National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) – Winner of a British Expertise Global Environmental Impact Award 2009

Award scheme

British Expertise Awards


Global Environmental Impact 2009


National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP)


The National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) is a free, government funded programme.


The West Midlands’ region is home to NISP, the world’s first and only national industrial symbiosis programme.   It was established in 2003 as a pilot scheme in the region with the aim of creating a network for businesses to identify ways in which underutilised resources such as energy, water and materials from one company could be recovered, reprocessed and reused by others elsewhere in the region.

NISP encourages companies to adopt the industrial symbiosis (IS) approach to business processes and with an extensive network of over 12,500 members and 12 regional teams UK-wide, NISP Practitioners identify business opportunities through matching the resource or waste of one company, with potential solution providers or the needs of others.

The programme uses actual business opportunity as the mechanism for encouraging resource efficiency and its holistic approach sees it actively dealing with all resources including water, energy, materials, logistics, assets and expertise.

The success of the West Midlands’ regional scheme led to the UK Government committing over £25 million to establish the national programme that exists today.  NISP’s innovative approach has seen it increase the resource productivity of industry and generate significant environmental, economic and social benefits.

The challenges

  • Securing funding initially
  • Becoming government funded
  • Streamlining services to continue receiving government funding in the future

The solutions

  • NISP engages traditionally separate industries and other organisations in a network to foster innovative strategies for more sustainable resource use (including materials, energy, water, assets, expertise, and logistics).
  • Through the network, business opportunities are identified that lead to mutually advantageous transactions between companies resulting in innovative sourcing of required inputs for industrial processes, and value-added destinations for non-product outputs.
  • The network provides organisations with access to best practice and knowledge transfer, resulting in cultural and process changes.
  • NISP is unique in that it is a business-led programme, responding directly to the needs of business, whatever sector that may be. It is delivered via 12 regional offices throughout the UK, each of which works with a business advisory group comprised of key industry representatives. This group assists the regional offices to ensure the strategic direction of the programme is right for each respective region.
  • NISP began in the West Midlands and was initially partly funded by Advantage West Midlands, Veolia Environmental Trust and the Landfill Tax Credit scheme. This funded the computer database resource system. After achieving initial success, NISP applied for government funding which they were awarded for 3 years ending in 2008.
  • Currently, NISP is funded through DEFRA’s funding for business resource efficiency, the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly Government, Invest Northern Ireland and selected regional development agencies. To continue receiving government funding, NISP is streamlining its services and demonstrating its success through its results and value for money.
  • Because of the way that it is funded, membership of NISP is free for all UK businesses, regardless of size, turnover or sector. 10,000 companies are already working with the programme. These include companies such as Shell UK and Lafarge Cement, as well as entrepreneurs and SMEs (which make up over 80% of NISP’s membership).
  • Developing partnerships with purpose is a contributing factor to the continuing success of NISP. The Environment Agency, Resource Efficiency Knowledge Transfer Network, and the Local Government Association each share a unique working relationship with NISP. The programme also works closely with a host of industry trade associations and organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Waste Management and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.


For its members, NISP works to:

INCREASE                                                           REDUCE

Profit                                                                     CO2 emissions

Sales                                                                    Costs

New business                                                    Landfill

Jobs                                                                      Use of virgin resources

Utilisation of assets                                           Industrial water usage

Innovation                                                             Pollution

Inward investment                                              Transport

Learning                                                               Risk

Knowledge transfer                                            Hazardous waste

Member example: Birse

Birse is a group of companies whose principle activities comprise civil and process engineering, building, the hire of plant and machinery and commercial property development.  The company’s policy is to remain at the forefront of environmentally sensitive construction.  Birse work with NISP across of a number of regions including the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber and in the East of England.

Birse Civils was appointed to project manage the first phase of works to create a new link road to the Selly Oak by-pass in south west Birmingham.  Completed in April 2008, the scheme saw 130,000 tonnes of locally sourced fill material, identified with the assistance of NISP West Midlands’ team from NISP members.   Interestingly, a proportion of the material was excavated from a neighbouring Birse project at Snowhill in Birmingham providing another perfect example of industrial symbiosis at work.

The company has also been contracted to carry out improvements on one of Birmingham’s busiest roads.  This scheme, again with the assistance of NISP, sees excavated material being collected from the site by the Midland Compost and Recycling division of Jack Moody Limited and reprocessed at the company’s recycling facility before being delivered back on site again and reused on the new improved road.  Using this resource efficient approach has resulted in a financial saving and most importantly saved 2,500 tonnes of virgin material from being mined.

The results

Since becoming a national programme NISP has helped its 12,500 business members achieve significant economic and environmental results, including:

  • Generating £176 million additional sales in industry
  • Saving members over £156 million across the board on disposal, storage, transport and purchasing.
  • Attracting £111 million in private investment
  • Diverting 7 million tonnes of business waste from landfill
  • Reducing CO2 emission by 6 million tonnes
  • Created and safeguarded over 8770 jobs
  • Saving 10 million tonnes of water
  • Saving 10 million tonnes of virgin material
  • Eliminating 0.4 million tonnes of hazardous waste


NISP has thoroughly dispelled the misperception that “environment” programmes cost government’s money for limited results, as the UK Government has received a substantial direct financial return on its investment in NISP while achieving unprecedented environmental and social benefits for least cost:

  • £1.5 billion – £2.4 billion of Total Economic Value Added
  • Additional tax revenues of between £148 million – £247 million
  • Minimum Benefit Cost Ratio of 30:1 (agreed by DEFRA economists)
  • Carbon reductions achieved at cost of only 13 – 65 pence per tonne
  • Landfill reductions at a cost of only 11 – 56 pence per tonne


[Based on £27 million investment from Government (April 2005 – March 2010) for England only.]

NISP’s success here in the UK has led to NISP programmes being implemented across the globe in China, Mexico, Brazil, USA, Romania and Hungary.

Member example: Birse

NISP member Birse Civils has saved over £1.2 million pounds in disposal, transport and purchasing costs and generated £303,750 in new sales.  The company diverted 70,000 tonnes of material from landfill sites and saved 6,885 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

John Daft, Project Manager for Birse Civils, said: “Sustainability is a key issue for Birse.  Working with NISP has given the company a competitive edge in that the programme team is able to identify and facilitate the sourcing of sustainable materials for many of our projects here in the West Midlands.”

Learning points

  • Being government funded allowed NISP to be a free service to all. This maximises its potential outputs as any company of any size and from any sector can use it. This is significantly beneficial to small companies who may not otherwise be able to afford such a service.
  • Growth of the company occurred through members’ supply chains and through promoting good practice between regions.
  • NISP share good practice through their network of business partners and share information from Envirowise and WRAP with NISP members.
  • If NISP cannot help a company, they are signposted to those who may be able to (e.g. Envirowise).
  • Case studies of all NISP projects are produces and circulated to members and staff in all 12 regions. This helps to develop new business as companies from across the region discover the savings they could make from case studies of projects similar to their own.
  • Although NISP is national it is delivered at a regional level. The network of regions is used on a daily basis with communications bulletins, forums etc. providing instant feedback.

SWM comment

NISP has achieved impressive success both financially and environmentally.  It is an excellent example of innovation in the West Midlands.


For more information please go to the NISP website or email  Alternatively you can phone 0845 094 9501.