Assessing the “Short Mental Distance” in Eco-Industrial Networks


  • Weslynne S. Ashton,

  • Ariana C. Bain

Weslynne Ashton, Illinois Institute of Technology, Stuart School of Business, 565 W. Adams St., Chicago, IL 60661, USA.


Like many economic exchanges, industrial symbiosis (IS) is thought to be influenced by social relationships and shared norms among actors in a network. While many implicit references to social characteristics exist throughout the literature, there have been few explicit attempts to operationalize and measure the concepts. The “short mental distance,”“trust,”“openness,” and “communication” recorded among managers in Kalundborg, Denmark, set a precedent for examining and encouraging social interactions among key personnel in the dozens of eco-industrial networks around the world. In this article we explore the relationships among various aspects of social embeddedness, social capital, and IS. We develop a conceptual framework and an approach using quantitative and qualitative methods to identify and measure these social characteristics, including social network structure, communication, and similarities in norms and conceptions of waste, and apply them in an industrial network in Nanjangud, South India. The findings suggest that there is a fairly high level of shared norms about dealing with waste—the “short mental distance”—in this network, but by-product transactions are only weakly correlated with the structure and content of communication among managers. Replication of this approach can increase the understanding and comparability of the role of social characteristics in eco-industrial activities around the world.