How do local actors coordinate
to implement a successful
anaerobic digestion project?
UMR SAD-APT, INRAE, AgroParisTech, Paris-Saclay University
6 rue Claude-Bernard, 75005, Paris, France
EM Normandie Business School, 9 rue Claude-Bloch, 14052, Caen, France
Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie 20, avenue du
Grésillé- BP 90406 49004 Angers Cedex 01 France
UMR SAD-APT, INRAE, AgroParisTech, Paris-Saclay, University
6 rue Claude-Bernard, 75005, Paris, France
EM Normandie Business School, Métis Lab, 9 rue Claude-Bloch,
14052, Caen, France
Anaerobic digestion has recently gained interest in contributing to territorial strategy regarding
the deployment of the circular economy and energy transition. Most projects bring together
multiple actors from a wide variety of backgrounds. The article analyzes the evolution of
synergies and cooperative behaviors between local stakeholders over the period 2010-2020 in
an anaerobic digestion cluster in France. The study draws on social network analysis and
proximity theory, which have recently been used for analyzing regional innovation systems,
local clusters, territorial governance, and rural development. We reveal that local stakeholders
develop dense relational networks that vary and evolve throughout the project. Different groups
exist and behave in a semi-autonomous manner. All the actors are located in close geographical
proximity. Still, their links in terms of organized proximities are related to various types of
relations, resulting from cognitive resemblances or common origins. This explains the
persistence and resilience of local relationships and how they maintain a collaborative dynamic
Keywords: anaerobic digestion, biogas, proximity relations, social network analysis,
• Lack of empirical data on how AD emerged from a territorial governance perspective.
• Social network analysis is used to assess how actors coordinate to implement an AD
• An original analytical framework is proposed to analyze the potential for conflict and
the role of public authorities in fostering collaborations.
• The proximity links between actors explain the persistence of interaction synergies and
the development of the project.
• We underline the importance of governance mechanisms in the implementation of
renewable energy production in the territories.
Resource scarcity, biodiversity erosion, the degradation of natural ecosystems, and global
warming are environmental challenges currently facing human societies. They require us to
limit the consumption of resources that nature cannot regenerate and drastically limit the
polluting emissions of economic activities. The supplies of fossil or non-renewable energies
(oil, natural gas, coal ...), which are constantly decreasing as the global energy demand increases
due to population and economic growth, are particularly concerning (Krausmann et al., 2009).
In addition to their imminent depletion (Klass, 2004), these energies are known for their
potential to emit greenhouse gases (GHG), which are at the root of climate change.
In this critical context of environmental degradation, the European Union wishes to increase
the share of energy from renewable sources in the energy mix. To this end, it has put in place
several public action schemes that commit the Member States to increasing the share of
renewable energy consumption to 32% (European Commission, 2014). Anaerobic digestion
(AD) is one of the solutions adopted by most European countries (Jacobsen et al., 2014; van
Foreest, 2012; Engdahl, 2010); it is part of the European Commission's bioeconomy agenda
and the "Green Pact for Europe," which aims to ensure the transition to a resource-efficient and
climate-neutral society by 2050 (European Commission, 2019).
AD is the production of biogas and digestate from a biotechnological process of transforming
plant biomass, such as crop residues, livestock manure, household waste, or bio-waste, from
food processing companies (Angelidaki & Ellegaard, 2003; Holm-Nielsen et al., 2009). Biogas
can be reused as fuel for a boiler to produce heat for facilities and buildings for collective use,
transformed into electricity and heat at the same time by a cogeneration engine, used as fuel for
vehicles, or after purification, injected into the urban natural gas network. After a maturation
phase, the digestate is used as an agricultural fertilizer to replace chemical nitrogen fertilizers.
Since 2010, following the National Action Plan for Renewable Energies, this energy has been
particularly encouraged in France. It has gained even more interest recently through its
contribution to the territorial strategy for deploying the circular economy, included in the 2015
Law on Energy Transition for Green Growth and reaffirmed in 2019 by the Energy Climate
Law. AD must allow territories to create circularities to increase the national production of
organic nitrogen fertilizer and energy from local biomass. The objective is to increase the share
of renewable energy to 10% of gas consumption and 40% of electricity consumption by 2030,
helping to reduce pollution and GHG emissions by 75% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.
The objective of the Ministery of ecological transition plan was to create 1,000 AD plants by
2020, despite only about 700 existing in 2019, including 340 individual on-farm AD projects
using the resources of the holder's farm and 49 territorial AD projects. The latter are more
ambitious projects, with an industrial dimension for the management of agricultural waste, agri-
food bio-waste, green waste, and household waste, allowing the production and consumption
of renewable energy. Their collective dimension leads them to establish or use links and to set
up exchanges between the numerous local stakeholders at the crossroads of territorial,
institutional, and environmental dynamics.
Implementing AD at the territorial level can be considered a pragmatic response to the slogan
«think global, act local », which was the basis of some reflections on sustainable development
(Darier & Schüle, 1999). Indeed, it appears to be an essential component of circular economy
strategies, probably more modest than the initial sustainable development goals but anchored
in concrete and territorialised actions. However, we must not be naive about this. If the circular
economy is defined above all by the increase in the duration of life of objects and the
reintegration of the outputs in the production, in the form of inputs or energy, it is not always
virtuous in its present form. Therefore, sending goods for recycling to the other side of the
world is not guaranteed to reduce global warming. Thus, anchoring in the territories is essential,
with the importance of local retroaction loops (Veyssière et al., 2021 ; Bourdin et al., 2021). In
other words, following recent contributions, we postulate that territorial anchoring/local
embeddedness is a condition to develop projects from the bioeconomy and the circular economy
that are genuinely virtuous from an environmental point of view.
