Green innovation for sustainable solutions

Scienza, ricerca e innovazione sono componenti chiave del contributo dell’Europa all’agenda per lo sviluppo sostenibile. Dal momento che le sfide poste dalla sostenibilità sono complesse, anche le risposte possono giungere da vari livelli. Il nuovo numero di research*eu focus mette in evidenza gli sforzi che l’UE sta attualmente compiendo, che vanno dai progetti nell’ambito del 6° Programma Quadro e del 7° PQ, al lungimirante Europa 2020 e l’imminente Orizzonte 2020.

Foto: research*eu focus magazine

Research*eu focus è una rivista che in ogni numero tratta un argomento specifico di interesse per la ricerca. Contiene articoli sulle politiche, le iniziative, i programmi e i progetti dell’UE correlati alla ricerca e allo sviluppo tecnologico, e la loro valorizzazione. È pubblicata da CORDIS a intervalli irregolari, fino a sei volte l’anno. Viene pubblicata in inglese, in casi eccezionali sono disponibili versioni in altre lingue europee.

Questi i temi principali dell’ultimo numero di research*eu focus magazine, interamente dedicato all’innovazione sostenibile e ai progetti che l’Unione Europea sta sviluppando in questa direzione strategica.

Highlights from research*eu focus magazine “Green innovation for sustainable solutions”

EU Innovation for Sustainable Growth

From Rio to a greener economy

Sustainability is a priority of the European Union. Europe 2020 — the EU’s growth strategy for the next decade – stresses the objective of achieving a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy in Europe.

2012 represents a milestone in the sustainability agenda. Twenty years after the first Rio ‘Earth Summit’, the ‘United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development’ — also known as Rio+20 — is gathering in June to seek a renewed political commitment to sustainable development.

Today, environmental and development challenges are inextricably linked. Continuing population growth, stress on resources, environmental degradation, ecosystem depletion and climate change call for a shift from our current consumption and production patterns towards cleaner and more sustainable solutions. The complexity and enormity of these challenges requires increased collaboration on a global scale.

Europe 2020 recognises and promotes the need for collaborative and integrated approaches, notably through its flagship initiatives — Innovation Union, Resource-efficient Europe and the EU platform against Poverty, as well as the proposal for new directions in the EU development policy “An Agenda for Change”.

In these areas, research is considered fundamental to spur innovation, provide the knowledge base on the issues at stake, investigate future scenarios, propose new solutions and translate them into technological breakthroughs and effective policy options for sustainable and inclusive growth. Research also has the potential to mobilise partners — public and private — to accelerate the innovation process.

Horizon 2020, the new instrument for EU research and innovation funding, also recognises the need for increased international research cooperation efforts, enhanced science-policy dialogue and greater collaboration between researchers and other stakeholders, including civil society organisations and the private sector. Increased partnerships within Europe and with third countries will be crucial — we need to tackle global societal challenges together.

This publication provides an overview of Europe’s research contribution to the sustainability and green economy agendas at regional and global levels. The examples provided illustrate the EU collaborative efforts in priority areas of the Rio+20 Conference.

Rio+20 should advance the global transition towards an inclusive green economy, thus promoting environmental protection, contributing to poverty eradication and stimulating low-carbon and resource-efficient growth. We are looking forward to the outcome of Rio+20, and to fulfilling our role in ensuring that the goals set in June 2012 translate into reality in Europe and beyond.

(introduction by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science; Janez Potoènik, European Commissioner for the Environment; Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development)

Research for sustainability: connecting past and future commitments

Research and innovation are essential to nurturing the sustainability agenda, whether by explaining the causes and driversbehind current societal challenges or by developing new technologies to help us meet those challenges. Twenty years on from the ‘UN Conference on Environment and Development’ — also known as the ‘Earth Summit’ — heads of state, government representatives and stakeholders from civil society, academia and business  are meeting in Brazil for the ‘United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development’ (Rio+20) to try to secure renewed political commitment.

Foto: Robert Paul Van Beets

Sustainable growth and Horizon 2020

In November 2011, the European Commission presented its proposals for Horizon 2020, a new Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. Foreseen to run from 2014 to 2020, Horizon 2020 will be the chief funding mechanism for the Innovation Union — one of the EU flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is therefore expected to support the implementation of outcomes from the Rio+20 Conference.

Food security and sustainable agriculture

Sustainable agriculture and food security are at the top of the agenda of countries in Europe and the developing world. Sustainable use of natural resources, such as land, is of huge importance to economies, but — in cases of famine — it can also mean life or death.

