Developing eco-innovation: opportunities for education and policy integration

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News and analysis from the 5th European Forum on Eco-Innovation: Emerging Technologies for Eco-Innovation: Opportunities and Risks (Budapest, Hungary, 16 October 2008)


Eco Innovation

This paper by Frédéric Morand [1] does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the ETAP team. Feedback is invited in forum below or by email.
Support from the European Commission (DG Environment) is gratefully acknowleged.

On the 16 of Oct. 2008, the Environmental Technology Action Plan (ETAP) devoted its 5th Forum to emerging technologies for eco-innovation. After introducing ETAP (origin, policy context), this article reports on some of the key aspects addressed by the participants. It then comments on two factors likely to affect eco-innovation development: education and policy integration. It identifies the inadequacy of knowledge and cognitive responses as an important risk and stakeholders' engagement as an opportunity to mitigate this risk. The conclusion formulates a series of recommendations centered around clarification, education and policy integration.



ETAP: origin and policy context

ETAP: a landmark in the greening of the Lisbon Strategy (top)

The integration of environmental issues into policy-making is a process that has been unfolding over almost four decades. One of its landmark outcomes is the Environmental Technology Action Plan (ETAP), jointly launched in 2004 by the European Commission's services for Research and for Environment [CEC 2004a]. The Action Plan for Environmental Technologies seeks to (i) remove the obstacles so as to tap the full potential of environmental technologies for protecting the environment while contributing to competitiveness and economic growth; (ii) ensure that over the coming years the EU takes a leading role in developing and applying environmental technologies; and (iii) mobilise all stakeholders in support of these objectives [CEC 2004a, p. 3].

ETAP logo

ETAP was endorsed by the Kok Report, which in turn largely inspired the revision of the Lisbon Strategy. In its mid-term assessment of the Lisbon Strategy, the Kok Report called for reinforcing the integration of environmental considerations, and making it ‘part of Europe's competitive advantage' [CEC 2004b, p. 35]. One of the five policy areas identified by the Kok Report as requiring urgent action is environmental sustainability (Ibid, p. 6). As an echo to ETAP, the Kok Report put unprecedented emphasis on the concept and the promotion of eco-efficient innovations, or eco-innovations (Ibid, p. 36). It called for 'spreading eco-innovations and building leadership in eco-industry; pursuing policies which lead to long-term and sustained improvements in productivity through eco-efficiency' (Ibid, p. 6). From then on, eco-innovation had entered the European policy jargon, as examplified by President Barroso's address to the subsequent European Council [CEC 2005, p. 3, 9, and in particular p. 23].

Lisbon is also about governance (top)

Lisbon is commonly equated with growth and jobs. It is worth stressing the fact that another drive behind the revision of Lisbon was the Kok Report's unforgiving appraisal of the governance at play during the first term of the Strategy. The failure to communicate effectively and to mobilise popular support for Lisbon was acknowledged by President Barroso when he urged the European Council to implement a 'radical improvement of the governance of the Lisbon Strategy' [CEC 2005, p. 10].

Quite logically, along with eco-innovation, the knowledge society belongs to the five policy areas identified by the Kok Report as requiring urgent action. The Report calls for 'promoting the use of information and communication technologies' [CEC 2004b, p. 6], and stresses that 'the challenges facing Europe, why policies are developing as they are and the importance of acting together need to be understood much better by the European public' (Ibid, p. 43). Echoing the Kok Report, the Commission launched in 2005 the i2010 Strategy, a new policy framework embracing all aspects of the information, communication and audiovisual sector [2].

Photos 1 and 2: Eco-innovation and the knowledge society are two major,
yet lesser-known objectives of the revised Lisbon Strategy

Wim Kok, Chairman of the High Level Group who wrote the Kok Report (2004) Barroso

Photo courtesy of the European Commission's Audiovisual Services (montage is mine)


5th ETAP Forum - Emerging technologies for eco-innovation: opportunities and risks (top)

The 5th ETAP Forum took place in Budapest, Hungary under the auspices of the Hungarian Ministry of Environment & Water and the European Commission. It brought together over a hundred stakeholders from the industry, policy-making, research and civil society. Like the previous Forum in Vienna, this event was formatted to allow considerable space for participation. Beside plenary presentations, the agenda included panel discussions and presentation of key stakeholder perspectives, case studies, debates with the audience (including voting on issues and recommendations and focus group discussions. The event resulted in a range of recommendations to be used in the on-going review of ETAP. The following section reports on four plenary presentations. The subsequent section draws on exclusive interviews held during the event and provides a commentary focused on possibly underused eco-innovation resources.

Photos 3 to 7 - Some of the Forum speakers (l. to r.):
Timo Mäkelä with Hungarian Environment Minister Imre Szabó,
Timo Mäkelä, Ernö Fleit, Willy de Backer, Armand Klein

Makela and Swabo Timo Mäkelä Panelists De Backer Armand Klein

Photo courtesy of Pracsis (full gallery)


Highlights from the presentations (top)

Timo Mäkelä [Mäkelä 2008] (Director for Sustainable Development at the European Commission) started his presentation by listing a number of alarming environmental trends. He emphasised the scope of economic opportunities offered by the 'green revolution' (e.g., 2 million new jobs in EU in the renewable energy sector alone by 2020), but expressed his concern about the pace of green innovation as measured through the number of patents. A series of success stories illustrated the opportunities offered by emerging technologies in bio-technology, nano-technology, ICT, robotics, eco-building, or eco-packaging (such as the first biodegradable mineral water bottle, already on the UK market). The presentation also addressed issues of risk analysis (precautionary principle) and dialogue with stakeholders (platforms). It listed six main areas across which ETAP actions have been spread so far:

