Achieving complete utilisation of every morsel of seafood that comes out of the ocean is a dream for Thór Sigfússon, founder of the Iceland Ocean Cluster which occupies a place on the Reykjavík quayside which was – appropriately – previously a net loft.
Since its establishment a dozen years ago, the Cluster has not only grown, thrived and spawned a family of partner clusters in Europe and North America. Now there’s also a mega-cluster taking shape, as an aluminium smelter in the south-west of Iceland, abandoned part-way through construction, is to get a new lease of life as an Eco-Business Park– with a strong emphasis on 100% circularity.
It’s a move into a wider sphere, expanding the circularity, sustainability and zero-waste thinking to bring together the strengths of the water, energy and food sectors, and to create opportunities for companies to convert waste streams into new value in a platform for energy, manufacturing and other business sectors – as well as sticking with its seafood roots.
‘My dream for the Eco-Business Park is that this becomes a centre for the full utilisation of seafood, agricultural products and with all energy fully utilised,’ he said.
Alongside this, his second book, 100% Fish, has just been published, and this lays out some serious success stories among companies that have made serious efforts to make the absolute most of the resources at the disposal – as well as setting out the challenges and opportunities. Not that it’s all plain sailing, as he doesn’t shy away from describing instances in which efforts to make changes and do things better came to nothing – which become lessons to learn from.
‘I was brought up in the Westman Islands, which is a fishing community,’ he said, when asked to describe the origins of his passion for achieving full utilisation within the seafood sector.
‘I read and saw how fishing companies, including some run by my forefathers, had set themselves the aim of using raw seafood material more efficiency – and that was at the beginning of the 20th century. So maybe it’s in the blood!’
He commented that real progress has been made and the Icelandic seafood sector is somewhere close to 90% utilisation.
‘I believe 100% is achievable – but those last few percentage points could be the most problematic. But as the value of co-products increases, the more likely is that we’ll reach this target,’ he said and added that there’s work to be done in many European countries, as well as on both seaboards of North America – and a key issue that remains largely unaddressed is the startlingly high level of waste of seafood (and other foodstuffs) after they reach the consumer.
‘This calls for a campaign of education for consumers, food outlets, larger companies and retailers, making co-products into something exciting, such as ’The Whole Fish’ message that comes across from chefs such as Josh Niland,’ he said, and added that mindset is the key to this, that going down the legislation route of requiring producers to achieve XYZ is not a solution.
‘We need to urge companies to do the right thing, by showing them examples of those that have been successful in coming close to 100% utilisation. This is a movement that has taken off and it’s underway now, although it also needs technology companies to help out with some aspects of this – as we have already seen Marel and Baader doing.’
New Eco-Business Park
The new Eco-Business Park is taking shape on the site of a former smelter close to the Helguvík harbour, a few minutes from Iceland’s international airport and less than an hour by road from Reykjavík. The building currently has 25,000 square metres of floor space – with the option for this to be doubled by installing an additional internal floor level.
Placed in the Reykjanes region, the Eco-Business Park has extensive renewable hydro-electric and geothermal power on its doorstep, and is expected to benefit from the proximity of the nearby Resource Park in the Reykjanes where companies are striving to make full use of the rich local resources – geothermal hot water, cold water, steam, renewable electricity, and carbon dioxide.
‘The aim of the Eco-Business Park is to extend this 100% ideology to a whole array of other industries,’ Thór Sigfússon said.
‘The new Eco-Business Park will grow the existing co-working space of the Iceland Ocean Cluster by ten-fold, and the largest in the country where new and expanding companies can rent space for their offices, research, development, and manufacturing facilities. The Park will provide a much-needed platform for diverse industry players that have the ambition to move toward circular business models and the largest co-working space in the country. One of the central components of the circular economy is that waste is designed out of the system.’