• Print version

Measuring eco-innovation a necessity and a challenge



Measuring eco-innovation development in the EU is of vital importance. However, the final report from the Sectoral Innovation Watch states that current indicators are insufficient.

In 2006, the European Environment Agency highlighted the need for the development of appropriate indicators to measure the evolution of eco-innovation. However, progress in instituting an efficient method to analyse the development of this area has been slow.

The need to address this difficult area has once again been flagged up in the Europe INNOVA Sectoral Innovation Watch Report on Eco-Innovation. It describes current indicators as insufficient as they do not provide policy makers with a decent statistics and knowledge base. While this remains a challenging area, there are suggested steps that could lead to more accurate measurements of the growth of eco-innovation in the EU.

Response indicators

According to the EEA report on eco-innovation indicators, the challenge of measuring eco-innovation combined two important frames: the innovation chain or system; and environmental technology seen in a wider perspective. The EEA also pointed out that the methods and perspectives applied in innovation indicators are quite different from environmental indicators. It described eco-innovation indicators as response indicators that measured societal progress. It highlighted the importance of these indicators to supplement other indicators such as the driving forces, pressures, state, impact and response (DPSIR) chain

Since that report, the necessities and the challenges have not changed. The importance of such measures may have however increased. The 2008 Sectoral Innovation Watch final report places a particular emphasis on the measurement of eco-innovation, and outlines the shortcomings of current practices, and where improvements can be made. At a basic level, effective measurement of eco-innovation requires a clear approach that draws on a variety of sources. The Sectoral Innovation Watch sees innovation studies and environmental economics as significant sources on which to base such measurements, particularly in terms of resource efficiency and productivity.

An effective analysis of eco-innovation development should rely on survey based data, specifically when compiling company profiles. Such profiles, combined with insights into innovation activities, can help policy makers formulate informed decisions about the future of eco-innovation. However, as the report points-out, technical information, that addresses specific processes or products, must also be included to give a more comprehensive analysis.

New methods

The importance of adopting new methods to compile information on products and processes is something emphasised by the Sectoral Innovation Watch, and it urges the use of established analytical tools that calculate the entire life-cycle and eco-efficiency of products and services.

Another aid which could lead to a better analysis of eco-innovation would be the creation of an integrated database at EU level. This could serve as a reliable policy reference for information on eco-innovation products and services.

At the core of eco-innovation measurement is the difficult challenge of making reliable evaluations of innovation performance, and relating them in a tangible way to eco-efficiency gains and macro-level resource efficiency. When such an indicator is established it will provide a strong foundation for long-term innovation policy measures.

There is a need for the measuring of eco-innovation, as investigations into the development of this area in the EU are less than inspiring. The Sectoral Innovation Watch suggests that currently the majority of innovative companies in the Union are still not placing environment or resource-consumption concerns at the heart of their innovation strategies.

In terms of the Member States, the report says few are performing similarly in terms of the rankings for innovation, energy intensity and resource productivity. Even the EU's innovation leaders in this field, Finland and Sweden, are performing less well in the areas of energy intensity and resource productivity. In addition, a group of new Member States– such as Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia – are performing poorly in terms of innovation performance and energy intensity.

More information:

Europe INNOVA: http://www.europe-innova.org

European Environment Agency: http://www.eea.europa.eu/

Sectoral Innovation Watch on Eco-innovation:
http://www.europe-innova.org/servlet/Doc?cid=10486&lg=EN (PDF)

European Environment Agency report on Eco-innovation Indicators: http://www.risoe.dk/rispubl/art/2007_115_report.pdf [356 KB]

Networked Observatory on Eco-innovation

The ETAP Report of May 2007 proposed the initiative to work towards the establishment of a Networked Observatory on Eco-innovation, and the concept was discussed in the ETAP High-Level Working Group of March and September 2007. Its objective is to collect and analyse information on trends in the area of eco-innovation and provide a strategic knowledge resource for policy-makers, business and finance. The Observatory builds on existing projects and networks, aiming at including some of the key observation institutes across Europe.

More information:

Networked Observatory on Eco-innovation: http://technologies.ew.eea.europa.eu/resources/networks/networked-observatory-eco-innovation/

Earlier studies

The FP6 Measuring eco-innovation (MEI) study carried out in collaboration with Eurostat, the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) set out to define eco-innovation and possible indicators for eco-innovation measurement. According to its final report, eco-innovation research and data collection should not be limited to products from the environmental goods and services sector or to environmentally-motivated innovations but should cover all innovations with an environmental benefit. It defined eco-innovation in terms of environmental performance rather than environmental aim. Anything could be an eco-innovative solution as long as it is more environmentally benign than ‘the relevant alternative’. Moreover, the term ‘eco-innovation’ depends on an overall assessment of environmental effects and risks. Measuring technological change presents a problem. Various types of measure have been used but no single method or indicator is ideal. Patents are the most common indicator but are limited in that they measure inventive rather than innovative output – and not all innovations are patented. In general, the report found the knowledge base for eco-innovation was poor. Eurostat is working on this. The next Community Innovation Survey (CIS2008) has a special module on eco-innovation, which in 2010 will produce information about the nature of eco-innovation and its determinants but only for a company in general rather than about specific technologies or products.

More information:

Final report in MEI project about measuring eco-innovation: http://www.merit.unu.edu/MEI/deliverables/MEI%20D15%20Final%20report%20about%20measuring%20eco-innovation.pdf [1 MB]