Industrial Symbiosis Dynamics and the Problem of Equivalence: Proposal for a Comparative Framework

Frank Boons, Marian Chertow, Jooyoung Park, Wouter Spekkink, Han Shi

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Industrial symbiosis (IS), one of the founding notions within the field of industrial ecology, has diffused throughout significant parts of the world as a practice that can reduce the ecological impact of the industrial processes of groups of firms. In this article, we propose a fresh look at this research topic, building on the considerable advances that have been made in the last 15 years in understanding how IS comes about. We propose a conceptual and theoretical framework for taking on the challenge of comparative analysis at a global level. This requires developing an approach to address a solution to the problem of equivalence: the difficulty of comparing instances of IS across different institutional contexts. The proposed framework emphasizes IS as a process and attempts to address the obstacles to comparative study by (1) identifying terminology to examine IS variants, (2) providing a typology of IS dynamics, and (3) formulating key research questions to illuminate a way forward. In developing our argument, we build on the collective experiences of collaborative research efforts in North America, Europe, and Asia as evidenced in recent overviews of the literature.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Early online date27 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • industrial symbiosis

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Consumption Institute


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