In this sense, this reflection is also in line with the literature on clusters and industrial districts,
where it has been highlighted how territorial contexts, actor networks and the social relations
they maintain can either stimulate or hinder the development of projects (Lazzeretti et al.,
2019). Yet, in previous studies on circular economy models (like in industrial ecology,
industrial symbiosis), the need for organizations involved in a project to be clustered to facilitate
the collaboration and the exchanges of material and immaterial flows has been highlighted
(Aarikka-Stenroos et al., 2021). From this point of view, studies analysing the different forms
of proximity in clusters (Broekel and Boschma, 2012) help understand how actors coordinate
to develop a successful project. For example, Polge and Torre (2018) have shown how
geographical proximity between stakeholders can facilitate collaborations and exchanges and
how establishing effective territorial governance can favour the success of a project.
Despite the growing number of applications for implementation, most AD projects fail due to
difficulties in making investments profitable (Zemo & Termansen, 2018) and often as a result
of the resistance of local populations, which can hinder the implementation of infrastructures
(Bourdin & Nadou, 2020). The literature on social acceptability issues in territories
(Schumacher & Schultmann, 2017; Zemo et al., 2019; Soland et al., 2013) argues that these fall
under proximity conflicts of the same order as those concerning wind turbine development
(Tegou et al., 2010) or other household waste treatment facilities (Mengozzi, 2010). They arise
because of concerns about the production of negative externalities related to environmental
damage and nuisances, such as noise or odor pollution, and the decline in real estate values
(Schumacher & Schultmann, 2017; Zemo et al., 2019). But it has been recently highlighted in
the literature that biogas deployment problems can also be explained by difficulties in terms of
territorial governance (Bourdin et al., 2020). Challenges related to the diversity of stakeholder
actors, whose modes of operation diverge (Torre & Wallet, 2014), making collaboration and
project success challenging in AD projects are often experienced. Thus, despite its
environmental virtues and potential to create value and anchored jobs (Guenther-Lübbers et al.,
2016), the capacities of AD concerning bringing together multiple actors from diverse universes
remain highly questioned. This questioning is in line with what is currently being discussed in
the literature on the bioeconomy and circular economy in the social sciences, namely the
capacity of actors to coordinate and implement effective territorial governance (Sanz-
Hernández et al., 2019; Lenglet et al., 2021; Marty et al., 2021). In this context, we aimed to
contribute to this theoretical field in our paper to understand better the extent to which territorial
governance has a determining role in the deployment of the bioeconomy and circular economy.
This issue of organizing actor games and coordinating local stakeholders in AD processes has
been addressed in a few works. We seek to shed new light on the coordination processes
between actors in renewable energy projects and provide a complementary perspective to the
emerging literature on the territorial governance of AD projects. More generally, we sought to
better determine, on the theoretical framework, the role of the coordination between
stakeholders in implementing thriving bioeconomy and circular economy projects. Although
the focus of previous studies was on the social acceptability of these projects, in our article, we
focused on the study of proximity relationships and exchanges between actors to ensure that
the project can be implemented and sustained over time. Specifically, we question how locally
anchored multi-stakeholder collaborations facilitated by geographic and organizational
proximity can overcome the challenges and barriers that green, sustainable or circular
economies face at the local level. As mentioned before, this is all the more important since it
has been shown in recent studies that, beyond the aspects related to social acceptability, one of
the recurring problems encountered by project leaders—and which can be detrimental to the
project—is the absence or lack of coordination between actors (Bourdin et al., 2020). Thus, for
the first time, we analyse the structuring of the territorial governance of an AD project based
on the analysis of relations between actors. It allows us to understand the evolution of networks
by highlighting the conditions of the creation and renewal or disappearance of synergistic
relationships between actors and the role of their local embeddedness.
Our article aims to analyze the dynamics of social and economic interaction links and proximity
relations by integrating the potential for conflict and the role of public interventions. From a
theoretical point of view, our article combines in an original way two approaches to
understanding the dynamics of coordination between actors that favor the deployment of
successful projects. More precisely, we use the approaches of social network analysis and the
School of Proximity to analyze territorial governance, applied to the AD system of the Syndicat
Mixte du Point Fort (SMPF). This case study is symptomatic of the problems of linking actors
at the local level. Stakeholders with varied functions and different territorial scales coordinate
with regard to issues of waste mobilization, co-product disposal, risk management, and social
It is interesting to evaluate the effectiveness of this mechanism in terms of territorial governance
and to highlight the measures by which actors of different natures (producers, associations,
individuals, representatives of public authorities or local communities, etc.) contribute to the
elaboration, sometimes concerted, sometimes conflicting, of common territorial development
projects (Torre & Traversac, 2011). Recently mobilised in the example of AD in Cavigny
(Niang et al., 2021), the social network tool was here coupled with an analysis of proximities
(geographical and organized), providing a better understanding of the governance associated
with the structuring of productive and social interactions. Our approach is in line with some of
the work conducted on innovation dynamics in the dairy sector (Torre et al., 2019; Pachoud et
al., 2019), the evaluation of collective agroecological practices of farmers (Houdart et al.,
2011), local governance and rural development arrangements (Polge & Torre, 2017) and the
importance of governance arrangements for the implementation of circular economy strategies
in territories (Jambou, 2018). Eventually, we want to test the hypothesis that the mobilization
of various types of proximities could help build a robust local network among local producers,
customers, authorities and associations of local residents.