  • R&D - ETAP was instrumental in channelling resources into environmental research projects and bridging the gap between research and market. This funding is being increased in the EU's 7th research programme. The programme is the EU's main mechanism for funding research and up to 30% of its €32 billion budget on applied research for 2007-2013 will go towards environmental technologies. Research areas include hydrogen and fuel cells, clean production processes, alternative energy sources, carbon storage, biofuels, energy efficiency, waste management and water technologies.
  • Technology Platforms - Bring together researchers, industry, financial institutions, and decision makers, and build a long-term vision on research needs and future market development. More than 30 platforms have already been launched: Hydrogen and fuel cells, Photovoltaic, Water supply and sanitation, Steel, Chemistry, Construction...
  • Performance targets - Agree on ambitious environmental performance targets for key products, services, processes; encourage their uptake by business and consumers. They are based on voluntary agreement, but may in the longer term become legally binding. There are pilot projects in five fields: cement, textile, tyres, windows, manure treatment
  • Market based instruments (review of state-aids) - Well targeted economic incentives can be useful in helping to promote the take-up of environmental technologies. They can take many different forms, for example, tradable permits and tax incentives (successfully used for promoting energy efficiency investments in households and for investing in renewable energy). The Community Framework for State Aid for Research, Development and Innovation has been adopted (2006) and describes conditions under which Member States may give state aid to research, development and innovation. The Commission revised the Guidelines for Environmental State Aid on 23 January 2008, in order to ensure that such subsidies, when granted to enterprises, do not unduly distort competition in the internal market.
  • Green Public Procurement - Public procurement accounts for 16% of GDP and 40% of total procurement. New EU rules allow green procurement (Handbook on Green public procurement, knowledge base to be backed by National Action Plans).
  • Awareness raising - Promoting the take-up of environmental technologies is not only about technology and markets - raising awareness about opportunities, as well as developing the know-how to implement new solutions, are also necessary ingredients of progress. Thus, ETAP promotes Awareness Raising and Training activities in conjunction with the development and take-up of environmentally friendly technologies. In the context of ETAP, key training needs are seen to be in industrial and business settings.

Willy De Backer
[De Backer 2008] (Europe Director, Ecological Footprint Network), after an introduction of the Ecological Footprint concept [3], stressed the importance of a political vision for guiding innovation and technology development, instead of letting technology guide policy development. Environmental collapse, energy scarcity and population explosion are leading us closer to collapse and there is thus hardly any room for non-environmental technology at all. In order to achieve 'survivable development' through an 'eco-industrial revolution', the presentation advocates a technology policy that would trigger 'business as unusual', i.e. that would not just promote 'environmental technologies' but also help imagine new business models. W. De Backer provided illustrations of 'preferable innovations' (new metrics of sustainability - beyond GDP, a global institute for the durability of consumer goods...) and 'questionable innovations' (agrofuels, nuclear renaissance, geo-engineering to combat climate change...).

Photos 8 and 9: Plenary presentation and panel session
(panel speaker: Doreen Fedrigo, European Environmental Bureau)

partial view of the Forum Panelists

Photo courtesy of Pracsis (full gallery)


Ernö Fleit [Fleit 2008] (Associate Professor, Dept. of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, Budapest University of Technology and Economics) in his presentation on waste treatment, emphasised the importance of multiple criteria for assessing any technological solution: technical, financial, environmental, social, institutional, political... For example, a change in attitude toward our wastewater may in itself be part of the solution to widespread sanitation issues (see Box 1). He argued that recycling the urinal nitrogen produced by the Budapest human population (22,000 tons urea annually), instead of eliminating it in traditional and costly wastewater treatment plants, could generate over 30 millions euro annually from the saving on treatment costs (nitrification, denitrification) and from the sale of urea as nitrogen fertiliser. He pointed out that the technologies necessary for collecting the urea upstream of the treatment plant do exist (microfiltration, ionic exchange, simple adsorbers, sedimentation...) but are being ignored because we keep wastewater at a distance - an attitude that should be reconsidered.


Box 1 - Urea: CO(NH2)2

A valuable resource we keep wasting - at a great cost [4]

Urea CO(NH2)2 - link to Wikipedia entry


Armand Klein [Klein 2008] (Director, DuPont Applied BioSciences EMEA). Today, bio-based products are ubiquitous and their global market is expected to increase by two third between 2005 (77 billion EUR) and 2010 (125 billion EUR). They form the so-called Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE), a major economic sector that is the focus of much policy and research effort. Compared with conventional processes, biotechnological processes globally enhance labour productivity, and reduce energy use, chemicals use and emissions to water and air. Still it is important to verify the social and environmental conditions of production of the biomass ('biomass sustainably made available'). A. Klein introduced a word of caution against the challenges potentially facing any technology. Remarkable, yet unnoticed technologies with high eco-innovative potential have been ignored in the past due to factors that are not primarily technological. That's the case of the soybean car developed by Henry Ford 70 years ago [5], and which was 'killed by cheap oil'. The presentation reviewed the drivers and barriers for bio-based products in Europe and stressed the need for consistency between the initiatives of all the Directorates General involved in the sector (Environment, Research, Industry, Energy & Transport, Sanco, Agriculture, ...).

Fig.1 - Policy map of the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) sector in Europe

Source:  [Klein 2008]

Coherent European policy agenda



Photos 10 to 13 : Discussion with the audience during plenary, focus group sessions (11, 12),
and electronic voting session

Arnold Black Focus group Focus group Voting

Photo courtesy of Pracsis (full gallery)


Commentary (top)

Through the active promotion of eco-innovations, ETAP transforms the conventional environmental approach to competitiveness, rather limitative ('don't do that'), into a positive challenge fostering change ('can you do that better?'). Since 2004 ETAP has undertaken in-depth mobilisation missions that Ian Clark [6] sums up in two types: 'First of all mobilising Member States has been successful: they have taken on board the ideas, and have developed their own environmental technology road maps, with concrete results in terms of revising state aid rules, focusing research, and developing technology platforms. Secondly, mobilising more finances has led to new financial instruments at the EU level specifically dedicated to eco-innovation. There is more funding through the Structural Funds as well for eco-innovation, and new instruments include venture capital for eco-innovative businesses.'

