In Hindsight

Creating value instead of throwing it away - Zirkel.Training

Station 1 | June 1, 2021

Regional Eco-Industrial Networks- Of complex relationships and the benefits of proximity

With the first station of the Zirkel.Training we were guests at the RWTH Aachen and were pleased about the lively reception of up to 51 participants, among them 25 students of the RWTH and the rest from four other universities in NRW.

For her lecture Prof. Dr. Martina Fromhold-Eisebith from the Chair of Economic Geography posed the following central question: How can circular economy contribute to the solution of industrial environmental problems, supported by regional approaches to Eco-Industrial Networks or Parks?

Material flows, actors, relationships

If we consider the many different actors involved in a value chain, the material flows that flow through manufacturing companies in the form of inputs (energy, raw materials) and outputs (end products, waste), and finally the many different relationships between companies and their environment, it quickly becomes clear that sustainable circular production is a highly demanding and complex task.

Schaubild Stoffströme
Escalante/ Hafner 2017:; verändert

The starting points for circular business between and within plants are equally diverse. One example of “circular” relationships between businesses is the further processing of waste or by-products from one business by another. A changed relationship with consumers brings the transformation of the business model from product sales to service models, for example leasing. The most important insight is that nothing works without close coordination and cooperation – between companies, as well as with suppliers and customers.

Proximity as an advantage

One model that relies on spatial proximity for cooperation between companies is the so-called Eco-Industrial Networks or Eco Industrial Parks. The aim of this local association is to conserve resources and minimize waste and pollution, while taking advantage of various economic and social proximity benefits.

Networking can reach various levels of depth, from the idea of the food chain, which aims for closed material flows between the companies, to the joint use of services and infrastructure, to the incentive effect through role models.

The advantages of spatial proximity lie in cost and time savings, e.g. through short distances, in stronger social cohesion, and in identification with common sustainable development goals related to the region.

The showcase model for Eco Industrial Parks is Symbiosis Kalundborg in Denmark. Successful consulting and implementation concepts are the Ökoprofit model or Ökobusiness Wien.

Luminary in the field of circular economy as a guest

As a surprise guest, Martin Kranert, publisher of the standard work “Introduction to the Circular Economy”, had his say. He supplemented and deepened two aspects in his impulse:

1. The path to circular value creation begins with the product responsibility of industry. This is because product design defines how quickly something becomes waste. Counter-strategies here are designed for durability and ease of repair, timeless aesthetics, or even new usage models that consider return and refurbishment at the same time.

2. The three central strategies of sustainability are also essential for the circular economy:

Efficiency: producing products using as little material and energy as possible.

Consistency: conformity with nature’s metabolic processes (nature knows no waste)

Sufficiency: refraining from the production and consumption of products. This is the hardest but most effective way, because everything that is not produced does not burden nature and does not consume resources.

Group work: actors & coordination needs

In the workshop part of Station 1, everyone then had to get involved. Based on short film portraits on the topics of circular economy for plastics, recycling of food waste and circular approaches in the textile industry, the participants analyzed which actors are involved in each case and developed ideas on which particular consulting and coordination needs a regional network approach for circular economy should address.