Lessons on eco-innovation: Portugal and ECOPOL  

Lessons on eco-innovation: Portugal and ECOPOL  

ECOPOL's partners came from Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Sweden, with some additional partners - from France, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Turkey - joining later in the project. One of the Portuguese partners was the Portuguese Innovation Agency (AdI - Agência de Inovação). Luís Ferreira, an AdI Senior Technical Specialist and a participant in ECOPOL, reflected on the benefits of the project for eco-innovation policy in Portugal.

What have been the main benefits of participation in Ecopol for AdI?

Luís Ferreira: It was important to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and models with other partners, but the main benefit was to introduce for the first time in the Agency a national and international agenda for eco-innovation.

In terms of the national agenda in Portugal, ECOPOL made it possible to introduce momentum into our operations and to envisage new competences that in the future might be needed to contribute to the governance and the promotion of eco-innovation. ECOPOL helped AdI to establish an agreement with the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) on eco-innovation and to develop a national governance model with other stakeholders. This governance model was very relevant for starting the discussion with the competent national authorities about what eco-innovation is and about eco-innovation accelerating policies. It has helped us get acquainted with a good part of the Portuguese eco-innovation community and has contributed to putting eco-innovation onto the political agenda, with a special focus on APA and AdI. With ECOPOL, eco-innovation has become a topic across all AdI operations.

In terms of the international agenda, it was possible with ECOPOL to better understand and discuss the challenges of sustainability for the future of innovation development and to reflect on the role that national innovation agencies can play in the development of new policies/instruments for eco-innovation take-up in the market, and to act as catalysts in the up-scaling process of best practices. During the project, AdI became one of the national representatives in the EU Eco-innovation Action Plan (EcoAP) High-Level Working Group.

Has AdI adopted new approaches as a result of ECOPOL that will continue to have an impact after the end of the project?

Luís Ferreira: Without any question, it was very relevant to identify ‘who is who’ in Portugal's eco-innovation community. The Catalogue of Portuguese Eco-innovation Competences, produced in 2012, was an excellent example to start this reflection on who our ‘eco-innovators’ might be and what infrastructure should be developed by the public administration to leverage the emergence of a Portuguese eco-innovation community.

AdI is committed to pursue post-ECOPOL the engagement with APA in order to support and to contribute to the development of better policies and instruments for eco-innovation take-up by the market.

What objectives did ADI have when it became a partner in Ecopol, and have those objectives been fulfilled?

Luís Ferreira: We were very happy with the possibility to become partners in ECOPOL because of the excellent opportunity to increase cooperation with the APA as the basis for robust national participation, involving in an integrated approach and expertise from other national stakeholders, which would be important for the development of a national EcoAP Roadmap. Our three main objectives were:

  • To benefit from the knowledge and expertise of more experienced partners in the development of demand- and supply-side instruments and mechanisms to support eco-innovation.
  • To be in the front line of the first generation of European discussions capable of bringing support to the next industrial revolution in order to help the transition to a sustainable economy.
  • To devise more effective, ‘country-tailored’ public policies and instruments to support the internationalisation of eco-innovators.

Our objectives were fully achieved.

For Portugal, has ECOPOL been mainly about mapping current eco-innovation activities in the country (for example, the Catalogue of Portuguese Eco-innovation Competences), or does it go further than that?

Luís Ferreira: The mapping is always important when a new and complex topic like eco-innovation is introduced. The effort made to produce the Catalogue of Portuguese Eco-Innovation Competences was an important initiative on many levels. The reader of the catalogue can understand the effort that was made to establish criteria to identify eco-innovators, and to avoid the common approach of mixing concepts and grouping eco-innovation with the ‘eco-industry’ or ‘environmental technology industry’ enterprises and clusters. Our intention is to work on a second edition that will cover not only company competences, but will enlarge the catalogue to all the innovation system.

But of course ECOPOL was not only about mapping current eco-innovation, it was an excellent opportunity to put eco-innovation on the agenda of politicians.

ECOPOL provided important knowledge in the three chosen thematic areas: green public procurement, waste management and recycling, and internationalisation. Most of all, the gap analyses enabled challenges and opportunities to be identified more objectively, and for the elements to be considered in an integrated way when drawing up a roadmap for eco-innovation. The partnership with APA has brought critical mass to the topic. ECOPOL underpinned this understanding, experimenting with a governance model based on ongoing external monitoring, favouring mainly the promotion of knowledge by means of mutual learning and leading to the reinforcement of communities for eco-innovation. Therefore, the partnership has been extended to different Portuguese agencies: eSPap (The Entity of Shared Services of Public Administration), LNEG (The National Laboratory for Energy
and Geology), AICEP (The Portuguese Investment and Trade Promotion Agency) and DGAE (The Directorate - General for Economic Activities).

What are Portugal's main strengths in terms of eco-innovation?

Luís Ferreira:
entrepreneurs and
have a great
capacity to respond
through innovation
and management to
the challenges posed
by the
need to develop
If there are
clear and
appropriate drivers
some barriers
eliminated, it will be not because of the lack of
innovation and/or
management capacity
that sustainability in
the activities of companies is not
achieved. The analysis of our main strengths has not yet been done in depth, but we think there are several areas in which Portugal has great potential. We have a number of clusters in which strategies are being developed and that are very committed to eco-innovation as a differentiation factor: “HABITAT”: the Portuguese Sustainable Habitat Cluster, “Energy IN”: the Portuguese Energy Cluster and “PRODUTECH”: the Portuguese Production Technologies Cluster.