Managing director Bernhard Puttinger explains the thinking behind ECO WORLD STYRIA, recognised as the world’s leading cleantech cluster for 2010 by the international Cleantech Group.
Founded in 2005, the ECO WORLD STYRIA environmental engineering cluster has facilitated the growth of 150 clean-technology companies providing 15 000 jobs in renewable energy and environmental technology in the federal state of Styria in the southeast of Austria. The cluster encourages the emergence of eco-innovation and enables green technology companies to gain access to new markets. Thanks to this support, Styrian companies are becoming market leaders in the fields of biomass, solar energy and wastewater treatment.
The roots of the cluster go back to 1998, when the local business-support agency established a loose network and web platform to assist green-technology projects. The cluster was the product of public and private actors’ desire to address environmental issues. Styria already had a concentration of green companies dating back to the 1970s. These socially engaged companies helped to address problems such as waste processing by working together with local authorities. This co-operation led to the development of a legal framework to support the emergence of green enterprises. As a result, by 2005 the loose network had evolved into a limited company.
We know what the drivers of growth are and how they change over time. When it comes to clean technologies the main driver is still a supportive legal framework – meaning subsidies and laws. But the importance of this factor is decreasing. In our new 2015 strategy, we predict that other drivers will become more important. Support for research and innovation, the availability of skilled labour and mechanisms to encourage the export of green technologies will shape the future growth of clean technologies.
To support research and innovation in Styria, we have developed a new research infrastructure based around competence centres. Through these centres, companies and researchers work together for five to ten years on a specific topic. These centres focus on our region’s strengths, particularly biomass.
Over the next five years, we hope to build on our strong commitment to research – the research quota accounts for 4.3% of gross regional product (GRP). By doing so we can continue to support companies working in the green-tech sector, and also encourage other technology companies to branch out into this area.
In Styria there is a very strong chamber of commerce with foreign trade commissioners interested in the area of clean technology. We have therefore developed strong export links which have benefited the companies in our region.
For example, we are the first European institution that has ‘consultant’ status for the Tianjin area of China. We work with this region – which boasts 150 of the Forbes 500 companies – to make them more ‘green’ and to encourage the adoption of environmental approaches. At present, we are helping three or four Styrian companies introduce their green products onto the Chinese market.
In addition to China, we have established ties with Russia and the USA. Coupled with our trade within the EU, these export relations provide our companies with excellent market opportunities.
I think it’s a combination of our high concentration of cleantech companies, their dynamic growth rate and the high level of innovation in the region. Furthermore, we have a number of examples of successful green-technology enterprises.
Another reason is that we had the chance to work with other European clusters through Europe-Innova. This co-operation taught us some important lessons. For example, we learnt from the UK-based clusters how to manage venture capital, while the German clusters gave us an insight into their approach to developing technology.
We have set ourselves an ‘E-C-O 20-20-20’ target which we hope to reach by 2015. The first aim is to raise the number of global technology leaders in our region to 20. Right now we count around 12, so we’re hoping to add two new technology leaders a year.
In terms of employment, we’re striving to increase the number of people working in the region’s green technology sector – currently 15 000 – to 20 000.
Finally, we hope to increase the number of international presentations of Styrian green technologies in the media and at trade fairs to around 20 a year by 2015.