Framework for Applying a Complex Adaptive System Approach to Model the Operation of Eco-Industrial Parks


  • Elena Romero,

    Corresponding author
    • Address correspondence to: Elena Romero, INGEPRO Research Group, Transport and Projects Technology and Processes Department, School of Industrial and Telecommunications Engineers, University of Cantabria, Av. Los Castros s/n 39005 Santander, Cantabria, Spain. Email:

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  • M. Carmen Ruiz


Models of eco-industrial parks (EIPs) might help us transform our production systems by fostering the emergence of sustainable EIPs since such models have the potential to support the decision-making processes of cooperative companies that participate and to decrease operational uncertainties. In this article, a conceptual framework for modeling the operation of EIPs is presented. The framework is underpinned by complex adaptive systems theory, industrial ecology, and an analysis of the experiences of existing EIPs. The proposed framework draws on the observed strengths of two types of industrial symbiosis models—planned eco-industrial parks (PEIPs) and EIPs that developed through self-organizing symbiosis (SOS)—as well as their observed weaknesses and the features of complex adaptive systems. From this analysis, five key properties to be modeled are deduced: functionality, reliability, life span, theoretical knowledge, and adaptability. It is proposed that the properties of functionality and theoretical knowledge are determined by the goals of the EIP and its member companies, while the property of adaptability is determined by the understanding that the companies in an EIP have of the environment surrounding the EIP, while the properties of reliability and life span are determined by the internal and external relationships of the companies that make up an EIP.