The dynamics of industrial symbiosis: a proposal for a conceptual framework based upon a comprehensive literature review

Frank Boons*, Wouter Spekkink, Yannis Mouzakitis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


There is increasing evidence that throughout the world, firms, governmental agencies and NGOs are seeking to stimulate industrial symbiosis. This concept and its application have also been the topic of extensive research. Up till now, this work lacks a more comprehensive theoretical framework, and this paper fills this gap. We provide a theoretical basis for understanding the dynamics through which regional industrial systems change their connectiveness in an attempt to reduce their ecological impact. We position our framework within the field of industrial symbiosis based on a comprehensive literature search in the ISI Web of Science database for publications that listed 'industrial symbiosis', 'eco-industrial park', or a combination of 'industrial-ecology' and 'regional' as a topic.The framework conceptualizes industrial symbiosis as a process at two levels: (1) the level of the regional industrial system (RIS), and (2) the societal level where the concept and routines of industrial symbiosis diffuse. We link the dynamics at these levels to changes in ecological impact and increase in institutional capacity. We conclude with a research agenda based on the variables and their basic relationships specified in our framework. The main line of research we propose is to systematically investigate how institutional capacity evolves over time in regional industrial systems and how it affects the ecological impact of such systems. We also propose to investigate how insights from existing literature about stimulating and impeding factors to industrial symbiosis can be understood in terms of mechanisms of transmission and how these mechanisms interact to create nationally distinct patterns of diffusion of industrial symbiosis. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)905-911
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue number9-10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


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