We first present the SMPF AD project, then the theoretical framework and methodology used
to analyze the territorial governance of this case study. Based on our surveys, we study the
technical and innovation trajectories and their evolution at the local level, representing them in
the form of flow networks. We then analyze the dynamics of the social networks, which reveal
the evolution, over time, of synergies and cooperative behaviors among the actors of the
Cavigny AD. The last part is devoted to analyzing the importance and role of proximity
relations in the productive choices and relations maintained by the actors of this process.
2. SITE DESCRIPTION AND RESEARCH METHOD
2.1. Case study: the SMPF of Cavigny (France)
The Syndicat Mixte du Point Fort (SMPF) is a public establishment of inter-municipal
cooperation (EPCI), which ensures the prevention and management of waste from 125
municipalities—including one agglomeration—located in the Department of Manche, in the
Normandy region (France). It is situated in Cavigny, a small rural municipality of 257
inhabitants, and directly connected to a main road (2X2 lanes), facilitating the arrival of trucks
bringing household waste. It organizes selective collection (packaging, paper, glass), carries
out pretreatment, and eliminates and treats waste. In 2019, 116,744 inhabitants, representing
23% of the department's population, were concerned by its activity (Point Fort Environnement
Each member community of municipalities is represented in the SMPF by one or more
delegates, who make up the syndical committee. This is composed of 38 members who vote on
the budget and decide on the main orientations during the deliberative assemblies. The members
also elect the Executive Board (BE-SMPF), made up of the President and eight Vice-Presidents.
The technical department—PFE—is the operational body in charge of the construction and
operation of the waste pretreatment and treatment facilities.
The facilities are located in different municipalities of the SMPF territorial perimeter (Figure
1). The 14 waste collection centers are accessible free of charge to the inhabitants and technical
services of the member municipalities. It should be noted that certain non-member
municipalities, in partnership with PFE within the framework of agreements or public contracts,
bring additional tonnages to the SMPF, enabling it to make the AD facilities profitable. In
addition to the 14 waste collection centers, two transit platforms for glass and a non-hazardous
waste storage and burial facility (ISDND) with a capacity of 70,000 tons are also available.
Finally, to reduce the fermentable part of the organic matter to be buried, and thus to limit
leachates (waste juices), in 2009, the SMPF equipped itself with a sustainable treatment plant
to valorize its waste. It is located in Cavigny and includes several facilities, including a
modernized sorting center and an AD unit.
Figure 1: Location of the SMPF facilities and territory of implementation of the AD
process in Cavigny
With a capacity of 72,000 tons per year, the AD unit treats the organic fraction contained in
household waste and shredded green waste (grass, leaves, wilted flowers, etc.) from waste
collection centers. These are transformed into biogas and compost, intended for reuse in the
form of heat, electricity, and nitrogenous organic fertilizer. The creation of this biogas plant
responds to the will of local authorities with regard to developing the circular valorization of
organic waste into territorial resources, promoting the local use of renewable energy, and
practicing reasoned agricultural fertilization. It thus contributes to ensuring local energy
autonomy, savings on energy and nitrogen fertilizer (Holm-Nielsen et al., 2009), and reducing
diffuse pollution (air, water, and soil) and GHG emissions. It also allows the creation of non-
relocatable values and jobs (Guenther-Lübbers et al., 2016).
The process offers both an example of the valorization of organic waste into local territorial
resources and of innovation and cooperation dynamics between actors based on the circular
economy chain. It brings together different stakeholders, consisting of local authorities that
provide the inputs (waste), public companies that manage the waste and co-products, and
farmers who use the compost. The departmental technical services intervene in the inspection
of the process and the operation of the AD unit, an installation classified for environmental
protection (ICPE). They monitor potential negative externalities that could impact local
populations and residents. The residents' association "Vivre au pays de Daye" is associated with
this process within the regulatory monitoring commission for risks and negative externalities,
which gives local populations access to a certain amount of information and control over
decisions (Kortsch et al., 2015).
Within the framework of the practices and exchanges within this AD process, new social
relations are created and developed between the people and the organizations at the origin of
the material and energy exchange flows. This mechanism of territorial governance is essentially
based on the consultation and information exchange mechanisms set up within the SMPF and
the site monitoring commission and on the contractualization with the stakeholder clients.
2.2. Study methodology: social networks and proximity relations
The objective of our study is to analyze the collective dynamics of the stakeholders of the
Cavigny SMPF to account for the interactions that characterize the types of exchanges within
the AD process. The research thus targets the different links (social, economic, and
geographical) created and developed between actors with different functions and belonging to
different territorial scales. To grasp the process of the construction of collective action and the
associated governance mechanism, we mobilize a theoretical framework combining the
relational approaches of social networks and proximities. We begin by studying the networks
of actors and their structures to describe the hierarchy of interaction relationships and the role
and place of each actor in the coordination process (Crona et al., 2011). We then analyze how
proximities between stakeholders are organized and modified to better understand the process
of collective action and the link between the structuring of networks, the quality of interactions,
and their organization around pivotal actors (Torre et al., 2019; Pachoud et al., 2019).
The social network approach, based on graphical visual analysis and statistical measures of
interaction relationships, is based on relational data (Wasserman & Faust, 1994). We use
primary information collected between April and August 2019 through 27 semi-structured
interviews with representatives of different categories of local actors
. The interview guide
developed for this purpose was intended to identify all the information that could reflect the
network structure's overall and local sociometric characteristics. The people to be interviewed
were identified during an exploratory interview with the project management team during
which all the categories of actors and types of exchanges of material and energy flows and
information and communication relationships were considered. Additionally, using the "roster-
recall" method (Ter Wal & Boschma, 2009; Wasserman & Faust, 1994), the interviewees were
asked to qualify the relationships maintained with the other participants in the innovation and
governance dynamics of the AD flows. Each actor involved in the AD project was thus able to
list the participants with whom they maintain collaborative relations while describing the nature
and form of these relationships. Therefore, if some key actors had not been identified in the
exploratory interview with the project management team, the other interviews conducted with
the other actors allowed us to identify some other actors. Therefore, we were allowed to view
the project stakeholders comprehensively.
