To coincide with the 13th European Forum on Eco-Innovation, which took place in Lisbon on 26-27 November 2012, the Portuguese government published the first Catalogue of Portuguese Eco-Innovation Competencies. Luis Florindo, Advisor to the Board of Directors of AICEP, explained the thinking behind the catalogue; and Paulo Lemos, member of the Board of Directors of APA and member of the Eco-Innovation Action Plan High-level Working Group, discussed the broader issues relating to eco-innovation in Portugal.
The aim of the catalogue was to give participants in the Forum an overview of the companies involved in eco-innovation in Portugal, and, more generally, to showcase eco-innovation from different sectors and the added value it can offer. The catalogue was produced as an initiative of the ECOPOL project by a cluster of Portuguese government bodies including the Innovation Agency, the Environment Agency (APA) and the Trade and Investment Agency (AICEP).
Luis Florindo: AICEP is involved in the ECOPOL project as advisor on internationalisation [of eco-innovation]. We decided to make a questionnaire for companies in Portugal to try to find more out about which companies thought of themselves as eco-innovators, and in what sectors. Initially we ran the questionnaire for over 1000 companies, and we got nearly 200 answers. In the majority of cases, the companies considered themselves eco-innovative and explained why; the vast majority were declared eco-innovative by our team. There were also some companies, a very small minority, who answered that they were not eco-innovative, but when we examined the type of product and their business, we found that some of these could be considered eco-innovative. We do feel that there is a need to raise awareness of the ultimate importance of eco-innovation. It can happen in any activity: sometimes minor changes to technologies or the way things are done can have significant impacts in terms of efficiency.
Luis Florindo: It's difficult to establish a pattern so far. [In the final catalogue] we have 53 companies but the variety of projects and sectors is so great that if there is a pattern it is the absence of a definitive pattern. We do have some very interesting examples of what used to be traditional sectors in Portugal.
One of the most visible is cork. Obviously cork is a natural product. We are starting to see cork applications combining cork with rubber or other types of synthetic components and coming up with products to insulate aircraft. In a way it can be said that eco-innovation helped save the sector. Up to 10 years ago, cork was used essentially to produce stoppers for the wine industry, but there was a huge attack from synthetic or plastic or aluminium alternatives. [The work done] to overcome that crisis also resulted in different uses of cork. There are now programmes to recycle cork stoppers that are collected at restaurants and processed to make insulation products.
Luis Florindo: We want to show it off a little bit internally, to bring in more companies to make sure that we have an even larger array of competences within the catalogue. Then we will promote it internationally, raise awareness in Europe that there are companies here that could be interesting partners either because they have the technology, or because they have access to markets that other companies may struggle with – South America, Africa. But we will also promote it in the developing world, which needs to grow fast. The decision makers [in the developing world] are more willing to look into sustainability as a criteria to make decisions, and they need partners. So having the catalogue, detailing what the Portuguese competences are in such a range of activities, will help companies generate business in those countries.
Paulo Lemos: We are in a deep economic crisis, but we believe that eco-innovation can be one way out of this crisis because what we need in our country is to produce more and to export more, and anything that has to do with efficient use of resources is good news for any company that is struggling to get credit, that is struggling to find a market.
We are deciding on the institutional framework [for eco-innovation in Portugal]. We intend to present the Portuguese eco-innovation plan in the middle of 2013 with a roadmap: steps that we should take in order to have a more eco-innovation friendly country.
Our economy and culture was always a bit set up for the outside. We are a small country, so we have this idea of going out and trying to find new markets for our products. Because Europe is not doing so well, companies are looking outside, especially to Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, that are growing at a very fast pace. That is why some of the projects presented here [in the catalogue] have partnerships in Angola, in Mozambique and in Brazil.
We also have a culture of flexibility in terms of developing ideas; it is a quality and a defect, it depends how you see it. We are not very formal, very structured in our organisation, but we manage in situations of stress to get the best of it, and I think in that respect we can help in terms of eco-innovation. The problem I see most is that we have a lot of ideas, a lot of projects, but sometimes people just forget that they have to [manage] the registration of their patents. We have several cases that we thought of as very good innovations, and then we found that because we did not take care of this registration of the patents, somebody else got the idea and registered it. But by our culture of flexibility and our culture of relationships with other parts of the world, we can help to develop eco-innovation internally and at European level.
Paulo Lemos: We aim to be more efficient, to respond to [project] developers, to the people who want to invest in Portugal. We have to be more responsive and not so slow in terms of [legal] procedures, so to organise the procedures. We also have to use all the systems of incentives that we have, and to channel these incentives to the productive sectors. In the past, a lot of the European funds were channelled to state projects. Now we are trying to channel most of these projects that can be funded by European funds to the private sector.
Paulo Lemos: We are trying to re-industrialise the country; our industrial base has been diminishing for a long time. We are strong in renewable energy, also the automobile sector. In terms of water we have great experience of water management and water technologies that we want to expand and promote. It is good to share with other [EU] member states the experience that we have in terms of eco-innovation. For our eco-innovation plan we will take into consideration what has been done at European level, and we will try to go a bit further and apply it directly to our country.