of exchange, adopting the right tool to communicate and share information relating to stakeholders’ activities in real-time is another necessary pillar. For instance, CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management Software) for industrial maintenance to be able to manage leaks and other malfunctions that can threaten production lines, reduce cost of maintenance and replacement of parts.