SITUATION REPORT: Industrial Sustainability – Kalundborg

At Brands for Canada we know we’re edging ahead in ensuring the best possible use—economically, ecologically, for social good—of our brand partners’ products. It’s no small accomplishment, for us all.

Here’s a long-lived project that’s so comprehensive and well-thought out, so exceptionally well-executed, that we just had to share it with you as a living, breathing example of sustainability.

Kalundborg is a seaport, population 20,000, on the northwestern coast of across Denmark’s home island, 110km due west of Copenhagen; in the early 1950s, the Danish state oil company, STATOIL, built a refinery and pipeline at Kalundborg.

A paradox: an oil facility sparked the world’s first industrial symbiosis system, a living, breathing network sof gritty industrial companies who—quite by accident at first, then organically—began to collaborate to use and reuse one another’s residual by-products and share energy, infrastructure, transport, and other critical resources.

Four decades old, Kalundborg’s a great example of a green-by-accident ecosystem that just kept growing from the 1959 founding of Asnaes, the clean coal-fuelled power station that’s still Kalundborg’s beating heart and Denmark’s biggest power source; Asnaes is being converted to biomass next year.

A public/private hybrid, Kalundborg lives and dies by participant communication; this is a very human entity, which continues to grow because the human relationships which brought Kalundborg to life actually work. You’ve got to hand it to those Danes: they know how to negotiate these things.

But the nuts-and-bolts interconnected sustainability isn’t touchy-feely green: it’s straight up engineering, dedicated to Kalundborg values. The organic waste from one factory’s enzyme production is converted to organic fertilizer by its neighbour; smokestack exhaust—including some really nasty sulphites—from one factory is captured and made into gypsum for sheetrock construction products. Fish farm waste recycles as nutrient-rich

The numbers speak for themselves. Water recycling/reuse has saved some 4.8 million cubic feet of water over the life of the project (that’s a serious freshwater lake); insulin production from the biggest insulin producer on the planet, Novo Nordisk, yields a yeast slurry which in turn produces biogas to fuel power production onsite. In 1981, when perhaps only Iceland and Sweden were thinking about geothermal for residential heating, Kalundborg’s residential steam heating was already supplemented by the industrial symbiosis, for some 3500 homes.

One clear lesson from Kalundborg’s successes?

The eco-industrial park (EIP) operation builds itself if and only if the next link in the ecosystem makes economic sense; attempts to impose ecosystem thinking on industrial parks without clear economic benefits almost invariably fail. At present, there are hundreds of EIPs in the US, from simple recycling centres to full-on industrial parks like North Carolina’s ReVenture Park, the biggest US project now underway; Hong Kong’s Eco-Park is also underway; in Canada, Halifax Harbour’s Burnside Industrial Park has an active ecosystem within an orthodox industrial park with over 1300 businesses and some17,000 employees. Barcelona has plans underway for an industrial city based on Kalundborg, a combination seaport/industrial ecosystem driven by sustainable thinking.

It’s early days yet in North America compared to Kalundborg’s impressive achievements; but, like the best things in life, eco-parks grow naturally.