Since 2002, Birmingham city council (BCC) has had a strong history of supporting and promoting industrial symbiosis, which is a principal pillar of the circular economy. Over 15 years, industrial symbiosis has consistently initiated and supported multiple projects, together with stakeholders such as the local, world-leading SME International Synergies Ltd, the city’s universities and business community, enabling BCC to take this vital element of the circular economy across the world. Industrial symbiosis involves the facilitation of commercial transactions or activities - synergies - of using waste materials or by-products such as energy, water or other resources generated by companies and integrating them as inputs into the production processes of other companies.
The effect is to keep resources circulating in the economy for longer, leading to the generation of economic, environmental and social benefits. Over this period some of the ‘physical’ manifestations of these actions in favour of industrial symbiosis have resulted in different projects:
- the creation of the Tyseley Environmental Enterprise Zone (TEEZ)
- the Big City Plan (combining industrial symbiosis with city planning): a 20-year city centre master plan, a vision encouraging and supporting Birmingham’s continuing transformation into a world class city centre. It covers every aspect of the built environment, including sustainable development and efforts to address the impact of climate change as part of the future transformation of the city centre
- an energy park and the European Bioenergy Research Institute
BCC has also hosted delegations - industrial symbiosis ‘tourists’ - from at least 25 countries including Turkey, Egypt and China within the last few months. Together with International Synergies, an SME acknowledged for its expertise in devising and managing industrial symbiosis programmes, BCC has spread industrial symbiosis methodology to over 30 countries across five continents and has seen its incorporation in European policy, most recently through the circular economy package.
It has been a challenge to introduce this new concept to a range of stakeholders within the council and the business community of the city and beyond.
A further challenge was maintaining the approach over a protracted period of time that saw competing priorities for officer time and a number of changes in the political make-up of the administration at the city level and at the national level, where there was no supporting policy.
It was also a challenge to match industrial symbiosis efforts to local, national and European funding opportunities. Until recently, there were opportunities that required industrial symbiosis activity, but many did not take into account the full scope of impacts that industrial symbiosis could deliver. For example, impact was either monitored as water or carbon savings or jobs or waste diversion, but none asked for all the collective benefits offered by industrial symbiosis.
At the pan-European level, Birmingham city council, and in particular its staff in its Brussels office, had to make the linkages across the various European institutions to demonstrate the cross cutting and circular economy nature of this activity and to generate awareness for industrial symbiosis.
Main activity field:
The BCC’s long-term support of industrial symbiosis has had real impact on European policy and recommendations, such as the European waste framework directive, or, more recently, the circular economy package. But more importantly, the BCC’s efforts impacted the city and surrounding area. Indeed, the Industrial symbiosis approach has been an excellent policy and strategic instrument that has contributed to multiple city aims including:
- reduction in carbon emissions; in the Tyseley Environmental Enterprise Zone (TEEZ) project for example, there is, up to date, already 1.8 million tons of carbon-dioxide reduction.
- reduction in industrial waste to landfill
- job creation; the TEEZ project already created more than three thousand jobs
- demand pull on innovation (particularly engaging local universities)
- supporting the city’s SMEs and micros who suffer from the market failure of ‘time poverty’
- identifying opportunities for inward investment
- identifying opportunities for the export of clean and green technologies
- regeneration of industrial parks
- engaging SMEs and entrepreneurs
The BCC approach on industrial symbiosis has demonstrated that:
- long term support and engagement will deliver greater impact than short-term interventions
- coordinating across departments such as economic development, environment, international relations and planning maximises the benefits
- introducing actions related to the concept in planning and other policy documents also maximises the benefits
- looking outside city boundaries for opportunities and looking at the opportunity cost of not taking this approach is necessary to achieve results
- persistence and consistent messaging on developing an innovative concept has led to worldwide impact