Promoting the development and implementation of eco-innovation in Europe
One of the fundamental challenges in modern society is the need to decouple environmental impact from economic growth. This is essential not just for fast-growing countries such as China or India, but also for the United States and Europe. Already a leading force in environmental technologies during the last decade, the European Union aims to further increase its competitiveness by promoting research and development on eco-innovation and thereby creating a strategy for sustainable economic growth.
With this objective in mind, the EU-funded ECO-INNOVERA project started in October 2010. Supported by 24 partners in 19 different countries, its main goals are to support eco-innovation in research and development, thereby boosting the implementation of eco-innovation in European industries and SMEs, which should lead to higher competitiveness on a global scale.
‘Eco-Innovations’ are “green” technologies, processes, products and services that have an increasing impact on the global competitiveness of European industry. ECO-INNOVERA will analyse existing successful eco-innovative research programmes and provide best practice guidelines for environmental policymakers to ensure promising projects have access to adequate funding. Creating a networking platform will make the transfer of results from eco-innovative research to industry and markets easier, as well as increase accessibility to transnational research and support dissemination in the field of eco-innovation.
“One of our main goals is to become a self-sustaining network after the end of the project in 2014,” says project coordinator Evelyn Echeverría. “And we expect educational institutions to play an important role in achieving this goal,” she adds.
As such, one of the project partners in France is currently approaching a number of universities throughout Europe with a workshop on training programmes for eco-innovation. While the project is limited in its duration, ECO-INNOVERA will invest meaningful time in its partner universities, thereby encouraging continued cooperation long after the project has finished.
ECO-INNOVERA’s first transnational call, at the end of September 2011, reached out to public and private research organisations, non-profit organisations and industries with an emphasis on SMEs. Support from 13 funding partners provided up to €15 million for the six projects that were eventually selected for funding. With a focus on increased resource efficiency as a driving force for successful eco-innovation, it addressed topics such as recycling, re-usage of waste, sustainable industrial processes and paradigm change. ECO-INNOVERA is a good example of the leverage effect of European research programmes through ERA-NETs.
“One of the projects, ECOBIM, is trying to set up new models for the building and construction sector and is looking pretty promising,” says Echeverría. This project provides a template for new business models for sustainable building construction, taking into account social, economical and environmental aspects that vary from one location to the other.
The ECOBIM study will also develop a set of freely accessible user-oriented sustainability assessment tools, as well as a set of recommendations for policymakers. As a result, new business opportunities have arisen for SMEs in the construction field that have followed the proposed guidelines, creating a job market based on sustainability.
In response to the EU’s Eco-Innovation Action Plan (EcoAP), ECO-INNOVERA aims to draw proposals from research and development projects that are focusing on recycling, sustainable processes and products and system innovation. A further €10 million will be made available to boost green growth and steer Europe towards a prosperous and sustainable future.