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The emergence of regional industrial ecosystem niches: A conceptual framework and a case study

Susur, Ebru, Hidalgo, Antonio, Chiaroni, Davide
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.208 pp. 1642-1657
case studies, cognition, industrial symbiosis, niches, planning, production technology, Spain
The objective of this paper is to understand how industrial symbiosis initiatives can contribute to the emergence of regional industrial ecosystems for sustainability transitions of local industrial production systems. We offer a conceptual framework that integrates industrial ecology literature and strategic niche management perspective from the sustainability transitions research field. The framework provides a conceptual foundation for analysing the individual industrial symbiosis initiatives and their aggregated contribution to the emergence of regional industrial ecosystems. Analytically, we conceptualise two different heuristic levels – the local industrial symbiosis experiments level and the regional industrial ecosystems niche level – which are interlinked through three niche processes. We represent the merits of our conceptualisation through a case study in an empirical setting where we selected a highly industrialised and rarely explored region; namely, the Autonomous Region of Catalonia in Spain. We identify and analyse eight industrial symbiosis initiatives that evolved during 18 years in the region. In the light of our conceptual framework, the results show that interlinked initiatives from the region have been gradually adding up to emerging regional industrial ecosystems. However, the region is still missing a broad regional network with articulated expectations and visions and shared cognitive, formal and normative rules. If emerging regional network provides support and protection for new initiatives, a regional culture change can be realised to achieve sustainability transition of local industrial production systems employing closed industrial production loops. The theoretical contribution of this paper is that we combine two different research streams that have not often learned from each other and we also develop a novel conceptual approach for ex-post evaluation of regional industrial ecosystem development. Moreover, our conceptual framework can be extended as a prescriptive management tool for planning and implementation of industrial symbiosis initiatives in Catalonia as well as in other regions.