Cities and regional approaches play an important role in promoting eco-innovations and initiating sustainable business spin-offs throughout Europe. The EU interregional cooperation programmes acknowledge this fact by facilitating exchange between the regions, encouraging good practice sharing and financing promising public-private partnerships in this field. INTERREG IVC, financed by the European Regional Development Fund, helps regions of Europe share knowledge and transfer experience to improve regional policy.
The Ecoregions Project Final Conference on 17 June 2014 at the Committee of the Regions, Brussels marked “the last day of this ecoregion period, but not the last day of the ecoregion programme, as further exchange will be worthwhile”, commented Anne Ferreira, Vice President of the Regional Council from Picardie region in France. The initiatives will continue under the future programme “INTERREG Europe” for the period 2014 to 2020. [Image: By courtesy of ERRIN (Marco Canton)]
Jason Martinez, EU/INTERREG Representative from Lille outlined the three objectives for the new programme:
1. all EU regions will work on similar thematic fields;
2. the smart specialisation strategy will promote cooperation between the regions; and
3. the regulatory framework will focus on EU cohesion policy, including growth and jobs.
The important lessons learned from the last project phase are: European learning networks for administrations are crucial in order to address the “black block”, the layer of political resistance that hinders eco-innovation in all regions alike, as Gabriele Pfeff-Schmidt from the District Office Bamberg, Narcy Calamatta from the Energy Agency in Malta and Martin Charter, Director at the Centre for Sustainable Design, United Kingdom all affirmed.
Danny Silva, moderator of the conference from Kainuun region in Finland summarized achievements and shortcomings: 13 good practices have been developed and transferred to partners, public-private partnerships (PPPs) proved very important in all projects, and the lack of sustainable funding exceeding the start-up phase posed a major hurdle that demands new solutions. Opportunities for further eco-innovation improvements in growth were addressed, but an up-scaling is now urgently needed in order to generate change.
The four main action areas that need to be addressed at the policy levels as presented by Marco Canton, ERRIN are: 1. Finance, 2. Technology, 3. Governance and 4. Tools.
Success stories: good practice transfer in the regions
Hildigund Neubert, State Secretary of Thüringen, Germany explained how the energy infrastructure of this region, the tradition of environmental protection, value-oriented farmers and the German Energiewende enabled the successful energy efficiency network: “Thüringen imports most of its energy and is therefore able to establish small-scale biogas and other renewable energy (mainly wind, hydropower) networks. Education for sustainable development accompanies the endeavors and is part of the school curricula, trainings for small enterprises and a core theme in research institutions.”
The Energy Efficiency Network from Thüringen was imported to Climate Partners Hordaland in order to increase climate action in the region, supported by the Norwegian Climate Foundation. On 4 June 2014, Climate Partners Hordaland was launched as the largest PPP on climate action in Norway with the aim to move towards a low carbon region. Gudrun Mathisen from Hordaland County Council: “We invited all relevant decision-makers representing the industry, public administration and civil society to become part of the board, and we established a coordinator position. That way, the Climate Partners Hordaland is fully operational from 4 June on.”
The factory of bioenergy in Cremona, Italy inspired the biogas network Jämtland, Sweden to transfer this good practice by involving the civil society and adapting the concept to the colder climate and different conditions in Sweden. Jämtland’s ultimate goal: Replacing fossil vehicle fuels with biogas. Awaited EU funding shall finance the first three years.
The region Limousin in France, in turn, was inspired by the Jämtland good practice on eco-innovation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), scaling down the number of sectors from around 20 in Jämtland to two or three main sectors in Limousin.
Europe’s creativity treasure
Martin Charter took the broader perspective on eco-innovation in Europe: “Research efficiency and circular economy are now moving up the European agenda. Business and SMEs are developing good ideas low carbon resource efficient products, services and technologies but often struggle in the commercialisation phase.”” While China and South Korea were on the fast track efficiently implementing eco-innovative frameworks, “one of the major strengths of Europe is its creativity”, stated Charter. “We need to find better ways of harnessing and accelerating Europe’s creativity to move good ideas to the market. The world today is very different from only five to ten years ago. We are in the middle of a transformation, and facilitating that change remains our challenge.” Our society is transforming from centralized, top-down structures to decentralized, bottom-up initiatives, enhanced access to information for the society and high citizen engagement. Repair cafés and hacker spaces with independent innovators and creative individuals loosely connected via network activities are becoming ever more influential.
Rachel Lombardi, Director of Business Development, International Synergies from United Kingdom stressed the industry perspective and the necessity to speak in the language of business: “The mainstream businesses want solutions for their problems. Innovation is driven by industry needs, and science needs to work on business solutions. The innovators are an important minority that lead future developments.” She adds: “The vast majority of companies are SMEs. We need the diversity of stakeholders, across all sectors.” How to achieve the up-scaling on eco-innovation? The OECD defines eco-innovation as innovation that happens to contribute to sustainable development while improving competitiveness. “We work with British Chambers of Commerce to export our solutions to other continents. For us, eco-innovation is not an obstacle, but a competitive advantage, and we have seen that industries even come back to Europe now.”
If we set the right market signals on eco-innovation, zero waste, climate change and resource efficiency on the European level, the markets will respond accordingly. This will eventually lead to the up-scaling and the transformation that is driven by eco-innovations, multi-stakeholder engagement and strong networking efforts. More systematic approaches with and between the regions will facilitate successful exchange. The role of ERRIN is to provide them all with good practices.
A professional expert in sustainability, sustainable energy and climate change topics, with over 15 years of work experience in various projects on sustainability and policy related issues, Katrin holds a M.Sc. equivalent degree in geology and completed a post-graduate environmental sciences course in 2010. Katrin worked on national climate policy for the German Federal Environment Agency, on international climate policy and carbon finance as GIZ consultant to the German Federal Environment Ministry, and she was involved in the intergovernmental founding process of the International Renewable Energy Agency in 2008. She is experienced in communicating complex subjects to diverse target groups and especially interested in creative writing and storytelling.