The analysis was carried out over the entire development period of the AD project and divided
into three key stages: 2010, 2015, and 2020. This chronological aspect of the evolution of the
networks makes it possible to appreciate the conditions of the creation and renewal or
disappearance of the synergy relations between actors. The analysis for 2010 and 2015 was
carried out based on the relational data from the reconstruction of the history of interactions
(Grossetti et al., 2011) from interviews with former SMPF managers and employees present
since the beginning of the AD project. With these interviews, we gathered additional
information on the actors entering or leaving, actions, and controversies that marked the local
context of the development of the AD project in Cavigny.
The data—organized in a matrix form to define the links between the actors for each type of
exchange—were then processed using NetDraw software to represent network graphs and
Ucinet to perform statistical measurements. We thus estimated the potential for synergistic
relationships within the networks by the density of the links. We detected cohesive subgroups
that express references to the mental adhesion to the project (relative to their
cognitive or cultural references) of the actors who gather and work together on common
challenges (Borgatti, 2002). The estimation of these characteristic indicators of structural
properties was complemented by the degree centrality measure to analyze the influence of each
actor in the synergy relationships (Crona et al., 2011).
In order to understand the modalities of the emergence of collective action and the dynamics of
social and economic ties that are created and strengthened or unravelled over time (Lazega et
al., 2015), we then proceeded to study the coordination structure. We analyzed the proximity
relations between actors and their evolution (Torre et al., 2019; Polge & Torre, 2017). This
made it possible to interpret the results obtained in terms of social networks and, in particular,
to specify the nature of the interactions and provide a better understanding of the actors'
structuring and governance mechanisms at work in the AD process. The analysis of the
Note that the data for analyzing the evolution of the network, i.e. information about the links at different times,
were collected at a single point in time. This poses a ‘recall bias’. Respondents may not remember well what their
connections were in the past. Therefore, analysis of our data and the evolution of networks collected in this way
must be done with caution. A more ideal method would have been to conduct interviews with all actors at different
time points in the project to limit any recall bias.
The n-clicks expressed as the number of sub-groups observable within the network, make it possible to identify
cohesive groups of actors who are strongly linked to each other, and the potential relay actors (intermediaries).
They provide the links between the sub-groups. The presence of many n-clicks implies a weakness of relations
between actors, resulting in a non-cohesive network. In contrast, a limited number of n-clicks is synonymous with
solidarity, social control and information circulation.
characteristics of the interactions that make up the networks using a qualitative approach allows
for a better understanding of the logic of collaboration between actors and the potential for
conflict or opposition, as well as the role played by the different categories of stakeholders
We distinguish here, in a classical way (Torre & Rallet, 2005), two main categories of
proximity. Geographical proximity, linked to spatial and distance dimensions, can facilitate
productive collaborative relationships and local stakeholders' participation and provoke
opposition to AD projects from local populations. Its permanent form can facilitate direct
contact and the exchange of flows between actors located in nearby territories or be the source
of conflicts that block local collective dynamics (Magsi & Torre, 2015). It takes a temporary
form in the case of occasional meetings between actors, facilitated by their movements.
Organized proximity refers to the actors' membership in an organization or social network
(logic of belonging) or their mental adhesion to the project (see above) (logic of similarity). It
determines and explains collective action strategies, which are the result of social interactions
between actors of all kinds and result in cooperative relationships or bonds of trust (Dupuy &
3.1. Exchanges on the technical and innovation trajectories at work at the local level
The interviews with the stakeholders of the Cavigny AD process made it possible to highlight
the dynamics of material flows within the local eco-industrial system. They revealed the
relationships maintained in terms of productive exchanges of materials and energy (waste,
electricity, and compost) (Table 1). The five categories of productive actors (Member
municipalities, SMPF, Customer municipalities and Compost customers (farmers + firms))
identified coordinate with regard to the issues of input mobilization, co-product disposal, risk
management, and the social acceptability of the AD project. It is on this basis that the local
recycling and innovation mechanism is set up.
Collection and disposal
of household waste
and recovery of
Waste disposal based on
and public market
Professional customers of
the valorization of co-
products (firms and farms)
Purchase and resale of
electricity and compost
Table 1: Categories of material and energy exchange relationships maintained by the
AD stakeholders in Cavigny
These issues result from a dynamic productive and territorial partnership involving local
authorities (communities of municipalities) that collect household waste and entrust its
treatment and recovery to the SMPF. In a commercial approach, the latter also draws up
contracts with client communities for the treatment of their waste. The co-products are intended
for a triple energetic and agronomic reuse in heat, electricity, and organic nitrogen fertilizer.
The heat (produced by the combustion of part of the biogas) is reused on site for the operation
of the digesters, while the electricity and compost are marketed by two of the SMPF's client
companies. Within the framework of a contract established based on a regulated price, the
electricity produced by the cogeneration of the biogas is repurchased by the public energy
supplier. The compost produced, called "Fortisol," is sold to another public company and then
purchased by farmers, who use it on their farms as organic fertilizer.