Nobody among the Forum participants disputed the global potential held by eco-innovation as a driving force for a competitive Europe. However a number of questions were raised about the ways to realise this potential, and the risks facing could-be eco-innovators. This section focuses on the barriers to the mobilisation of all eco-innovation stakeholders, and on the fragmentation between policy domains.

1) Mobilising all stakeholders requires education and communication (top)

The mission of ETAP explicitly includes the mobilisation of 'all stakeholders' in support of environmental technologies. However important barriers keep hampering  eco-innovation development, a process which is poorly understood and poorly addressed by education.

Barriers to knowledge circulation threatens eco-innovation. During the Forum, knowledge was mentioned almost exclusively with reference to the 'knowledge base' resulting from R&D. The circulation of this knowledge through education appeared somewhat overlooked. Education, awareness-raising and their target audiences were not given much attention (the Aquawareness programme presented by Lionel Platteuw [Vereijken and Platteuw 2008] being a notable exception). One Forum Recommendation did mention 'awareness-raising among consumers', and Timo Makela's presentation [Mäkelä 2008] did mention awareness-raising and training activities albeit in very general terms.

In some sectors knowledge and education represent serious and documented barriers [7] to the take-up of eco-innovations. The corresponding risks were not given much coverage by thie Forum. Moreover, it doesn't sound fair to assume that some categories of stakeholders (such as decision-makers) have no particular learning needs with regards to eco-technologies. The striking example Jan Haemers [Haemers 2008] presented at the Forum about soil remediation technologies [8] suggests that decision-makers are not exempt from the necessity to learn and innovate, among other things for the sake of enhancing policy integration (see below).


Box 2 - Let's address educational needs
Arnold Black, Director, Resource Efficiency Knowledge Transfer Network (UK)

FM - Is there enough concern about education in ETAP?
AB - How do we overcome the public perception of eco-innovation being risky, or dangerous? I think this is where we have a gap now: the innovation is there, in a number of instances we know how to solve the problem... it's the public understanding of how we are going to do it. Is nanotech good or is it bad, are gmo's good or are they bad... These are areas where we are not engaging with the younger generations, about the fact that these are not black and white issues, there is not a right way or a wrong way. You have to look at the balance of the risks against the benefits. And that's very socio-economic. And the ‘eco' bit could be that. It could be: how do you make eco-innovation socially acceptable.

FM - What do you think should be done?
AB - Certainly, education is a major issue. In the UK, I think we need to be starting with education at a younger age. Environmental studies and the like are taught very well at the university level, a little bit less at the secondary schools, teenager level... But the ones that really understand about the planet, I think, are the young people, the very young people. And there's a whole mechanism that we are missing, that we could talk to them about... when you look... the TV is all around about green issues isn't it, all the cartoons and everything... and I think we need to follow that through possibly with some kind of education programmes in the primary schools. It's going to be very difficult to do, I think, because you need to deliver it in a way that they understand it, and programmes tend to be much more about technology and equipments, rather than the ethos or the understanding. But it needs addressing.


Eco-innovation and related policy initiatives lack popular understanding
. Overall it seems rather important to better communicate why 'eco-innovation will hold the key' as stated by President Barroso to the European Council [CEC 2005, p. 23]. Can we assume that the message has got across all governance levels, let alone social levels? Speaking from my personal experience in the Europe INNOVA project (as member of the Eco-innovation Panel), and in a series of events associated with EU-funded research projects and with informal discussion groups such as about the CAP reform, with DG Agri officers, I have recurrently observed the general lack of pre-existing knowledge regarding ETAP. The Europe-INNOVA's final report (funded by the DG Enterprise) on eco-innovation sectoral watch, for example, offers a good review of data sources, barriers and drivers, and policies, relevant to eco-innovation in Europe; however it doesn't mention ETAP, even in its chapter on the determinants of eco-innovation, (p. 34-49) or in its chapter on eco-innovation as a fourth generation innovation policy (p. 50-69) [Technopolis Group, 2008]. This again suggests that the emphasis on education and communication should not be restricted to consumers or businesses, but should be extended also into decision-making and research arenas.

Education is an underused lever.
Pressed about the potential role of education, all the participants interviewed acknowleged the necessity to better address education and learning issues (see Boxes 2, 3, 4). Education appears as a powerful lever for virtually all eco-innovations, new and old, but this lever remains often underused. Beside awareness-raising activities such as this  Forum, ETAP's education mission appears to rely substantially on European Technology Platforms (ETPs). It is striking that ETPs have been recently assessed as 'underachieving' in that respect ( Among other things, the assessment recommends scaling up the use of ICT and interactive approaches likely to engage platform stakeholders, and identifying learning needs.

Box 3 - We need 'crash courses' in ecology

Willy De Backer, Director, European Office, Ecological Footprint Network

FM - What are the main barriers to eco-innovation?
WDB  - For many people the environment is something you can care about once things are doing well, once the economy is doing well... But when the economy is in bad shape, the environment gets down to the second or even third thing to think about. And this is completely wrong because all our economies depend on ecological services. We've lost touch with what nature provides. Nature is not seen as a provider of ecosystem services. These services are things that people have to understand.

