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New Eco Innovation Observatory report plots transition to sustainability  


The transition to a sustainable economy based on eco-innovation requires systemic change and “new collaborations to create functional systems that integrate environmental sustainability at their core,” according to the 2012 annual report of the Eco Innovation Observatory, which was published at the end of January.

The report, Europe in transition: Paving the way to a green economy through eco-innovation is the Eco Innovation Observatory's third annual report. It is a handbook for policy makers that seek to push society and economy in more sustainable directions, with 35 specific recommendations addressed to policy makers participating in the Eco-Innovation Action Plan (EcoAP) High Level Working Group, and to the European Commission. The recommendations are equally relevant to policy makers at other levels.

In particular, policymakers, companies, citizens and researchers need to work in partnership to rethink the systems that underpin modern economies, and to ensure that they operate within the boundaries of sustainable resource extraction and use, the report argues. These systems could be “anything from a house to a city or an entire economy,” the report notes.

While stand alone eco-innovation is welcome, system thinking is needed to ensure that there is not too much “concentration of eco-innovation in niches instead of a widespread diffusion across society,” the report says. Examples of system thinking could include companies that fully internalise environmental sustainability, for example by collaborating through the supply chain to reuse and recycle resources, or greater levels of sharing in transport and housing.

The report's 35 specific recommendations are grouped into five overall recommendations:

  • A shared understanding of the eco-innovation challenge needs to be built, with acceptance among key stakeholders of the basic vision. Innovation partnerships and demonstration projects can help build understanding about the core objectives.
  • Targets and milestones have a part to play and can make the vision more concrete. Specific eco-innovation targets, such as for resource efficiency, should be developed.
  • Policy needs to become more able to deal with systemic problems, rather than regulating, for example, environment, transport and energy in silos. For this reason, a European Innovation Partnership on system eco-innovation could be added to the EcoAP.
  • Indicators and monitoring of eco-innovation should be further developed.
  • Policy-level integration is needed to address the complexity of the sustainability challenge. For example, an eco-innovation policy unit could be formed within the European Commission, drawing staff from different directorates-general, and from agencies and the European Investment Bank.

The report backs EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik's view that “eco-innovation should go beyond incremental environmental improvements and efficiency gains, and aim at breaking out of locked-in systems and thinking”. It also includes examples of eco-innovation in practice and possible targets that could be adopted.