Symbiotic Industry in Kalundborg, Denmark

This is the third in a five-part series featuring case studies that illustrate what regenerative urban development looks like in practice.

Kalundborg is a city in the heart of Denmark and is home to some of the country’s largest industries. In 1961, a local oil company cooperated with the municipality to pipe water from a nearby lake to its power plant– a project that would later become the basis of a circular system of resources that include water,heat, gypsum, lime, fly ash, sulphur dioxide, straw and organic waste.


In the 1970s, a handful of companies started discussing how to collaborate in a way that would reduce their operational costs. Their initial motivation was to reduce costs by seeking income-generating applications for industrial by-products. They each agreed to pass their unwanted by-products – some of which are named in the previous paragraph – to another company that would view them as resources. Central to this system was the participation of the municipal government, particularly in closing the water and heat cycles. By offering an all-around economic benefit, the system grew. Over time, the industrial enterprises of Kalundborg evolved into a cluster of companies that relied on each other for material inputs.

“Every project within this network is economically viable. Otherwise there would be no incentives for the companies.”
–Mette Skovbjerg, Project Manager, Kalundborg Symbiosis, at FCF 2013

Today, the municipality and 20 enterprises cooperate in a symbiotic and circular system with advantages for each. The overall efficient use of resources benefits the local economy and ensures an economic locational advantage. This makes it financially attractive to stay in the region despite lower labour costs elsewhere in the world. In 1993, plasterboard manufacturer Gyproc planned to relocate abroad to be closer to gypsum mines, but a cooperation with local power station DONG Energy – which produces gypsum as a by-product – made it economically viable for Gyproc and the jobs it created to remain in Kalundborg.

Beside the economic and social advantages, the symbiosis found in Kalundborg also leads to a number of ecological improvements. By way of example, capitalising on the waste by-products of the power station – namely steam – has led to reductions in oil consumption of 20,000 tonnes and water consumption by 25% per year in the system, and heat waste is placed in water used to optimise the conditions of a fish farm rather than being flushed away. Finally, a decrease in waste discharge reduces environmental pollution in the region surrounding this industrial base.

Kalundborg is an example of how one aspect of regenerative development could come to life. The municipality and the companies do not try to dump their ‘waste’ but rather see it as a cost effective resource for another process. Resources are thus reused several times and formerly degraded ecosystems are given the chance to recover. Furthermore, supply chains remain on the local level rather than being outsourced globally.

The Kalundborg approach evolved organically – rather than being intentionally planned – over the course of five decades primarily due to commercial interests. It serves as a best practice example to other communities of how to keep resources in a closed loop cycle and thereby reduce waste generation.

This text is an excerpt from a new report by the World Future Council on Regenerative Urban Development: A roadmap to the city we need.

WFC report Regenerative Urban Development cover thumbnailThe report is an outcome of the discussions at the Future of Cities Forum 2013 surrounding the vision of regenerative cities. It explores a selection of the case studies presented at the Forum to outline the value creation resulting from regenerative urban development, the obstacles in the way of progress, and tools to help overcome those challenges.

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