If the benefits from eco-innovation are to be felt most widely, ways need to be found for eco-innovative companies to internationalise their products and services. VINNOVA, the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems, is promoting Swedish eco-innovation in the world's largest emerging markets through a programme entitled International Cooperation for Eco-Innovation.
The programme grew out of a Swedish government decision in 2011 to make it easier for Sweden to export its environmental technologies. It was reasoned that more knowledge about challenges around the world was needed if Swedish companies and institutes were to offer the right solutions: thus the focus on cooperation and partnership. According to VINNOVA, the programme should help Swedish eco-innovators to “become more efficient and develop globally sought-after solutions which can address today’s grand environmental challenges”. It was also reasoned that growing demand in emerging economies for more environmentally friendly products could provide opportunities for innovative Swedish companies.
The programme funds two types of project: cooperation-building/feasibility studies, and the implementation of international research and development projects. In both cases, the objective is to give Swedish eco-innovators a boost by helping them extend their international networks and by supporting them as they build partnerships in key emerging countries. This should lead in the long-term to the export of Swedish environmental technology, and should contribute positively to the reduction of environmental pressures and to sustainable development, according to VINNOVA.
The programme is in its initial stages, meaning it is too early to draw conclusions about its impact. It published its first call for proposals in June 2012. It accepted proposals for projects in the first of its two focus areas – cooperation-building/feasibility studies. The call promised funding for consortia seeking to cooperate with partners in Brazil or China (excluding Hong Kong). The call's budget was 12 million Swedish krona (€1.4 million).
The call resulted in 33 successful proposals, especially from universities and research institutes, and some private companies (such as Innventia, which works on eco-innovation with forest materials, and Simris Alg, which grows microalgae). Just over half of the call's budget was allocated.
The projects deal with specific issues in sectors that could benefit from eco-innovation. One project will bring together Swedish and Chinese researchers working on the use of lasers to sort aluminium scrap, a process that is more efficient than current magnetic or manual methods, according to the Swedish beneficiary Swerea KIMAB. The same company will carry out a similar project in Brazil. Another project, involving the University of Borås, will study how biogas reactors can be set up near recycling centres in less-developed areas in Brazil. The projects covered by the first call will be implemented over a period of up to one year.
VINNOVA plans further calls under the second strand of activities: international research and development projects. It expects to publish a call for such projects related to China before summer 2013, and for Brazil in autumn 2013.