The role of information for the emergence of self-organized industrial symbiosis networks: an agent-based simulation approach

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Self-organized industrial symbiosis networks (ISNs) emerge from the bottom, as a result of spontaneous process undertaken by different firms, which are willing to create industrial symbiosis (IS) relationships for economic benefit creation (Chertow and Ehrenfeld, 2012). From the technical perspective, the most relevant condition for the development of IS relationships is the match between waste supply and demand (Mirata, 2004). Lack of this match leads IS-based businesses to operate inefficiently. The mismatch can be caused by: 1) lack of firms producing (requiring) a given waste for which demand (supply) exists (Eilering and Vermeulen, 2004; Fichtner et al., 2005); 2) lack of information, i.e., demand (supply) for a given waste exists but firms producing (requiring)that waste are not aware of such a demand (supply) (Sakr et al., 2011; Zhu and Cote, 2004).

Online communication platforms have been proposed aimed to share available information, making the potential waste market more transparent, supporting the creation of IS relationships (Cutaia et al., 2014; Trokanas et al., 2014). However, outcomes obtained from the adoption of such platforms are not in-depth investigated, in terms of potential increase in environmental and economic benefits (Boons et al., 2016) in the initiation phase of IS. This paper firstly aims to fill this gap.

Although companies might be willing to share above-mentioned less-sensitive information in online platforms, they are cautious to share sensitive information (i.e., costs or incentives deriving from governmental regulations, waste treatment costs, waste transportation costs, and transaction costs) with potential partners. This stems from the fact that the disclosure of such information might cause a loss of market-competitiveness in their own sector or might activate potential competitors for IS, which might negatively influence their contractual power in IS-based businesses. Such an approach hinders companies to implement operationally efficient IS and even miss promising business opportunities. Although, up-to-date literature addresses this problem as a barrier to IS, an in-depth analysis about the impact of sensitive information-sharing on the operational enhancement of IS is not addressed. This paper secondly aims at filling this gap.

Following the approach proposed by Albino et al. (2016), we use an agent-based simulation approach to simulate the emergence of self-organized ISNs in three different scenarios: 1) basic scenario, where no communication platform is adopted; 2) a communication platform provides non-sensitive information about the geographical location of each firm and the type and quantity of produced and required wastes; 3) a communication platform provides sensitive-information about the costs of operating industrial symbiosis, in addition to those provided by the second scenario. These three scenarios are simulated for a numerical case study involving the exploitation of marble residuals generated by marble producers as alternative aggregate by concrete producers. Simulation results are discussed from a practitioner perspective and managerial and policy implications are provided. Hence, findings of this paper help practitioners not only to understand the importance of information-sharing in IS but also clarify whether the information they consider as ‘sensitive' is really sensitive information and should be protected or it is non-sensitive information that facilitates business-making.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
Event9th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology - Forum on the UIC campus, Chicago, United States
Duration: 25 Jun 201729 Jun 2017
Conference number: 9


Conference9th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology
Abbreviated titleISIE 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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