EU and Korea identify opportunities to take eco-innovation forward


Europe and Korea can learn from one another to bolster eco-innovation, move closer to a circular economy and deliver on the new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, concluded decision-makers from both regions at the 19th Forum on Eco-Innovation held in Seoul, the Republic of Korea, on 27-28 October 2015.

Delegates from business, government and civil society exchanged best practice examples of eco-innovation, compared and contrasted sustainable consumption and production policies, and acknowledged that they are bound together by the SDGs agreed in New York in September this year.

“If we do not focus on eco-innovation, economic growth will be of no use to us,” said Mr Yong-Joo Kim, President of the Korean Environmental Industry & Technology Institute (KEITI).

“The EU and Korea are two champions for sustainable consumption and production,” said Arab Hoballah, Chief of the Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Chemicals and resources

The discussion centred in particular on how to achieve SDG number 12, which calls for the environmentally sound management of chemicals and wastes throughout their life cycle. In this context, participants discussed EU chemicals policy, REACH, and its Korean equivalent. They stressed the importance of tracking chemical substances throughout the value chain and communicating this information to all relevant stakeholders. This could help the chemicals industry develop new business models such as leasing, improve safety, and lead to the substitution of the most hazardous substances.

A key concern at the Forum was how to accompany SMEs in the transition to a circular economy. SMEs need better data on chemicals in products, but they also need financial and other forms of support, such as help in understanding legislation (in this case, how the EU and Korean REACH systems compare). Awareness raising, training and capacity building are essential to alert SMEs to the opportunities that the circular economy presents, and equip them for action, delegates said.

Best practice eco-innovation examples included the presentation of a Green Credit Card scheme by KEITI; 10 million cards have been distributed in Korea so far. Successful cooperation examples included the EU Green Gateway Programme, and initiatives by the ASEM SMEs’ Eco-Innovation Center (ASEIC) and Enterprise Europe Network.

The biggest challenge going forward is understanding demand for resources, said Mr Hoballah.

The Forum, which is organised twice a year by the European Commission’s DG Environment, coincided with Korea’s most important environmental trade fair, the Korea Eco­Expo. This was the second time the Forum was held outside the EU (the first occasion was in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2013). It was held just a month after the 8th EU-Korea summit.

“This is tangible proof of taking that relationship to the next level,” said Gerhard Sabathil, Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Korea.

The European Commission will unveil a circular economy policy package in Brussels on 2 December. It is also drafting a “non-toxic environment strategy”, due for publication in 2018.