Nr. of actors
Nber of links
Categories of actors: proportion (%) and average degree3
Compost customers (farmers)
Co-product customers (firms)
Table 2: Structural characteristics of the AD material and energy exchange network
The material and energy exchange network analysis reveals the multi-actor mechanism of
production dynamics and its evolutionary trajectories in 2010, 2015, and 2020 (Table 2). The
relationship graphs (Figure 2) reveal the relationships between (i) the territorial authorities
(members and non-members) providing inputs, (ii) the SMPF bodies and establishments
managing the waste, and (iii) the companies and farmers specializing in the valorization of co-
products. Since the decentralization law of 2015, the "competence of household waste
treatment" is ensured at the level of the groupings of municipalities, instead of at the level of
the municipalities. This may explain why there is a decrease in the number of relationships
within the recycling stream network.
On the other hand, their density remains high throughout the development period, decreasing
in 2015 to increase sharply again at the end of the period, resulting in more than half of the
possible social links. Only two cohesive (2, 2 cliques) and interdependent subgroups are in
productive interaction during this period of evolution and development of the project. They are
composed of all the actors in the methanisation value chain, apart from farmers (AgrP1) and
the company that markets the energy (EntrP2), which each interacts in a single subgroup. The
high density of the networks and the minimal number of n-clicks indicate the strong group
cohesion in the exchanges of economic flows. However, the average number of links involving
each actor in the networks (average degree), which continues to decrease, despite a high value
The average degree represents the average number of links involving an actor. It measures the value of degree
centrality, which makes it possible to highlight the central actors of the interaction network, having the greatest
number of relationships (Freeman 1979). The higher the degree value of an actor, the more central and active it is
within the network, playing an important role in the flow (Wasserman and Faust, 1994).
at the beginning of the period, indicates the loss of cohesion in the evolution of material and
energy exchange relationships.
2010 2015 2020
Figure 2: Evolution of the material and energy exchange network
The average degree value for each category of actors (Table 2) is represented in Figure 2 by the
size of the nodes in proportion to their centrality value. This indicator shows that the
organizations of the SMPF that carry the project are the central actors of high degree values,
having the most crucial number of productive interactions. They are composed of the landfills
and the operational management of the SMPF. This ensures the coordination of waste
collection, the distribution of co-products and the management of the networks of actors. This
task has been ensured and maintained over the 2010 and 2020 period.
3.2. The social links maintained by the AD actors
The partnership model of industrial AD, which involves many actors, is characterized by
different categories of innovations (Mol, 2014). These include biotechnological innovations in
terms of production processes and innovative products and organizational innovations, which
allow the participation of all stakeholders in the governance of the project and play a decisive
role in the social and economic links thus created. The networks of interactions and exchanges
of information between participants in the Cavigny AD process reflect these governance
modalities and the exchanges of information and cooperation processes at work at the local
Interviews with stakeholders in the AD process revealed information exchanges and collective
activity carried out within communication relationships. We were able to identify the
circulation of flows and the network of exchanges in terms of communication, which involve
both the local authorities and municipalities associated with the project and the decision-making
bodies of the project leader (PFE and BE-SMPF). Interactions within the network occur in
different ways: through dialogue and consultation during the meetings of contacts and
deliberative assemblies of the SMPF member communities and through the regulatory meetings
of the site monitoring commission placed under the responsibility of the administrative
authorities (Table 3).
Legend: The nodes of the networks represent the actors, the arcs their relationships, and the shape of the
nodes corresponds to the scale of action of the actors (the circle at the local level, the triangle at the
departmental level, and the square for the national level). The size of the nodes represents the number of
relationships involving an actor in proportion to its degree value, and indicates the influence and
importance of actors in the innovation mechanism and the governance of AD flows.
SMPF waste management bodies and units Local authorities
Compost customers (farmers) Co-product customers (firms)
exchange of best
union committee (38
board meeting (9
controlling of the
information on the
process with the
Table 3: Categories of information exchange maintained by the stakeholders of AD in
These shared and concerted governance bodies include the issues of profitability and the social
acceptability of the project in the circulation of AD flows. They represent a framework for
exchanging best practices and information on the process, the mobilization of inputs, and the
management of environmental externalities, nuisances, and risks. Apart from the SMPF's non-
member local authorities and client companies, all the participants are involved in the process,
including the residents represented by the "Vivre au pays de Daye" association. For example,
during these formal meetings, SMPF managers explain (i) their controlling of the AD process
to identify and correct any malfunctions and (ii) compliance with safety standards and
measures, as well as (iii) the samples, measurements, and analyses carried out periodically by
the public technical support services The local residents' association also holds bi-weekly
meetings with the SMPF to discuss, in particular, the odors, health risks, and traffic resulting
from the trucks bringing in the biomass.
To define these information exchange and communication networks, we considered the
interactions resulting from exchanges in communication between representatives of the
structures and organizations involved in the AD process. They correspond to the bulk of the
face-to-face exchanges in formal relationships (78%) belonging to the SMPF and the site
monitoring committee and only 7% of informal relationships with customers (see table 6).
Exchanges can be direct, in verbal or electronic form, and be performed once or several times
per month. They are essentially carried out within the framework of the economic and
commercial partnerships of the actors, even if interpersonal, social friendship, leisure, or family
links exist between the individuals. The links created during the three phases of network
evolution are listed in Table 4, according to the answers given to the questions asked about the
participants’ relations at work.
