The Kalundborg symbiosis

City of Kalundborg, Danmark

SDG 6: Clean water and sanitationSDG 7: Affordable and clean energySDG 9: Industry innovation and infrastructure
Kalundborg Symbiosis is a partnership between nine public and private companies in the city of Kalundborg, Denmark. Since 1972, these partners have developed the world’s first industrial symbiosis with a circular approach to production. The industrial ecosystem that has been created in Kalundborg is a closed cycle where the by-product and residual product of one company is used as a resource by other companies in the symbiosis. It’s a leading example of local collaboration where public and private enterprises buy and sell residual products, resulting in mutual economic and environmental benefits.
The symbiosis network is located at the Kalundborg Eco-industrial Park and involves a number of actors, including a power station, two big energy firms, a plasterboard company, and a soil remediation company. Other actors include farmers, recycling facilities, and fish factories that use some of the material flows. Kalundborg Municipality also plays an active role.
The Kalundborg Symbiosis is a pioneer in its field and provides expertise and experience to other symbiosis sites across the world and is therefore also one of the partners in the UBIS project.

The Kalundborg Symbiosis was developed naturally from the mutual interest of the companies working in close proximity as a means to maximize resource efficiency and profitability. The development was hence not driven, primarily, by environmental or ideological concerns nor by the vision of local authorities. Therefore, it is essential for the symbiosis to continue, that the partners keep finding mutually benefiting relationships.

There are two challenges in regard to this when it comes to pricing. Firstly, the prices of the materials delivered by a symbiosis partner have to make economic sense and match the regular market price for such a product. Secondly, companies express concern about ensuring a secure and steady supply of energy and raw materials, as a participant in the symbiosis, one needs to consider the consequences, if a key-partner in the project closes or pulls out of the symbiosis.

Good practices and solutions

Applying the principles of industrial symbiosis to business practices enables companies to cooperate in order to utilise material streams, energy, water and other assets more efficiently, yielding greater overall productivity, resource efficiency and profitability.

The symbiosis established in Kalundborg is about finding mutually benefitting relationships whereby undervalued materials, by-products or waste, rather than being destroyed or sent away, are repurposed for use by another company, typically from a different sector. Having evolved organically over the past six decades, the Kalundborg Symbiosis is today a pioneer and has proven that industrial symbiosis is a model for success, both from a sustainability and profitability standpoint. The model is not only profitable for the partners, who as a result of the symbiosis enjoyed annual bottom-line savings of about 24 million €52, but also for society as a whole. The following are some examples of resources saved through the Kalundborg Industrial symbiosis initiative:

• Groundwater: 2.0 mill. m3/year

• Surface water: 1.0 mill. m3/year

• Natural gypsum: 200.000 tonnes/year

• Oil: 20.000 tonnes/year

• Reduction of CO2 emissions: 275.000 tons

Outcomes & Opportunities

For a symbiosis to work, there needs to be a variety of actors involved in relatively close proximity to each other. The stakeholders need to be diverse with different needs and forms of production to make use of each other’s waste or by-products. The case of Kalundborg also illustrates the strength in self-organizing, the symbiosis arose from the companies themselves without any external interventions. The model of cooperation that followed was simply a practical matter for those involved. Therefore, opportunities for exchange and cooperation needs to be identified in settings where companies already are active and engaged with each other.

Related SDG targets


Photo: © Victor Garcia/Unsplash

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Project: Circular Baltic 2030