FM - What should be done in terms of education?
WDB - Ecology should be a part of school education, from the very beginning, from very early ages. I think we need to have a serious look at our schools and education and university system, in general. We need to integrate ecological thinking within all curricula from basic schools and so on. Explain what the services that particular forest is having for the atmosphere, for the economy, etc. So they make the link between ecology and economy. The thing is that if tomorrow all governments start to teach ecology the same way they teach mathematics in the school programmes, it is going to be too late. Because it will take a whole generation, or maybe two, until we have decision-makers who understand this ecology-economy link. So actually what we need now is a crash course on the links between ecology and economy.


Europe has no environmental education policy. Looking back to the historical development of the policy relevant to eco-innovation, strongly suggests that environmental and governance initiatives have emerged in isolation from each other until the last few years [Fig. 2]. On the one hand, in the area of governance, direct engagement of citizens and civil society organisations in the preparation and implementation of policy decisions materialised in the 1980s, with the decentralisation thrust (regionalisation and devolution across Members States), leading to a series of other governance initiatives (subsidiarity, IMPEL, LEADER), up to the Agenda 2000 and the open acknowledgement that Europe is facing governance challenges [CEC 2001, CEC 2004b]. The i2010 Strategy brought together information society policy initiatives in 2005 [2].

On the other hand, in the area of environmental policy, most of the policy efforts were devoted to secure the very recognition of this relatively new policy domain, directly competing with the established Directorates stemming from the primary drive of the European Economic Community (no environmental concerns in the Treaty of Rome). Policy events such as he Cork Declaration (1996), the Amsterdam Treaty with its Integration Principle (1997), the Cardiff Process (1998), the 6th European Environmental Action Plan (2001-2010) gradually ushered in education issues in the environmental policy agenda. Environmental governance got an 'institutional boost' in the mid-2000s with the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Dvt (2005-2014), the revision of the Lisbon Strategy (see above) and the subsequent revision of the Sustainable Development Strategy [CoEU 2006].


Fig. 2 - Europe has no environmental education policy yet

Lack of effective learning tools


These developments are still recent and no environmental education policy seems to be formulated yet at the European level (see Box 4). It is probably quite telling that education issues and bodies, such as the European Commission's DG Information Society and Media and the DG Education and Culture, are not pictured on the policy map of the Figure 1. These issues would arguably be of some relevance to the policy coherence of the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy, but their representation in the eco-innovation debate is still rather discrete.


Box 4 - Environmental policy is not matched by an education policy at the EU level
Ian Clark, Head, Unit 'Research, Science and Innovation' at the DG Environment

FM - Some environmental technologies fail arguably because of a lack of social acceptance: is education part of ETAP?

IC - ... It depends, what you mean by ‘education'. If you consider governance involving stakeholders, and trying to develop ideas on the basis of deep debate with stakeholders, that has been part of ETAP from the beginning. And also it has been part of environmental policy for a long time. But if you mean going wider, actually making education as such, addressing learning needs, yes, I think there might have been less involvement. Partly, perhaps because it's not an EU competence. Education as such is very much national policies. There is coordination, such as student exchange at the EU level, but it's still not an EU policy. So there is possibly a mismatch in terms of what the EU can do in environment and in education. Perhaps we need to see more integration at MS level, of these two policies. Because MS have the competence in both areas. But on the other hand I think there are some actions that can be done at the EU level, where there is EU competence, it could be that we need to do more to bring eco-innovation into this, onto the agenda. That's an issue we can look at in the review of ETAP which is starting now.

And it's true that education and awareness-raising was another priority [of environmental policy]. On the awareness-raising side, these ETAP fora are an example of something that is considered a success. On the education side, less has been done. And that's something that needs to be looked at in the future. The social acceptance of technologies is another issue that should be looked at as well.


2) Policy integration requires conceptual clarification (top)

Another obstacle to the engagement of stakeholders in eco-innovation development is arguably the lack of policy consistency and integration. This situation stems at least partly from the concepts used, and this has implications for measurement issues.

The traditional concept of innovation in economics is misleading. The last decade has seen an unprecedented move in favour of policy integration, in the sense of making selected priority policies transversal to all other policy domains. Environmental concerns were formally integrated in 1997 (see above). With the Lisbon Strategy, the third generation innovation policy made the coordination of actions in policy areas and the formulation of innovation-friendly policies, one of the core principles of any policy and institutional reform: it effectively recognised the centrality of innovation to all policy areas, and called for the integration of innovation in all policies [CEC 2002].

This integration process has not yet safeguarded the corresponding policy domains against fragmentation. On the one hand, a considerable part of environmental policy is not innovation-friendly, particularly in  agri-environmental policy and nature conservation policy [Morand and Barzman 2006, p. 19 ff]. On the other hand, innovation, raised at the top of the political agenda by the Lisbon Strategy, traditionally remains ‘neutral' vis-à-vis environmental concerns, and fails to consider the ‘direction and content of progress' [Rennings 2000, p. 322]. This neutrality finds an expression in popular definitions of innovation where entrepreneurs are focussed on ‘productivity enhancing processes', ‘cost advantages' and rent-seeking [see e.g., Eurostat 2004, p. 10-11], with little consideration for broader social or environmental standards, norms or ethics.

Such ‘neutral’ definitions are perhaps not the most helpful for conceiving environmentally- and socially-friendly innovation policy. It may be argued that the literature underlying those definitions, because it pays little attention to sustainability issues and the pluralist assessment of innovation, conveys a short term and technico-commercial view that does not seem to fully meet the requirements of sustainable development. The latter view, known as reflecting a ‘technological bias’ [Rennings 2000, p. 323], is worth mentioning also because it omits another essential aspect of the sustainability equation: the social dimension.