Nr. of actors
Nber of links
Categories of actors: proportion (%) and average degree
Member of municipalities
Town hall of Cavigny
State technical support services
Table 4: Structural characteristics of methanization interaction networks
The different exchanges are represented here by their relationship graphs and their evolution
and development trajectories in 2010, 2015, and 2020 (Figure 3). The network of
communication relations was slightly denser, especially at the beginning of the period, with a
slightly higher average degree of connectivity, suggesting a robust group cohesion in the
framework of dialogue and consultation consistent with the launch of the anaerobic digestion
project. However, its size diminishes in the following periods due to institutional restructurings
and mergers between territorial authorities. While relying heavily on material and energy
exchange practices, this network also reveals the importance of organizational exchanges in
mobilizing technological innovations. These exchanges are also organized in two cohesive
subgroups (2, 2 clicks) of actors developing higher social ties than the network of materials and
energy exchanges. These two interdependent n-clicks are distinguished by the participation in
the first sub-group of all the actors, except ADEME (SE4), which participates only in the
communication sub-group, composed of the members of the monitoring committee of the site
(SMPF, Townhall of Cavigny, State technical support services and the association of residents).
2010 2015 2020
Figure 3: Evolution of the exchange network in terms of communication
The coordination of all partnerships is organized around the project leader (the SMPF), which
plays the role of assembler and animator of the networks. It facilitates the circulation of flows
by jointly occupying intermediation functions, thus ensuring a role of relay between the central
actors with high degree values and those who have fewer links with them (see Table 4).
However, it should be noted in these networks of communication relations that the town hall of
Cavigny, which hosts the AD facilities, joins with the SMPF's executive office to ensure the
function of territorial intermediation. By maintaining communication relations between the
stakeholders, these actors guarantee the effective mobilization of material resources to make
the installations profitable and prevent possible conflicts or opposition to the project. This result
confirms Bourdin and Nadou’s (2020) work on the fundamental role of territorial
intermediation, which the owner of an AD project must fulfill.
We also note that the role of the local residents' association has increased steadily since the
implementation of AD in Cavigny due to its strong involvement in the regulatory governance
of the project. It is involved in the reflection and dissemination of information, allowing the
local population to participate in the steering of the project and helping to calm local conflicts.
The importance of its role results from the position it holds as an ex-officio member of the site
Legend: The characterization of the nodes and arcs is the same as in Figure 2.
SMPF waste management bodies and units Local authorities
State technical services Residents' association
monitoring commission and from its periodic contact with the members of the SMPF during
deliberative assemblies and informal meetings, which allows it to communicate with almost all
the stakeholders of the AD project.
3.3. Proximity links of the AD actors
We now turn to the analysis of proximity relations, which allows us to complete the study of
productive and communication interactions in the governance of AD flows and determine the
main motivations of the actors and the constraints they face. The application of the proximities
analysis grid to the network approach results allows us to better understand the emergence and
deployment modalities of the governance process and the possible obstacles to its development.
It appears that the multidimensional nature of the structure of the Cavigny AD network leads
to collective action and makes territorial innovations possible by allowing the activation of
different types of proximity links between local actors and obstacles to be overcome that may
arise from these same proximities. Territorial innovations depend heavily on proximity
(geographical and organized) relations, which play a determining role in the technical, social,
and economic links at work between local actors (Torre & Rallet, 2005).
3.3.1. Geographical proximities that strengthen local ties
The relationship between the SMPF and the local authorities that bring in household waste is
based on permanent geographical proximity. The environmental center in Cavigny, where the
AD unit is located, is situated at the crossroads of the local authorities that are members of the
mixed syndicate. Similarly, the 14 waste collection centers that collect and transport green
waste are also located nearby. This co-location ensures a territorial network of waste treatment
and production facilities, reinforced by transport access. The center is directly linked to the
departmental road network via the D974 road from the Porte Verte interchange, facilitating
access for trucks bringing in waste and removing compost. Other client communities not
belonging to the mixed syndicate also bring waste to be treated (BECP, 2019).
Table 5 shows that the technical, social, and economic relationships are essentially concentrated
at the level of the territory of the mixed syndicate's jurisdiction, between the communities that
supply the waste, the SMPF in charge of the recovery and the farmers reusing the compost. This
geographical proximity was sought by the actors. It allows them to meet more often to boost
the governance of flows (Torre & Wallet, 2014) and restricts the extent of the circulation of the
latter, contributing to the sustainability of the AD process. It contributes to the mutualization of
transport, sorting, treatment, and waste recovery functions, which reduces transport and
transaction costs. Finally, it strengthens the links and exchanges while ensuring the junction
between the competencies of the collection of waste devolved to the municipalities and that of
its treatment by the mixed syndicate. It should be noted that most of the actors interviewed
during our study who are involved in the process consider themselves to be geographically close
to their partners.
Scale of action
Category of actors
Material and energy exchange network
(0 to 45 km)
Compost customers (farmers)
(45 to 100 km)
national (+100 km)
Co-product customers (firms)
Exchange network in terms of communication
(0 to 45 km)
Town hall of Cavigny
Association of residents
(45 to 100 km)
Town hall of Cavigny
State technical support services
Association of residents
Table 5: The relations maintained according to the distance between the actors
Geographical proximity is also sought for its benefits upstream of the process. The farmers who
buy the compost are located within a 30 km radius of Cavigny. In addition, despite the national
dimension of their activities, the companies in charge of marketing the co-products are keen to
be present at the local level. They come on site when necessary to respect the contractual
commitments within the commercial exchanges of the AD products. For these companies, we
can speak of temporary geographical proximity.
This diversity in the scales of actions and links testifies the relevance of the intermediary role
played by the SMPF managers, who implement networking and facilitate the bringing together
of stakeholders by activating geographical proximity. Geographical proximity thus constitutes
a factor of territorialization and the local anchoring of the AD project and plays a major role in
the process of territorial governance. The raw material for production, which is renewable, is
locally available, and the consumption of the products is carried out at the local level.
