Saturday, 16 July 2011

Eco-innovation in Europe: Not very innovative, or are the "experts" looking in the wrong direction?

Right now I’m looking for data in the project "transformative low-carbon leadership" for GeSI. A friend sent a report about Eco-innovation, “The Eco-Innovation Challenge; Pathways to a resource efficient Europe”, and was surprised about the lack of innovation in it. It is not the first time and the report is not particular bad (actually a bit better than a lot of other report that talk about innovation), but this time I decided to look a bit closer.

I think there are three main reasons for these kinds of studies being so bad when it come to what I call innovation (substantial change or difference versus more incremental changes):
  • First, they look at changes (and often incremental changes) in existing systems, not new ways of providing services. This result in a situation where they are seldom looking at anything really innovative.
  • Second, they have a problem perspective where the final emissions/pollution/waste is the focus. Many seem to be experts in waste/pollution and are probably threatened by actual solutions, as these will make their knowledge redundant.
  • Third, they are funded by/targeting current polluters, not tomorrow’s solution providers. Or else it is just tragic that they keep ignoring tomorrow’s solution providers.

A simple Google search shows that there are reasons to be optimistic. New areas are not far after other areas when searched for together with “eco-innovation”, maybe this is because people outside Europe are more open to tomorrow’s solutions, or maybe there are better experts in Eco-innovation than the people who put the study above together (see above for the result/focus of that report).

Solar are already on the level of the older/traditional areas, and ICT will probably move into mainstream soon. Nanotech and Robots are two areas I think will grow very fast over the next five years and biotech is already a priority. It is amazing that a study that claim to talk about innovation manage to ignore solar, ICT, biotech, nanotech and robots...

One of the challenges is to ensure that academia move the focus from incremental eco-innovation to transformative eco-innovation. On the web people like to link transformative with eco-innovation, but that is not what is happening when we look at scholarly articles (see below).

This is one of the images in the EU study that (as most studies in the field) almost totally ignored innovative solutions used a problem approach. Beside the fact that solution sectors are not included the graph show little more than the fact that the use of the term "eco-innovation" is becoming increasingly popular.