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Industrial symbiosis — An eco-friendly realm

Published on 25th Jan, Edition 4, 2016


How a miraculous eco-transformation came into existence in China? This is a frequently asked question. In fact China promoted industrial development through the concept of eco-friendly industrial symbiosis. In symbiotic industrial collaboration there is a physical exchange of materials and by-products, as well as shared management of infrastructure for water, energy and waste. To achieve industrial symbiosis China has implemented Eco-Industrial Park (EIP) initiatives as a mainstream strategy of a circular economy since the turn of the new century.

China had around 300 national industrial parks, including 210 ETDA (Economic and Technological Development Areas) and 113 HTPs (High-Tech Parks) and recently, a great number of success stories regarding industrial symbiosis have emerged in which one industry output benefits another.

An eco-industrial park is a community of manufacturing and service businesses located together on a common property. Member businesses seek enhanced environmental, economic, and social performance through collaboration in managing environmental and resource issues. By working together, the community of businesses seeks a collective benefit that is greater than the sum of individual benefits each company would realize by only optimizing its individual performance.

The central theme of industrial symbiosis is utilizing the output of one industry as a feedstock of another. The aim here is to maximize the utilization of waste products of each individual unit in the zone with the goal of promoting greener production of goods.

Environmentally-friendly production has been fully integrated in the recently introduced concept of eco-industrial parks. An Eco-Industrial Park (EIP) is basically one where industries, businesses and local community cooperate with one another, thereby reducing waste and pollution by efficiently sharing resources. All this helps to achieve sustainable development and environment-friendly production of goods.

EIPs act as an innovation platform for environmental management, including master planning, industrial layout, environmental risk control, environmental performance reporting. All of which leads to the transition of the environmental management of industrial parks from the end-of-pipe treatment paradigm to a more system-oriented one.

Company to company exchanges is only one part of an integrated system for recovering wasted resources and reusing them at highest value. A strong cluster of resource recovery and recycling companies, an effective coordination agency or company, company eco-industrial networks, research and development, and financing are other essential parts of this system. In addition, cleaner production within facilities must precede end-of-pipe recovery to optimize utilization of resources in the production process.

An Eco-Industrial Park will achieve profitable return on investment while demonstrating an environmentally and socially sound form of industrial real estate development. This model of industrial development will be a major hub for sustainable regional development.


The original inspiration was the case of Kalundborg in Denmark, where materials, energy, and water exchanges evolved among a group of companies in a region and their host community. Here a large power plant’s outputs was the basis for a series of inter-firm deals to utilize by-products economically among a refinery, a wallboard company, a pharmaceutical company, a fish farm, and community district heating.

In China, the Guangxi Guitang Group is a notable example of using sugar production by-products, first within a single city-owned company, and then in a broader network including other sugar producers in the city of Guitang and the farmers growing cane.

This success was possible because the first investments in infrastructure and plants were all within a single corporate group, not between separate firms. From this single-company, an eco-industrial network has evolved, including other sugar producers and the farmers growing the sugar cane.

Future in Pakistan

Chinese-styled symbiotic industrial zones should also be established in Pakistan. Pakistan has the option of implementing the concept of EIZs in two ways. One way is turning the area around an existing mega-industrial unit into an EIZ where smaller units are encouraged to utilize the outputs of bigger units and another way is by constructing new industrial zones from scratch. In the latter approach, the advantage would be having the opportunity to design the park with efficiently linked industrial units designed to achieve maximum economic, social and environmental benefits.

For this cause the government will need to provide some sort of incentives to industrialists to attract investment. Something on the lines of carbon credits would be helpful. The government can give green tax credits (GTC) in which the industries are asked to pay less tax on the basis of manufacturing their products in an environment-friendly manner and utilizing wastes, which would otherwise be dumped untreated.

The first step towards achieving the setting up of an EIZ is planning and designing. That needs to be carefully laid out and in consultation with EIZ experts and industry in view of the locally available resources and the next challenge would be attracting investment for the EIZ. It needs to be explored to what extent overseas Pakistanis would be interested in investment. In an appropriate investment environment and incentive packages, foreign investors would certainly be motivated.

The government should follow the success pattern of other nations for help and guidance in this regard. China in particular could be of much use as it already has built extensive experience in the recent past. Pakistan should also need to build its own expertise and experience in EIZs.

The political leadership and policymakers should seriously explore all possibilities to revive industry and the economy in a sustainable manner. An inclusive and well integrated policy mix is the need of the hour.

(The writer is President PCJCCI and CEO Haier Ruba SEZ)


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