News and Events.

G7 Industrial Symbiosis Workshop by Peter Laybourn

30th November 2015

One month on (and much travel later), I’ve had some time to reflect on the recent industrial symbiosis workshop, held under the umbrella of the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency. The workshop was co-hosted by the German and UK governments, supported by Birmingham City Council, organised by International Synergies and held in Birmingham on 29-30 October 2015.

What the workshop involved

Many people donated their time and effort over a very short timescale to enable it to happen. Full marks to the German Government for pushing through the initiative of the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency followed by UK Government for hosting (Defra – Neil Fourie and Simon Johnson driving it). Birmingham City Council, a long-time supporter of industrial symbiosis, provided a stunning venue, organisational support and food! There was a huge effort from my own staff (Dr Rachel Lombardi in particular for devising and assembling the programme and speakers) and thank you to the media students from Birmingham City University who provided the photography and filming.

The full programme covered the background to the alliance, and the inclusion of industrial symbiosis as the first themed workshop. Participants represented a high-level mix from the United Nations (UNEP, UNIDO, UNDP), G7 governments, businesses (both corporate and SME), international institutions (European Commission, IRP, 3GF, CDKN etc.) academia, practitioners, cities, government agencies and the financial sector… in the truest sense of industrial symbiosis: all sectors, all sizes.

From outside the G7, both South Africa (moving rapidly towards a national industrial symbiosis strategy) and Turkey (utilisation of industrial symbiosis in regional economic development plans) presented pioneering work on industrial symbiosis. We were blessed with superb moderators including Professor Paul Ekins OBE, Laura Sandys and Vicky Pryce. On a personal note, I was delighted to see old friends in attendance including: Laurence Grand-Clément, Jiggy Lloyd, Dr Thomas Sterr and Adrian Whyle.

The workshop built upon the IWCAIS (1) from 2012 where we first showed the world that industrial symbiosis is a useful tool to advance the global themes of eco-innovation, material security, regional economic development and climate change mitigation. Arla Foods, Ricoh and Jaguar Land Rover presented examples of eco-innovation, while stressing the need for facilitated networks. While Bosch, Ricoh and Jaguar Land Rover addressed material security.

Our friends from the Turkish Government and Birmingham City Council presented compelling reasons for the inclusion of industrial symbiosis across planning and regional economic development and regeneration. It was also very exciting to see industrial symbiosis recognised across the UN for its contribution to the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for global agendas including climate change mitigation.

Key takeaways

For me some of the key takeaways emerging from panel discussions and presentations included:

  • Industry can deliver on these agendas global agendas but independent facilitated support greatly accelerates and enhances results;
  • Industrial symbiosis operates at different scales from City/Regional to International;
  • Although some changes in regulation/legislation (informed by industrial symbiosis) could be useful, few are actually needed and can be informed by industrial symbiosis programmes for regulators to help clarify requirements;
  • Governments and government agencies could financially benefit through active involvement in industrial symbiosis implementation;
  • Public procurement can be used to help promote industrial symbiosis.

The day before the main G7 event, we staged a side event (which was packed) to explore the potential application of industrial symbiosis in post disaster/post conflict economies, which are unfortunately an all too regular part of our daily news. Key stakeholders including OXFAM, UNDP, Disaster Waste Recovery, Business in the Community, Saving Lives and Arup International agreed further work is warranted to integrate an industrial symbiosis approach to improve resource management in these critical situations. A separate report on these findings will be available on our website soon.

The challenge

My challenge remains to governments, which I appreciate are facing very tough budgetary constraints and have to make difficult choices, making it even more important to get best value for money. The challenge is for them to undertake a cost benefit analysis of what they are spending to promote/achieve green growth, green jobs, innovation, carbon reduction, resource security, resource efficiency — and to compare that sum with the evidence base of what they could achieve with a small investment into facilitated industrial symbiosis (especially if they actively involve their own spending departments).

There are now numerous independent and supportive reports for the widespread adoption of industrial symbiosis as part of the suite of solutions for a circular economy (for example, Industrial symbiosis contributes to all 5 circular economy business models identified by Accenture in its report, Circular Advantage (2), is cited as best practice in De Groene Zak’s Governments Go Circular (3), and recommended by European FP7 projects POLFREE and DYNAMIX (4)).

We were also pleased to welcome, just before the G7 reception, the launch of Industrial Evolution (5), a report from the UK Manufacturing Commission calling for UK Government to re-invest in facilitated NISP for UK PLC. Finally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if industrial symbiosis features strongly in the European Commission’s revised Circular Economy package due out later this week.

There are some perceptions that the G7 is a talking shop – the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency has a real opportunity and responsibility to counter that perception by demonstrating effective and urgent action on resource efficiency.

Ex-Commissioner Janez Potočnik in his role as Co-chair of the International Resource Panel (IRP) recently reminded us all that it is impossible to tackle climate change without at the same time tackling resource efficiency – they go hand in hand. As ever the most important thing now is what happens next. Momentum must be carried through, be it via key reports on resource efficiency policy and practice commissioned by the G7 from the OECD and the IRP, COP21 or further high profile events in early 2016 such as the Global Green Growth Form (3GF) and Globe 2016.

The reason why industrial symbiosis is so attractive to me, however, is that it responds to the need for urgent action and can be done tomorrow without the need for new laws, regulations or international agreements and fits very much into the arena of action at least cost.


Just as ten years ago I would have never have believed that industrial symbiosis activity would have extended across all continents (International Synergies’ capacity building alone now extends to 30 countries, we as a company are really proud of this!) I also wouldn’t have imagined we would be a top priority for G7. If I had a tinge of disappointment it was that Governments tend still to talk of industrial symbiosis in terms of ‘waste’, which doesn’t do justice to this multi-faceted and versatile tool. I think the G7 workshop overall was a testament to what good application and delivery can achieve. However, there is still scope for scale up, a discussion that continues with the EU, UN (e.g. through International Synergies work with the RECPnet (6) supported by the UK FCO in cooperation with UNEP) and the 3GF industrial symbiosis track.

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