Smart specialisation is an approach to regional development in which regional authorities focus their resources on a few priority sectors in which the region can offer something new, and which have the potential for significant growth, and even global leadership. A recent guide, Connecting Smart and Sustainable Growth through Smart Specialisation , from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Regional Policy, gives practical advice on how smart specialisation can be applied to boost the green economy, in particular eco-innovation.
The guide is aimed at regional managing authorities that are drawing up their regional development programmes and their plans for use of European Regional Development Fund money. In the 2014-2020 period, the preparation by managing authorities of an innovation strategy for smart specialisation (known as RIS3) will be a precondition for using the ERDF to support research and innovation investments.
In a preface to the guide, EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik note that the value of the global market for environmental technologies, eco-friendly products and services and sustainable design ideas could be €2 trillion annually by 2020. To seize the opportunity, EU regions need to “invest more in the development of research and innovation and entrepreneurial capacity in areas such as sustainable energy, ecosystem services and eco-innovation,” the Commissioners argue.
As the basis for their RIS3 approaches, regions need a clear long-term vision, the guide notes. Regions need to understand their strengths and weaknesses in green economy terms, and should consider how they can work with other regions, or internationally, and within existing national and European frameworks, to maximise the impact of measures. In particular, eco-innovation should not be considered a standalone issue. There is a wide-ranging need for eco-innovation, meaning it “can be introduced across economic sectors and has significant potential to drive strategic, cross-sectoral collaboration,” the guide notes.
Regions should also take into account both the demand and supply sides when planning for eco-innovation. Sustainable use of a region's own natural endowments is the most economically-viable foundation for the eco-innovative products and services that will meet the growing demand. A clear understanding of the concepts of eco-system services and the bio-economy should underpin RIS3 approaches.
The smart specialisation approach is already well underway in many regions. Frontrunners include Lower Austria on eco-buildings, and Cantabria, Spain on wave energy. For background information, see this previous EcoAP article: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecoap/about-eco-innovation/policies-matters/eu/763_en.htm.
For inspiration, the guide includes a number of further case studies documenting green technology clusters, resource efficiency, sustainable buildings, new materials, eco-innovative planning and other approaches already being implemented in Europe's regions.