Governments Going Circular – Global Scan Best Practices
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0 % read case National Industrial Symbiosis Programme

Policy areas

Resources Resources

Govermental instruments

Subsidies Subsidies

Business models

Resource Loops Resource Loops


National National
Provincial Provincial
Local Local

Key facts & Impacts

  • £1 billion cost savings achieved and £1.4 billion generated in additional sales
  • Over 10.000 jobs created or safeguarded
  • 45 million tonnes materials recovered and reused, 39 million tonnes industrial carbon emissions reduced and 71 million tonnes industrial water savings made


To develop mutually profitable links between companies so that unwanted or underused resources can be recovered, reprocessed and reused by others


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National Industrial Symbiosis Programme United_Kingdom.png

The National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) is the first national industrial symbiosis programme. It facilitates business opportunities by the trading of assets, resources, logistics and expertise between industries. By creating networks to find uses for unwanted materials, significant amounts of waste are diverted from landfill whilst companies benefit through reduced disposal costs and the generation of additional revenues resulting from adding value to previously underused resources.

What does it involve?
Industrial symbiosis (exchange of materials between companies) keeps resources circulating in the economy in a productive cycle that avoids waste. NISP, launched in 2005, establishes mutually profitable links between companies so that unwanted or underused resources are recovered, reprocessed and reused by others. The programme advocates a holistic approach focussing not only on by-products and waste-streams, but also on the logistics, energy, water, assets and expertise. NISP was created by International Synergies Limited, a private company specialised in setting up and managing industrial symbiosis programmes worldwide.  NISP UK is the result of three successful regional pilot schemes initiated in 2003 which convinced the UK Government to invest in the national roll out of NISP. In many cases (90% for NISP) a successful industrial symbiosis opportunity, or synergy, moves a resource up the waste hierarchy and also provides a demand pull on eco-innovation with 20% of activity, involving innovation (either a new application of existing knowledge or new research and development). Based on NISP evidence, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development describes industrial symbiosis as “systemic innovation vital for future green growth”.

Status quo
Ten years after its establishment, International Synergies’ NISP has a network of over ten thousand companies. 90% are small and medium-sized enterprises, however, the network is open to multi-nationals through to micros from every industry sector, academia and entrepreneurs. Although investment by UK Government has been withdrawn as part of austerity measures, NISP continues to operate in the West Midlands’ region of the UK with investment from the European Regional Development Fund. The programme is likely to grow again via support from Local Enterprise Partnerships as it has such a good track record of creating green growth, providing support for business, cutting emissions, and generating jobs.

Since 2009, and in the main as a result of NISP’s success, facilitated industrial symbiosis has been written into policies, recommendations and case studies by the European Commission as a means to address the market failures that hinder Europe’s transition to a circular economy. These policies include the ‘Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe’ (2011), and ‘Connecting Smart and Sustainable Growth through Smart Specialisation’ (2012).

International Synergies now also provides support to over 20 countries across five continents supporting public and private sector organisations to implement industrial symbiosis programmes based on the NISP model including Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, South Africa, Turkey and most recently France. Its global applicability and success is reflected in a recent comment from Heinz Leuenberger, Director of Environmental Branch (EMB), UNIDO: “The concept of industrial symbiosis is indispensable to the long-term development of global industry in all countries of the world.  Developing economies can achieve a more sustainable industrial development trajectory and move their economies towards a circular model more rapidly by taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in this approach” (October 2014)

The three key success factors are the role of the independent facilitator, quality data, and a proven, cross-sector business engagement model which together combine to “Connect Industry and Create Opportunity”. NISP is free to all businesses and provides a business-led approach for encouraging resource efficiency. Through workshops, member companies are enabled to identify business opportunities and to directly find symbiosis partners. In addition to this effective engagement strategy, the structure of the organisation also plays an important role in achieving its objectives. NISP programmes are coordinated on a national level but its activities are delivered by local teams. This results in a uniform strategy that is adapted to the conditions locally. The teams' knowledge and insight into specific local agendas on the economy and environment enables the programme to have such a positive impact. 

Circular ladder

This Circularity Ladder presents economic activities with an increasing ‘degree of circularity’. When looking at the six circular business models we see two important things. First, some business models are able to achieve a higher degree of circularity than others. For example, a Sharing Platform does not directly lead to refurbishment (it is possible), but Product Life Extension does.

Second, all business models fall apart in different activities, of which again some activities are able to achieve higher degrees of circularity than others. For example, the Product Life Extension may involve maintenance, repair, reuse, refurbishment and remanufacturing. However, maintaining a product has more potential for resource efficiency than remanufacturing.