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Cluster thinking as part of sustainable chemical plants


1. University of Antwerp,  Antwerp Research Group on Safety and Security (ARGoSS), Koningstraat 8, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium
2. Centre for Economics and Corporate Sustainability (CEDON), HUB, KULeuven, Stormstraat 2, 1000 Brussels, Belgium


‘Cluster thinking’ is coined in this article as a mindset and as an approach to tackle sustainability on an industrial park level. At present, single chemical plants are still focusing too much on individual technological advancements for becoming more sustainable, while, if situated in a cluster, chemical plants require foremost a holistic collaborative approach and the optimal use of existing technology on a cluster level, to become sustainable and to maintain being sustainable. Single plants working together to implement joint solutions, technological as well as non-technological, truly leads to a sustainable chemical industry.


In the (petro)chemical industry, economies of scale, environmental factors, social motives and legal requirements often force companies to physically ‘cluster’. Therefore, chemical plants are most often located in groups in so-called ‘chemical industrial parks’ or ‘chemical clusters’ and are rarely located separately. As Fortis and Maggioni (1) state, firms decide to settle in a cluster on the basis of the expected profitability of being located there. This profitability depends on geographical and agglomeration benefits, obtained as the difference between gross location-related benefits and costs. As the number of corporations located in an industrial cluster increases, gross benefits increase due to productive specialization, scientifi