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Pinning down eco-innovation

21/11/2010

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Michal Miedzinski of Technopolis Group is leading an initiative to analyse trends and opportunities in eco-innovation to enhance EU competitiveness and environmental performance.

The Eco-Innovation Observatory (EIO) was set up to collect and analyse information on eco-innovation for policymakers and business. It was initially mentioned as an initiative in the May 2007 ETAP report. The concept was also discussed at ETAP High-Level Working Group meetings during 2007. Its goal is to understand better what eco-innovation is and what drives it, using this knowledge to create supportive policy frameworks, well-informed intermediary organisations and pro-active businesses working to build a Europe fit for the future. The Environment DG is the primary stakeholder and funder of this three-year project, under the Competitiveness and Innovation framework Programme. The EIO has the backing of national governments, networks and leading academic experts..

What are objectives of the Eco-Innovation Observatory?

Its mission is to collect and improve access to information on eco-innovation, but there is more. It is also to frame the understanding of what eco-innovation is, what a "green market" is, or what "green growth" should be, by exploring current and possible future trends and giving concrete examples of eco-innovation and eco-innovation trends.

We will make an eco-innovation scoreboard for the EU-27 where we will be looking at national indicators to understand how countries perform. We will also look at sectors, although a cross-sectoral value chain approach may prove more useful. This will be completed by a repository with concrete examples of products, services, organisational solutions and social innovations.

What do you understand by eco-innovation?

Innovation means something new that is implemented on the market. What really distinguishes eco-innovation from normal innovation is that it should be both economically viable and at the same time it must demonstrate being environmentally beneficial, i.e. reducing material and energy use as well as decreasing harmful emissions.

Adding 'eco' to innovation enriches the EU's 2020 strategy because the generic approach to innovation linked to growth and jobs does not tell us anything about which direction this innovation is going in.

Another important element in our approach is the cradle-to-cradle perspective, which means we will attempt to apply the three criteria – materials, energy and emissions – to the entire life cycle of the product. This can change the understanding of green or eco-innovative products or sectors.

Can you give some concrete examples of the information you will collect?

We will create short briefs on each EU Member State, describing their performance in terms of eco-innovation, including trends, concrete examples of solutions developed, and examples of public policies that support – or not – eco-innovation. Maybe in the second or third year of the project we will explore whether we may add briefs for the USA, China, Japan and other large emerging economies.

We will also look at what is blocking eco-innovation, not just obvious barriers like financing and human capital, but also at other barriers such as uncertain access to resources or changing prices of materials. We will look at history since there may be past dependencies.

We will look at time series going back 10 to 20 years depending on the availability of the indicator – but we will also look at how understanding current trends can help us better anticipate future trends. This is especially in relation to material consumption, and related substitution requirements for certain materials, or changes in entire production processes and material flows. We will also look at system level eco-innovations.

We will look at sectors in the global context. We will filter the information bearing in mind what is relevant for Europe but will not limit ourselves to the EU-27.

What is the progress so far?

We published our methodological report outlining our overall approach and scope. Two reports on water innovation and sustainable construction, horizon scanning report as well as the first country briefs will be published early 2011.

The first edition eco-innovation scoreboard will be be also published in early 2011. We are developing the composite indicator on the eco-innovation performance and eco-innovation structural profiles of countries. This is a delicate process because the output will rank countries, although it is aimed at inspiring discussion rather than being a 'bible'. .

What are the main challenges going forward?

Among our very diverse target groups, we want to create some shared understanding of eco-innovation, how it relates to the debate about environmental goods and services, and what it means in the context of general talk on greening markets.

We are also moving towards a more horizontal way of understanding eco-innovation. There is very little data available here because data systems were traditionally organised around sectoral classifications.

Another challenge is that we are dealing with issues very close to business intelligence. We will be looking at the prices of different commodities, relationships between companies in value chains and how materials are procured between private actors, but these are areas where information is very difficult to access because it has real value.

Finally, eco-innovation requires collaboration and one of the tasks will be to try to support joining up the environment, innovation and research agendas of the EU.

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