Sustainable Industries Editor

A scheme pioneered in the West Midlands and responsible for reducing the region’s commercial carbon footprint by almost one million tonnes has been replicated in China.

Supported by Advantage West Midlands, the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) initially ran as a pilot scheme in the region in 2003 before receiving funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2005. The scheme is now national and Defra continues to fund NISP to the value of £5?million a year.

NISP brings together companies from all sectors to better manage resources by trading materials, energy and water and sharing assets, logistics and expertise.

It is a relatively new concept which focuses on a “closed-loop” approach to industry where waste and resource streams are recovered, reprocessed and reused in other businesses.

Lessons learnt from the West Midlands’ pilot programme and subsequent regional scheme helped shape a NISP-led “circular economy” initiative in the Yunnan Province of South West China.

Commissioned by Defra as part if its Sustainable Development Dialogue initiative, the China project saw representatives from NISP, the Environment Agency and Envirowise working closely with Yunnan’s local government and industry to improve its sustainable consumption and production practices by developing the infrastructure of an industrial symbiosis programme, introducing modern regulation techniques and cleaner production methodologies.

Peter Laybourn, NISP founder and programme director, said: “The West Midlands has played a fundamental role in the success of NISP here in the UK as well as helping to develop a blueprint for establishing and managing regional and sub-regional industrial symbiosis programmes worldwide.

“Through this project we have been able to provide evidence to the government and industry in Yunnan that economic growth can be decoupled from environmental degradation.

“In the West Midlands region alone NISP-facilitated synergies have boosted the economy by £71?million over the last three and a half years (£63?million new sales generated and £7.9?million cost savings achieved) and brought in £15?million in private investment, while reducing the region’s commercial carbon footprint by 956,000 tonnes and diverting more than 578,000 tonnes of business waste from landfill.”

The two-year long circular economy pilot in Yunnan was formally completed last month with representatives from NISP, The Environment Agency and Envirowise meeting officials from the Chinese central government responsible for economic development.

A number of representatives from the world’s largest industrial park, Tianjin, attended the end of scheme event and are now in discussions with NISP as to how the principles of industrial symbiosis can be incorporated into development plans to secure the industrial park’s status as the main economic centre in North China and an eco-friendly city.

Officials from Yunnan’s neighbouring province, Guizhou, also attended and are planning to develop a cooperative with their counterparts in Yunnan to establish the infrastructure of a circular economy project there as well.

Defra head of sustainable development dialogues Phil Callaghan said: “The Sustainable Development Dialogues build on existing cooperation between countries and provide a coherent framework for new and innovative collaboration to take place.

“By sharing the UK’s knowledge and best practice in sustainable consumption and production and industrial symbiosis with industry and Government in Yunnan there is potential for real on-the-ground impacts and it is now possible for them to pass on that knowledge to other regions and improve sustainable development in the country.”

Among the key achievements of the project are the development of legislative tools to allow the sustainable consumption and production processes to be successfully put in place.

Drawing on the proven success, systems and processes used by NISP in the UK, the team was able to demonstrate how SMEs in Yunnan can make significant cost savings, generate new sales and reduce their environmental impact by implementing circular economy principles into their business activities.