These different elements indicate the interest of the geographical dimension of proximity in the
valorization of waste and the creation of added value anchored in the territory. However, when
it is sought for its benefits, it becomes potentially conflicting when certain categories of actors
experience it. Thus, even before the AD facilities were set up in Cavigny, the SMPF faced
opposition from the local population, which was concerned about the risk of explosions, as well
as environmental damage, possible noise or odor pollution, and pollution linked to the increase
in traffic. This is a typical case of unwanted geographical proximity, which is in line with
various studies that have highlighted local resistance to AD projects, resulting in the emergence
of attitudes of rejection (Soland, 2013; Bojesen et al., 2015; Schumacher & Schultmann, 2017;
Giuliano et al., 2018; Bourdin et al., 2020).
In a study in Denmark, Zemo et al. (2019) showed that the size of AD projects negatively
influences residential property values, putting such sites at risk of downgrading. Magsi and
Torre (2015) pointed out that geographical proximity brings conflicts (regarding the
neighborhood and use) and that the mobilization of organized proximity allows them to be
anticipated and resolved to some extent (Torre & Zuindeau, 2009). This position is illustrated
by the choice made locally to include the local residents' association, “Vivre au pays de Daye,”
in the debates and deliberations of the group of institutions involved in the AD process in
Cavigny. It contributes greatly to the reduction of opposition and the limitation of possible
conflicts created by the development of this activity.
Together, the extent to which geographical proximity has an essential role in the territorial
governance process is revealed by these elements. Important in two ways. First of all, local
opposition to the installation of the AD was provoked by geographical proximity, following the
fears and the opposition of the local populations. But also because it contributes to the setting
of harmonious relations between the various stakeholders involved in the production process,
the consumption and recycling of waste. Both physical and organizational relationships are
facilitated and streamlined along the local loop thanks to temporary and permanent
geographical proximities. The importance of geographical proximity and the local anchoring of
actors is confirmed to facilitate their coordination and project success.
3.3.2. Organized proximities that allow for collective action and conflict management
Organized proximity is based on two types of logic: belonging and similarity (Torre & Rallet,
2005). In the governance of the Cavigny AD project, the logic of belonging is expressed by the
fact that certain local authorities associated with the project belong to the mixed syndicate,
which is where most of the exchange relations are concentrated in terms of production and
communication. The interactions between the members of the SMPF are carried out through
dialogue and consultation within the PFE. This body makes decisions on strategic orientations
and plays an essential role in the governance of AD flows. It facilitates direct contact between
the communities and the technical department responsible for coordinating the operational
implementation of the project.
The logic of belonging is also at work in the relation networks of the actors in the AD value
chain, for example, between the producers of waste and by-products and the users of these
resources. Our interviews show that the central actors exchange information regularly, often
through face-to-face meetings of an informal nature. These meetings take place every 15 days
or so, or more regularly, and are supplemented by telephone exchanges, which help to densify
and solidify the network. For the others, it is most often telephone contact with the same
frequency. The project leader facilitates these interactions (the SMPF) and acts as an
intermediary to guarantee social links between actors, particularly with client communities and
companies. In particular, its work contributes to facilitating the sharing of knowledge flows and
collective learning with the deconcentrated services of the State, co-product professionals, and
communities that are not members of the materials and energy exchange network (see Table 6).
How do you
communicate most often
with this person?
Most often remotely by phone, email
Most often face-to-face
- Formal meeting
- Informal meeting
How often do you
communicate with your
- Every two weeks
- 2 to 4 times/year
Very occasional (Annual face-to-face
or remote point)
In what context did you
Before the creation of the anaerobic
Through the anaerobic digestion unit
outside of anaerobic
Table 6: The logic of belonging and the frequency of interactions of organised proximity
The fact of belonging to the same network is often based on similar characteristics of the actors,
and thus on relations based on the logic of similarity of the organized proximity. In the case of
the Cavigny AD project, the stakeholders share a sensitivity to the environmental values of the
ecological and energy transition. They gather around a common ideal, which allows for the
local and circular production and consumption of renewable energies from municipal waste and
the practice of sustainable agricultural fertilization (Table 2). For example, companies
specializing in the distribution of co-products are now privileged interlocutors for implementing
national AD policy. In doing so, they also contribute to the sustainability of the territorial
In order to underline the importance of the logic of belonging, it should be noted that all the
actors involved in the process knew each other beforehand, often through their waste
management activities. Furthermore, the establishment and operation of local bodies, such as
the SMPF, contributed to strengthening the sense of community, based on the interpersonal
social ties that are created and developed, and made it possible to establish a climate of trust
and consultation between the producers and waste managers. This involves creating bonds of
similarity, which contribute to the creation of a relational context favorable to the cooperation
and coordination of actors (Dupuy & Torre, 2006).
The trust created between production actors is thus based on articulation between logics of
belonging and similarity. Still, it also depends on the integration of conflicting potentialities
concerning other local stakeholders (Soland et al., 2013). Trust in the SMPF has fostered the
social acceptability of the project. This was created from the project’s inception through
moments of exchanging information between local elected officials and the population, which
adhered to the sustainability values of AD. The transparency of the choice of the Cavigny site
and the administrative procedure for its implementation, and the possibilities for stakeholder
participation in the management of the territorial project (Kortsch et al., 2015; Bourdin &
Nadou, 2020), helped to prevent conflicts and ease tensions.