Box 5 - Comparing definitions of eco-innovation (underlining is mine)

A. For Peter James, one of the authors on this concept, eco-innovations are ‘new products and processes which provide customer and business value but significantly decrease environmental impacts’ [James 1997, p. 53].

B. I am aware of only one definition given at the Budapest Forum [De Backer 2008, slide 19]: 'Eco-innovation is the creation of novel and competitively priced goods, processes, systems, and procedures designed to satisfy human needs and provide a better quality of life for everyone with a life-cycle minimal use of natural resources per unit output...' (with regard to the points discussed below, this definition is similar to the one used as a reference in the Europe INNOVA final eco-innovation report [Technopolis Group, 2008, p. 2]).

C. DG Environment (accessed 20 Nov. 08): 'Eco-innovation is a fairly recent business & technology area which may be described as the production, assimilation or exploitation of a novelty in products, production processes, services or in management and business methods, which aims, throughout its life cycle, to prevent or substantially reduce environmental risk, pollution and other negative impacts of resources use (including energy use).'

D. Definition resulting from the FP6 project 'Measuring Eco-Innovation' (MEI): 'Eco-innovation is the production, assimilation or exploitation of a product, production process, service or management or business method that is novel to the organisation (developing or adopting it) and which results, throughout its life cycle, in a reduction of environmental risk, pollution and other negative impacts of resources use (including energy use) compared to relevant alternatives' [Kemp and Pearson (eds.), 2008, p. 7].


Toward an integrative concept of eco-innovation. How do present day conceptions of eco-innovation improve the technological bias presumably associated with the traditional definition of innovation? The Box 5 above gathers a pioneering formulation of eco-innovation (A), two popular definitions (B, C) and a more recent one (D). Definition D results from one of the first EU-funded research initiatives explicitly devoted to eco-innovation, which have devoted considerable efforts to the concepts of environmental innovations, eco-innovations, sustainable innovations, eco-efficiency, etc [9].

In my opinion definition D is the most relevant for at least three reasons. Firstly, it emphasises the actual effects (the environmental performance) over the stated aims. By focusing on the environmental effects rather than the environmental aims/intentions, this definition escapes to a large extent the vagueness associated with intentionality: almost anything could be designed with the aim of being green, and there is no easy way to verify an 'aim', or a 'design intention'. Both are less relevant than 'results', even if verifying results can in turn also prove a challenge.

Secondly, definition D emphasises the eco-innovation's institutional context, through the notion of novelty to a specific group. This is relevant because innovativeness is highly context-dependent: what is innovative for a certain group at a certain time in a certain place (e.g., cultivating grass for hay-making in today's Tunisian post-pastoralist society) may be totally trivial for another group at another time elsewhere (e.g., cultivating grass for hay-making in 18th century Flemish cattle farmers - i.e., after the 'forage revolution' [7]). The formulation of this aspect is also interesting because it opens up the nature of concerned actors to any organisation developing of adopting an innovation. Definition C, by contrast, still appears to restrict the eco-innovation playing field.

Thirdly, the comparison to relevant alternatives is also innovative because it emphasises more than in the other definitions the necessity to take stock of pre-existing knowledge. As shown with the urea example, there are many cases of environmental problems for which solutions do exist but are not mobilised. Forgetting to consider existing, even 'old', knowledge, is treacherous because it could open the door to an endless technological rush ('Innovate! No matter what!'), precipitate the obsolescence of technically valid technologies, and result in adverse environmental impacts. It would also give credit to the idea that inventing new technologies is a goal in itself, which is a disputed idea [see for example EESC 2008] - and perhaps a major factor of misunderstanding  and even rejection, of the Lisbon Strategy (see Conclusion).

The second and third reasons above could tentatively be associated with the ‘social pillar’, i.e., the social and cultural acceptance of innovation, which the MEI project has introduced in the definition of eco-innovation (definition D). This introduction is necessary because the social pillar plays a major role in learning and thus in the effectiveness of eco-innovations. This social pillar, together with the economic and environmental pillars, makes eco-innovation an integrative concept. Such a concept is required to promote compromises instead of conflicts between the various legitimacies involved in sustainable development. In addition to this integrated aspect, definition D insists on environmental effects, instead of claimed intentions, which is more favourable to environmental technology verification [6].

Broaden measurement frameworks (top). As the definition of eco-innovation takes on board a social pillar, the measurement of eco-innovation requires a similar adaptation. During the Budapest Forum, one of the few references made to the monitoring of eco-innovation development relied on the number of patented innovations. This measurement framework should arguably be broadened beyond the 'new-to-market' innovations linked to in-house R&D and patenting. At least two other modes of innovation could be brought forward: 'process modernising' (use of embedded technologies, training of staff), and 'wider innovation' (organisational and marketing-related innovation strategies) [OECD 2008, p. 7].

A number of interventions and remarks made at the Forum reflected this need for a systemic and pluralist perspective on eco-innovation. It is worth reminding that the policy focus on innovation is shifting from specific product innovations toward the analysis of larger scale, longer term system innovations [see e.g., Berkhout 2006]. In this perspective, again, the institutional setting in which innovation occurs, and not merely the market, does matter. Measuring eco-innovations exclusively in terms of growth and jobs would be betraying other aspects of European policy such as the current initiative aiming to go beyond GDP: [see e.g., EESC 2008]. It would jeopardize the difficult attempts made towards greater policy integration [e.g., see Box 6]. If we accept the social pillar introduced above in the definition of eco-innovation we have the accept that the triple legitimacy of eco-innovation cannot be reduced to one or even two elements.

