ECO-INNOVATIONat the heart of European policies
A competitiveness cluster in Belgium's southern region of Wallonia is showing how researchers and companies can collaborate to develop new eco-innovative projects that should ultimately pay dividends in terms of green economic growth.
The GreenWin cluster brings together about 150 members, which are companies, research institutions or universities. The cluster has three main focus areas: sustainable materials based on green chemistry, sustainable construction and waste management, including recovery of materials for reuse.
The cluster coordinates the activities of members in a number of ways. It brokers consortia that can work on publicly-funded research projects, including those funded by the European Union. It also manages calls for proposals and identifies eco-innovation projects that can be supported by Wallonian government research funds. GreenWin also provides networking and support services, such as advice on intellectual property or on eco-innovation export markets. GreenWin is one of six competitiveness clusters in Wallonia. It is funded by members and by the regional government through a financing programme known as the Marshall Plan 2.
One advantage of the competitiveness-cluster approach is that companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, can more easily access public research funds that might otherwise be largely absorbed by universities. For researchers, meanwhile, collaboration opens up opportunities, including job prospects, in the private sector. The overall result is a more open and coordinated approach to eco-innovation in the GreenWin core sectors.
Véronique Graff, GreenWin R&D manager, says that since it started in 2011, GreenWin has identified 18 R&D projects and secured support for them from Wallonian public research funds. One project, CIMEDE (Construction Industrielle de Maisons Evolutives Durables et Economiques) is assessing factory-made wooden panels for house building. The project involves five private-sector and six research partners, and has, says Graff, created 15 jobs. GreenWin is also involved as a partner in its own right in two European projects.
For other projects, “it is too early to measure their success in terms of job creation,” says Graff. However, research is being carried out in areas that could offer future employment and economic benefits. Graff highlights the FRENSIS project, which is working on super-insulating windows using ultra-thin “vacuum glass” - double-glazing with a paper-thin vacuum between the panes. GreenWin will soon announce new projects - the deadline for its latest call for proposals recently passed, and new projects will be recommended in October for funding by the Wallonian government.