The development of regional collaboration for resource efficiency: A network perspective on industrial symbiosis

Junming Zhu*, Matthias Ruth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Industrial symbiosis (IS) improves regional sustainability through inter-firm collaboration for more efficient use of materials and energy. Drawing on the literature of IS and complex networks, this paper proposes three forming processes of IS networks corresponding to different institutional settings - preferential growth under self-organization, homogeneous growth under coordination and facilitation, and random pairing under planning and policy promotion. We examine the growth of IS networks and the impact of promotional institutions by analyzing a diverse sample of 15 IS networks including 204 firms. Additional illustrations of by-product and utility networks are provided for the cases of Kalundborg (Denmark) and Kwinana (Australia). The results suggest that preferential growth is a dominant process widely held in self-organized IS networks, indicating an enduring disparity of firms' capabilities in building IS. Firm-organized coordination as well as government facilitation and promotion tend to change the preferential growth to a more homogeneous one, by improving the capabilities of previously disadvantaged firms. The improvement of disadvantaged firms and non-preferential growth under facilitation and promotion call for the overall symbiotic opportunities to be explored more thoroughly, and render the IS system more resilient in a region. This effect of policy promotion, however, may take time to change the IS system, and may be diminished in utility exchanges and in areas with fewer, undiversified firms, due to technical difficulties and lack of opportunities to expand an existing IS network. Policy-making and planning should take into consideration the local industry composition and context, as well as other cost associated with the policies to determine the appropriate extent of promotion and incentives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-46
Number of pages10
JournalComputers, Environment and Urban Systems
Early online date14 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • By-product
  • Complex network
  • Degree correlation
  • Homogeneous growth
  • Industrial ecosystem
  • Preferential growth

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