ECO-INNOVATIONat the heart of European policies
Eco-innovation and green technologies are key to Europe’s future and at the heart of the European Union’s policies. The EU’s economic prosperity and well being is intrinsically linked to its natural environment, and the global demand for renewable energy and resource-efficient solutions will be a source of jobs and economic growth in the years to come.
In fact, Europe’s green industries are already booming; the environment industry sector grew by more than 50% between 2000 and 2011, one of the only economic sectors to have done well since the 2008 financial crisis. More than 3 million people already work for eco-industries in the EU, and European businesses supply a third of the global market for green technologies — a market worth €1 trillion today and expected to double in five years. Eco-innovation therefore has great potential as a driver of jobs and growth.
The Juncker Commission’s top priority is to get Europe growing again and create new jobs. Within one year from taking office, an Investment Plan has been launched with the aim of removing obstacles to investment, and making smarter use of new and existing financial resources. Under it, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) supports strategic investments in infrastructure, education, research and innovation, as well as risk finance for small businesses.
Smart, sustainable and inclusive growth is the focus of the Europe 2020 Strategy. As recalled by the Flagship initiatives For a Resource Efficient Europe and Innovation Union, eco-innovation is vital for delivering the Strategy’s objectives. In December 2011, therefore, The European Commission adopted the Eco-innovation Action Plan (EcoAP) with the aim of accelerating market uptake of eco-innovation by addressing its barriers and drivers.
The EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme (7EAP) set out a vision of “living well within the limits of the planet”, including the need to “turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy”, by 2050. Meeting these objectives will require new technologies and approaches to business, while these innovative ideas will in turn make European companies more competitive and help drive their growth.
The EcoAP is therefore an important element of the European policy framework for sustainable consumption and production. It reinforces initiatives such as, the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), the EU Ecolabel, the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) scheme as well as the Product Environmental Footprint pilot. Since its adoption, the EcoAP has been targeting innovative SMEs. In fact, it recognises innovative front-runner businesses with the European Business Awards for the Environment (EBAE), it opens up funding opportunities under COSME, Horizon 2020, and the LIFE programme and builds on the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) for business matchmaking. Recently, EcoAP efforts have been strengthened by the Green Action Plan for SMEs.
The European Commission and Member States provide for European governance of eco-innovation policies with a dedicated High-Level Working Group comprised of representatives from national environment, research and industry ministries. A range of useful tools has been developed to raise awareness of eco-innovation, including the Eco-innovation Fora. An Eco-innovation Scoreboard gathers data on eco-innovation performance across the EU and beyond, thus helping to monitor and evaluate progress made since 2010. Country profiles complement the analysis by providing contextual information, regulatory developments and best practices on eco-innovation at national level.
In recent years, many of the EcoAP goals have come together in the concept of the circular economy — an economy that learns from nature in that it wastes nothing. Eco-innovation is key to delivering many aspects of the circular economy: industrial symbiosis or ecologies, cradle-to-cradle design and new, innovative business models.
In 2015, the European Commission conducted public consultations on the circular economy, received inputs from the European Council and Parliament, and held a major conference, with a view to publishing a circular economy strategy. The strategy aims to transform Europe into a more competitive resource-efficient economy and acknowledges the key role of eco-innovation in the context of job creation, growth and competitiveness, as well as environmental protection.
As the numerous practical examples from industry demonstrate, eco-innovation in companies leads to reduced costs, improves capacity to capture new growth opportunities and enhances their reputation among customers. Eco-innovation is therefore a powerful instrument that combines reduced negative impact on the environment with a positive impact on the economy and society.
European environmental policy has moved European industries towards greater sustainability. The goal now is to integrate eco-innovation in environmental and industrial policies by focussing on its contribution to economic growth, job creation and EU industry competitiveness.
However promising they may look on paper, many eco-innovation technologies still fail to make the leap from lab to market. Through programmes such as Horizon 2020, the Commission works to ensure appropriate funding for market replication and demonstration projects, clusters and public-private partnerships, and networks implementing innovative public procurement.
Eco-innovation benefits from ambitious standards and performance targets. Working with Member States and international standardisation bodies, the Commission works to identify areas where standards and performance targets could have the biggest impact and to propose their development.
Public sector finance is crucial to accelerate eco-innovation in the private sector, especially in SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). To bring new investors onboard, the Commission aims to trigger support to SMEs from the public sector and financial intermediaries and accelerate the take-up of eco-innovation in the private sector. Measures include a European network of eco-innovation financiers, new funding instruments that offer targeted debt and equity facilities, and expansion of other services to SMEs, to help find and exploit eco-innovation opportunities.
Emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil offer new market and partnership opportunities for European eco-investors. To capitalise on these opportunities, the Commission works to promote global sustainable consumption and production patterns, technology transfer and exchange of best practices with developing and emerging economies to help European eco-innovators access international markets.
The EU Skills Panorama is a Commission initiative mapping out current and future skills needs in Europe, with a focus on green jobs. The aim is to ensure that the labour force is equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge to drive forward the green economy transition.
European Innovation Partnerships are initiatives that aim to bring together public and private actors to promote breakthrough innovations with big market potential in key sectors that could contribute to greater resource efficiency. Under the Innovation Union, such Partnerships are being set up for raw materials, sustainable agriculture, water and smart cities.
 European Environment Agency: http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/synthesis/report/0c-executivesummary