The way we choose to define eco-innovation (see above) has implications for data generation and analysis. A number of issues such as data relevance, data reliability, and scale of observation, deserve consideration when monitoring eco-innovation. Innovation patterns are far from being homogeneous across firms, sectors and locations, and the data currently provided by Community Innovation Surveys, in particular, have been shown to give little insight into eco-innovation [Technopolis Group, 2008]. An immediate implication of adopting an integrative definition of eco-innovation is thus to complement current measurement frameworks, e.g. with socio-cognitive, environmental (based on actual impacts and not only on intentions), institutional and learning aspects of eco-innovation.


Box 6: Integrate educational responsibilities across policy domains
Willy De Backer, Director, European Office, Ecological Footprint Network

FM - Is EU environmental policy making sufficient use of education initiatives?

WDB - I think the DG Environment is doing its bit, there are the Green Weeks every years, and there are loads of brochures, and websites and whatever, to educate and to inform people about these issues. The thing is that it is all not connected, to the economics. It is still - and that's what we talked about this morning - this mosaic of responsibilities in different DGs. Each of the DGs has some kind of educational or informational aspect, but there is no coordination in terms of the sustainability challenges complementing the financial and economic challenges.



Conclusion - Mitigating knowledge and cognitive risks by using engagement opportunities (top)

The promotion of environmentally-friendly technologies by ETAP represents a concrete and innovative example of the integration of environmental concerns into economic development policy. Generally speaking, policy fragmentation (i.e., the lack of integration between policy domains) remains a major obstacle to the development of eco-innovation. Education does too, but the Budapest Forum reflected much less this latter point than the former. The risks associated with inadequate knowledge responses strongly suggest that more ambition is needed with respect to engaging stakeholders.

Inadequate knowledge and cognitive responses are a widespread yet overlooked risk (top)

Turning a 'pollutant' into a resource - like in the urea example - is in itself an innovation with a potential for radically transforming widespread production systems and the way we assess their 'productivity'. What hampers this potential eco-innovation is not so much the lack of technological knowledge than its circulation and effective use by a range of stakeholders. In this light, one major risk facing environmental technologies is the risk of inadequate knowledge and cognitive response within a population of stakeholders that varies enormously across sectors and from one innovation to the other. Following the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment [2005, e.g., p. 22 ff and p. 98 ff], who identified this risk as a major factor affecting the sustainable management of ecosystems, inadequate knowledge can be defined as the lack of adequate knowledge and information available to those who make management decisions, and inadequate cognitive responses as the failure to use adequately the information that does exist in support of management decisions. This risk, even though it might appear trivial, is real for existing technologies and even more so for emerging technologies.

Inadequate knowledge and cognitive responses themselves may increase two other risks. Firstly, the risk of confusion among relevant stakeholders. Loose definitions of 'green' technologies and the lack of verification and certification system, open the door to recurrent misunderstanding. It also makes the strategic use of this confusion possible through green-washing strategies, for example in marketing or in policy-making (see e.g., Thévenot et al, 2000]. Even though eco-innovation development holds promising perspectives in terms of growth and jobs, the permanent measurement of eco-innovation exclusively by market indicators may also mislead stakeholders into risky assumptions such as efficient technology transfer (of any green technology exported anywhere), adequate regulatory framework,  energy efficiency (of food production systems, even if labelled 'organic' or 'biological'), or social equity.

Is it really so that 'exportations of green technologies are unequivocally beneficial to the EU', regardless of where they are exported to, who is going to use them, in what conditions, with what skills and for what purpose? (question disputed during a 2007 workshop of the Ecodrive project [9]). Secondly, confusion regarding the supposed benefits of innovations 'aimed' at being green, increases distrust. Distrust, in turn, increases the risk of technologies being rejected for no economic and no environmental reasons.

'Engaging stakeholders': an objective worth addressing seriously (top)
Inadequate knowledge and cognitive responses, confusion and rejection potentially threaten many existing eco-technologies. These risks are mutually reinforcing as a vicious circle. One of the core objectives of ETAP, which arguably holds important keys to reducing the risks facing eco-innovation, was not given much attention at the Forum: engaging all stakeholders. What meaning does ETAP give to this 'engagement'? How are stakeholders 'engaged'? At least three main opportunities can be examined to mitigate the above risks: clarification, education, integration. The numbered items represent suggested areas of action.

Conceptualise better. The social, institutional and cognitive factors identified above need addressing. It is likely that eco-innovation at large will remain under-developed as long as these factors are not seriously addressed. Eco-innovation has a social component. This approach specified by definition D [Box 5] gives eco-innovations a status that is more than a new type of commodity, or a new sector, even though environmental technology and eco-innovation are associated with the emergence of new economic activities or even branches (e.g., waste treatment, recycling, etc). This approach considers eco-innovation in terms of usage rather than merely in terms of product. The social pillar associated with eco-innovation introduces a governance component that makes eco-innovation a more integrated tool for sustainable development. It is thus innovative with regard to common approaches of eco-innovation somewhat restricted to the intentions associated with environmental technology. It is fortunate that ETAP reflects this dimension in its third objective, even if mainstreaming it appears a challenge likely to require considerable effort in education and monitoring.

  • 1) Broaden the concept of eco-innovation so as to include all innovation patterns, all relevant stakeholders, and pay due attention to their institutional context (including their available knowledge). Consolidate a consensus definition of eco-innovation that includes a social pillar, building on definition D [Box 5].
  • 2) Encourage the reflexion on the meaning of stakeholders' engagement - an essential part of ETAP. For example, what is a 'plan' in terms of the institutional framing of personal engagement [Morand 2006]?  How do technologies emerge in the pre-market phase, from a socio-cognitive evolutionary perspective [Geels F.W. and R.P.J.M. Raven, 2007].
  • 3) Encourage the development of new eco-innovation indicators such as those including organisational innovations (marketing, production systems) and learning elements.

