From a linear to a circular economy

©Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The linear economy “take, make and waste” is a reflection of a time when resources and energy were believed to be unlimited and easy to obtain and there was no awareness of the serious environmental consequences.

Today, the circular economy is proposed as the logical and viable alternative, which corrects the main problems of the linear scheme. The circular economy refers to a production and consumption system that creates as little economic loss as possible, and where resources used in production processes can be reused and recycled. Green growth means fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies. To do this, we must catalyse investment and innovation that will underpin sustained growth and give rise to new economic opportunities.

Industrial symbiosis, a path towards green growth

Industrial Symbiosis (IS) is one way to achieve green growth by keeping the added value in products for as long as possible and at the same time eliminating waste.

IS involves synergistic advantages among a network of traditionally separate industrial stakeholders. It involves exchanging by-products and energy cascades, or the joint provision of utilities and services, to improve the interested stakeholders’ overall environmental and economic performance.¹

For this tool to be carried out correctly, a series of principles must be fulfilled, among the most important are the following:

  • The creative collaboration between generators and consumers to make it profitable.
  • Close communication between the participants (companies, innovation communities, government, etc.). The information must flow freely between them.
  • It is necessary to innovate, break paradigms, from the invention of new technologies to the creation of strategies to overcome regulatory obstacles.
  • The participation of all the members of a company, from the president to the operators is fundamental.
  • IS initiatives should be evaluated throughout its entire life cycle (before, during and after its implementation) to ensure the achievement of economic, environmental and social objectives.

©Kalundborg Symbiosis

Although the industrial symbiosis is not exempt from legal, economic and social barriers that impede its fully development, there are already several great examples in the world of industrial parks that use the concepts of symbiosis and industrial ecology to produce more sustainably. Kalundborg was the first example of separate industries grouping together to gain competitive advantage by materials exchange, energy exchange, information exchange and/or product exchange.² Luckily, there has been a domino effect and the Kalundborg approach has been imitated by many other countries.