Far from being a hindrance to the development of the project, the discussion around the siting
of the AD unit has become a source of organizational innovation. The local population has
organized itself within the “Vivre au Pays de Daye” association. Alongside the State's technical
services, it is involved in the regulatory governance of the risks of AD. This is a solution already
presented by Soland et al. (2013) in the case of AD installations in Switzerland. This framework
for dialogue and consultation, set up before the start of the project, has also made it possible to
disseminate information and knowledge, creating a feeling of public support for the AD project.
The mechanism has now been extended within the site monitoring commission as part of the
regulatory governance of risks, enabling relations of trust to be maintained.
Thus, the mobilization of organized proximity relations has made it possible to contribute very
effectively to a virtuous territorial governance process in two ways. At first, by making it
possible to solve the problems posed by the geographical proximity of populations (NIMBY
effect). The relations of organised proximity have made it possible to initiate a fruitful
discussion and exchange between the participants in the AD process and the neighbourhood
residents. Particularly, it allowed the creation of a local association and the action of the public
authorities. The setting up of forums for discussion and consultation contributed to the success
of the methanisation process. But organised proximity has also played an essential role between
producers, consumers and public authorities during this process: it has helped them discuss and
overcome their misunderstandings and technical obstacles. It has enabled the survival and the
growth of the local circular economy loop through their mutual knowledge and the many
exchanges of all types that have animated them, particularly to overcome the difficulties caused
by the territorial reforms and the subsequent merging of activities.
4. CONCLUSION AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS
The circular economy and the energy transition, which are now in the spotlight with regard to
the fight against climate change, are also part of a territorial dynamic that brings together
multiple actors or local stakeholders from a wide variety of backgrounds. They thus appear as
important elements of local solutions to global change and as contributions to sustainable
territorial development processes. Our analysis of the installation and development of the AD
process in the case of Cavigny, France, aimed to examine how the mobilization of different
types of proximity contributed to the creation and perpetuation of a sustainable solution based
on the agreement of all stakeholders in the territory, whether producers, local authorities, or
The analysis of social networks has made it possible to highlight both the flow of materials and
exchanges in terms of communication. In particular, it has highlighted the importance of
governance mechanisms in the implementation of this technological innovation in the
territories. The results show the role played by the interaction and coordination structure of the
stakeholders, which goes beyond the exchange of flows and also concerns the way in which the
actors collaborate or work together in order to combine their plans and strategies. We also
highlight the role of communication exchanges in the structuring of productive exchanges
(Rosado et al., 2014) and the interest provoked by an approach focused on social ties in
understanding industrial metabolism processes (Wall & Paquin, 2015).
The analysis of proximities shows that all actors are in a situation of close permanent
geographical proximity, which facilitates links and exchanges between waste and by-product
producers, on the one hand, and their users as a resource, on the other, as well as with the
responsible territorial authorities. But, this proximity also produces negative effects linked to
the initial opposition to the project from populations because of the perceived risks, which cause
tensions. However, this opposition can be resolved by integrating citizen stakeholders into the
decision-making process and the evolution of the AD project. The resources of organized
proximity can then be mobilized to serve organizational innovation, in particular, through local
residents' associations and their participation in territorial governance.
In addition, the collective action between producers or users, built progressively over time, was
observed to be largely based on the resources of organized proximity, within its two dimensions
of belonging and similarity. Relationships of similarity, particularly around environmental
values, make it possible to forge and solidify local networks around shared values. Relations of
belonging are subsequently created through working together and sharing objectives; they are
solidified and intensified through repeated exchanges between participants, whether face-to-
face or by telephone. This increase and solidification of relations of organized proximity explain
the persistence of interaction synergies and the maintenance of the dynamics. It also allows the
success of a circular process during a decade that has been strongly marked by territorial
reforms, which could have destabilized this ensemble due to the merger processes and the
change of institutional actors in charge of operations.
All in all, and at the local level, it is clear that the intersection of geographical and organized
proximity favors both the birth and stabilization of territorial governance processes. From this
point of view, coordination between actors and the involvement of all stakeholders is
fundamental. The joint mobilization of proximities greatly facilitates the implementation of the
AD project and its sustainability and the modes of organization of local stakeholders of all
kinds, from producers to associations, including public authorities and territorial communities.
The model of sharing and exchange put in place goes beyond technical considerations. It
participates in creating a local territorialized economy, which reveals the importance of the
various categories of proximity in the local valorization of waste and the creation of added value
anchored in the territory.
The authors would like to thank the Syndicat Mixte du Point Fort (SMPF) and the people and
structures that agreed to collaborate to this research. Our warmest thanks go to Emma
BOURSAULT for conducting the interviews and collecting the data that made this work
possible. This research has been funded by ADEME and PSDR programmes.
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Appendix 1: The variables studied
Means of mobilization
Type of collaboration (joint
project, collective meeting)
Number of exchanges, contacts
Do you work or have you ever worked in
collaboration with this actor?
Has the intensity of the relationship changed
since the start of the AD unit?
Location of facilities
How far away (in km) are you from this actor or
In terms of geographical distance, do you
consider yourself close or far away?
Perception of the geographical
distance separating the actors in
Frequency of telephone or e-
How do you most often communicate with this
person? (face-to-face, telephone ...)
How often do you communicate with this
Belonging to the same
organization, the same network
Did you know this company or person?
Did you have a relationship with this actor?
Where did you meet this person?
Mental and cognitive adherence
to the process
In your opinion, what are the results of these
actions in terms of the values to which you
Appendix 2: The perception of geographical proximity relations.
Perception of the
actors in space
At what geographical distance
(order of magnitude in km) are
you located from a particular actor
0 to 20 km
20 to 45 km
45 to 100 km
In terms of geographical distance,
do you consider yourself close or