Educate better.
The ETAP Forum in itself represents an excellent communication event where exemplary logistical conditions enabled a range of actors to confront their views. Beyond awareness-raising and communication events, environmental education has been identified as a possible 'policy gap' that needs addressing.

  • 4) Communicate the broader meaning of eco-innovation (e.g., a consensus definition) in order to avoid the pitfalls of narrowly defined innovative activities.
  • 5) Define Community educational competencies in synergy with national educational initiatives.
  • 6) Complement information campaigns and awareness-raising, by designing and implementing initiatives fostering effective education and effective learning (see below), formatted to different stakeholders needs and capabilities.

Integrate better
the environmental, educational, and innovation aspects of eco-innovation. It seems inevitable that some sort of integration of education and environment concerns will take shape at the EU level. One way to address the lack of environmental education policy could be to seek a better integration between environmental policy and information society policy [2]. The limited scope, to date, of sustainable development education strongly argues in favour of innovative actions in this domain.

Among other things, the new Lisbon Strategy has emphasised two aspects: i) eco-innovation and ii) the use of ICT to foster acceptance, understanding and embrace of change. To some extent these two aspects have gone separate paths. Europe has built a unique environmental policy unmatched in any other geopolitical block [see Morand 2007 for an expanded argument]. But the effectiveness of the EU environmental policy could be enhanced with policy initiatives in the field of education, looking e.g., across the Atlantic (see another recent US educational initiative). First indicators are emerging about new US environmental policy ambitions that could possibly overtake the EU's, for example in terms of greenhouse gas emissions targets. The economic reason for concern is quite evident and well publicised: jobs, competitive power, growth. However, reasons for maintaining the European edge in sustainable development go well beyond the economic sphere. Beyond GDP, policy integration could also be presented as a engine of the European identity and heritage.

  • 7) Promote the transversality of eco-innovation, for example by reinforcing the popularity of eco-innovation among existing European Technological Platforms: e.g. by establishing platform modules for monitoring, pooling and socialising eco-innovation quality information. This will help balance the technological innovation rush (Europe needs emerging technologies but not regardless of the direction and content of progress).
  • 8) Go beyond the dominant entertainment environmental media and support the design of effective learning tools [see the ecoL initiative for a development]. Integrate innovative learning into eco-innovation policy. Innovative learning and education innovation have to be considered as a strategic part of eco-innovation policy, perhaps up to the point where verification systems [6] would include information systems provided to relevant stakeholders and formatted as to match their own specific learning resources. Introducing educational keywords such as 'understanding', 'deep learning', 'effective learning', 'problem solving', 'creative thinking', etc [Osborn, 2008] into eco-innovation policy could arguably enhance its effectiveness.
  • 9) Communicate on the European environmental differentiation edge as a key part of the European cultural heritage - and its associated environmental, social, economic, and moral benefits.



I welcome expressions of interest, reactions, questions, critiques, and opportunities to develop the reflexion offered in this paper, in research (sample proposal under preparation: Knowledge for Change:, learning (see e.g., the ecoL learning services initiative: and other initiatives.


Notes (top)

[1] Frédéric Morand is the co-founding Secretary of Eco Innovation. His areas of interest include the conceptual, policy and practical developments of eco-innovations. (more, email)

[2] The 'i2010 Framework' - A European information society for growth and employment' -, provides the broad policy guidelines for what we call the emerging 'information society' in the years up to 2010. Developments of this Strategy include multiple policy, law, research and industry initiatives in terms of e-skills, e-content, digital libraries, e-inclusion, e-health, etc. (European Information Society Portal:

[3] Ecological Footprint: a resource accounting system that translates resource demand of individuals, cities, organizations, technologies, products into biologically productive areas necessary to provide the resources and absorb the corresponding waste. [De Backer 2008] (the Ecological Footprint Network:

[4] Urea (or carbamide) is a resource because it contains nitrogen (N), a chemical element necessary to all forms of life. Traditional water treatment technologies consist of eliminating it, which in itself requires energy. On the other hand, the farm sector meets its nitrogen fertilisers needs by fixing atmospheric nitrogen (the air contains about 80% of nitrogen), a process that represents one of the main energy expenditures of the whole agricultural sector. Wasting urea in water is thus generating energy costs that could be dramatically cut with a change in our global management of nitrogen.

[5] The 'Soybean Car' was actually a plastic-bodied car unveiled by Henry Ford on August 13, 1941 at Dearborn Days (Michigan, USA), an annual community festival. The frame, made of tubular steel, had 14 plastic panels attached to it. The car weighed 2000 lbs., 1000 lbs. lighter than a steel car. The exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists today. One article claims that they were made from a chemical formula that, among many other ingredients, included soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie.
Source (including photos):

[6] Ian Clark is Head of the Unit Research, Science & Innovation (DG Environment), which is responsible for the environmental part of ETAP. Another major strand of action undertaken by ETAP, he mentioned, is the Environmental Technology Verification systems (ETV) designed to offer credible verification of the performance and potential environmental impacts of new technologies. ETV is the focus of the ETAP Newsletter, Issue 9 (Nov. 2007). (

[7] These barriers do vary greatly across sectors. For a general view of the factors affecting eco-innovation, see e.g., Technolopolis Group [2008, Chapter 3]. On the agricultural sector, which is an example of sector where important barriers have been evidenced, outside and inside Europe, see e.g., the Belgian-Tunisian project on rehabilitating autochtonous perennial forage, the EU-funded research on eco-innovation in golf course management, or the work undertaken by Paul van Mele with regard to learning traditional biological control techniques.

[8] Not fully reported here due to editorial and material constraints. Jan Haemers, founder and CEO of Deep Green, presented in the afternoon plenary session the example of an eco-innovative soil remediation technology (Thermopile, requiring far less energy and achieving better results than conventional excavation methods) [Haemers 2008]. The industrial development of this new technology was however severely hampered by inadequate regulatory barriers and lack of understanding within the decision chain determining access to the market. Jan Haemers highlighted how eco-innovation can pose such a challenge to regulators (forcing them to change their ways of thinking), that they will stop even technologies that are promising. (

[9] In particular the following EU-funded RTD projects: Measuring Eco-Innovation, Ecodrive, Fundetec and ETTAR.


References (top)

Presentations given to the Forum are available on

Berkhout Frans, 2007; Business innovation and the environment: some history and theory; Ecodrive Workshop: 'Eco-Innovation Indicators: the framework put to work' (03 and 04 Sept.), (; Brussels, 29 slides.

CEC, 2001; European Governance. A White Paper,  (25 July), Commission of the European Communities; Brussels, 35 p.

CEC, 2002; Innovation tomorrow. Innovation policy and regulatory framework: making innovation an integral part of the broader structural agenda;  Innovation papers no 28,  Commission of European Communities (DG for Enterprise), Louis Lengrand & Associés, PREST (University of Manchester), ANRT - France, 221 p.

CEC, 2004a; Stimulating Technologies for Sustainable Development: An Environmental Technologies Action Plan for the European Union. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, COM(2004) 38 final (28 January), Commission of the European Communities; Brussels, 49 p.

CEC, 2004b; Facing the challenge. The Lisbon strategy for growth and employment (Kok Report),  (1 Nov.), Commission of European Communities; Luxembourg, 51 p. (

CEC, 2005; Working together for growth and jobs. A new start for the Lisbon Strategy;  Communication from President Barroso to the Spring European Council, COM (2005) 24 (02 Feb.), Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 32 p. (

CoEU, 2006; Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS) - Renewed Strategy; 10117/06 (09 June), Council of the European Union; Brussels, 29 p.

De Backer Willy, 2008; Emerging "green" technologies. A vision too far?;  Presentation to the 5th ETAP Forum,  (16 Oct.), Environmental Technology Action Plan, (; Budapest (Hungary), 27 slides.

EESC, 2008; Beyond GDP - measurements for sustainable development (Own-initiative opinion of the Sustainable Development Observatory);  Opinion of the EESC,  NAT/392 (22 Oct.),  European Economic and Social Committee; Brussels, 11 p.

Eurostat, 2004; Innovation in Europe. Results for the EU, Iceland and Norway. Data 1998-2001,  European Communities; Luxembourg, 295 p.

Fleit Ernö, 2008; Focus on Lead Markets: Waste and Recycling Wastewater Treatment; Presentation to the 5th ETAP Forum (16 Oct.); Budapest (Hungary), 23 slides.

Geels F.W. and R.P.J.M. Raven, 2007; Socio-cognitive evolution and co-evolution in competing technical trajectories: Biogas development in Denmark (1970-2002); The International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, 14 (1), pp. 63-77(15).

Haemers Jan, 2008; Case study – Feed back from reality. Deep Green – Innovating technology in treatment of contaminated soil; Presentation to the 5th ETAP Forum,  (16 Oct.); Budapest (Hungary), 11 slides.

James Peter, 1997; The Sustainability Circle: a new tool for product development and design; Journal of Sustainable Product Design  (2), 52:57,

Kemp René and Peter Pearson (eds.), 2008; Final report of the project 'Measuring Eco-Innovation'; Maastricht (The Netherlands), 113 p., (

Klein Armand, 2008; Focus on Lead Markets: Bio-Based Products;  Presentation to the 5th ETAP Forum,  (16 Oct.); Budapest (Hungary), 13 slides.

Mäkelä Timo, 2008; Emerging technologies - The next step toward a green revolution?; Presentation to the 5th ETAP Forum (16 Oct.); Budapest (Hungary), 19 slides.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005; Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis; Washington DC, 137 p.

Morand Frédéric, 2006; Integrating concepts of institutions: a comparative introduction to Thévenot's conventions (WP2);  IDARI Working Paper,  (May),  Eco Innovation / Humboldt University of Berlin - RTD project QLRT-2002-02718, (; Galway (Ireland), 30 p.

Morand Frédéric, 2007; Making materialisation history. Eco-innovation as the most efficient cross-sectoral driving force for a competitive Europe in the global economy; Position paper,  (27 Oct.),  Europe INNOVA / Eco Innovation, (, 2 p.

Morand Frédéric and Marco Barzman, 2006; European sustainable development policy (1972-2005): fostering a two-dimensional integration for more effective institutions (WP1);  IDARI Working Paper,  Eco Innovation / Humboldt University of Berlin - RTD project QLRT-2002-02718, (, 30 p.

OECD, 2008; OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2008: Highlights,  (27 Oct.),  Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; Paris, 7 p.

Osborn Hugh, 2008; Broccoli Brain: Developing Enthusiastic Consumers of Nutritious Knowledge; - The George Lucas Education Foundation  (Oct. 8), 2 p.,

Rennings Klaus, 2000; Redefining innovation - eco-innovation research and the contribution from ecological economics; Ecological Economics, 32, 319:332.

Technopolis Group, 2008; Eco-innovation. Final report for sectoral innovation watch, (May), Europe-INNOVA (Alasdair Reid, Michal Miedzinski), (; Brussels, 96 p.

Thévenot Laurent, Michael Moody and Claudette Laffaye, 2000; Forms of Valuing Nature: Arguments and Modes of Justification in Environmental Disputes; in Lamont M. and L. Thévenot (eds.), Rethinking comparative cultural sociology: Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, p. 229-272.

Vereijken Tom and Lionel Platteuw, 2008; Working actively on innovation; Presentation to the 5th ETAP Forum (16 Oct.); Budapest (Hungary), 39 slides.


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