The Ocean and the Blue Economy: a cure for the ocean’s blues?

Earth is the blue planet and our fate is bound up with that of the ocean; the sea makes up over two-thirds of the world’s surface and the ocean is the Earth’s biggest ecosystem. As well as EU policies to manage the ocean’s resources sustainably, EU-funded research is finding out just how much pressure they are under already.

Keeping water clean and fresh

Clean water is one of the most basic human needs. We cannot survive without it, so protection of water resources, of fresh and salt-water ecosystems and of the water we drink and bathe in is one of the cornerstones of environmental protection. The stakes are high, and the issues transcend national boundaries, so research and policy needs to be coordinated at the European and international levels.

Foto: Wong Yu Liang

Sustainable cities

Today, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. The future of both the European Union and the world depends on how we tackle the main challenges resulting from continuing urbanisation. Research is needed to understand the dynamics of urban societies if instability and the risks within cities are to be identified and managed.

Current urban development is running environmental risks, consuming huge amounts of resources and putting strains on the environmental system. The FP7-funded project ‘Sustainable urban metabolism for Europe’ (SUME) focused on how to design future urban systems to be consistently less damaging to the environment than at present.

The project also developed a Metabolic Impact Analysis method (MIA) to assess impact of large-scale urban development projects on resource use and on the overall resource performance of a city.

Based on their research, the SUME team defi ned four core principles for future development of resource efficient cities and agglomerations, the SUME Principles for Metabolically Effi cient Cities:

  • Principle 1: Spatially focused densifi cation
  • Principle 2: High-density development only with high quality public transport access
  • Principle 3: Functional mix in urban quarters (i.e. residential, jobs and services)
  • Principle 4: Combine urban and building (object) reconstruction.

 The ‘Pathways for carbon transitions’ (PACT) project investigated what a sustainable post-carbon society would look like and how we could reach it within the next 50 years. Most ‘business-as-usual scenarios’ for global development show hydrocarbon resource scarcity and the growing release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will take the world on a path that is far from sustainable in the coming decades.

Urban density and speed of movement are of course interrelated with means of transport. The European Green Cars Initiative (EGCI) is one of the three Public Private Partnerships (PPP) launched by the European Commission in November 2008 as part of the European Economic Recovery Plan. Essentially, the goal is to support and speed up the introduction of electric cars on our roads.

Biodiversity and ecosystems: a complex web revealed

Biodiversity and ecosystems are like the song Dem Bones in which we learn how our body is all connected ― ‘the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected…’, etc. The simplicity of the song hides the complex functions and dependencies. Thanks to numerous research and policy initiatives, this complex web of life is starting to reveal itself.

Foto: Robert Paul Van Beets

Sustainable energy: power to the people

Energy powers the economy, a strong economy powers development and sustainable development empowers people. But this development cycle depends very much on an endless supply of energy. Europe is leading worldwide ‘sustainable energy’ efforts underpinned by secure, clean and smart energy production, storage and consumption. European research and innovative ‘green’ technologies are critical to reaching this goal by 2020.

Europe is determined to lead by example in its eff orts to ‘green’ the economy and tackle the challenges of saving energy, achieving a market with competitive prices and secure supplies, boosting technological leadership, and negotiating eff ectively with inter national partners.

The EU’s ‘Energy 2020 Strategy’ identifies the priorities for the period up to 2020 and reinforces its ambitious energy and climate-change objectives, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 % (compared to 1990 levels), increasing the share of renewable energy to 20 % and making a 20 % improvement in energy efficiency. It also underpins the EU’s wider Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Achieving the EU’s ‘20-20-20 objectives’and the ‘2050 vision’ in the energy field will require further innovations and a revolutionised energy system. Research and innovation will be critical to make new, more efficientand cost-effective, low-carbon energy technologies commercially attractive at the scale needed.

But the European Union is under no illusions that it will be easy. ‘The energy challenge is one of the greatest tests for us all,’ commented Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger at the launch of the Strategy in 2010. ‘Putting our energy system on a new, more sustainable and secure path may take time but ambitious decisions need to be taken now. To have an effi cient, competitive and low-carbon economy we have to Europeanise our energy policy and focus on a few but pressing priorities.’

Today, oil, coal and gas account for more than 80 % of world energy production. Energy industries are responsible for 35 % of CO2 emissions, with transport not far behind at 30 %, followed by industry and construction (18 %) and residential users (11 %). Electricity prices in the EU are said to be 21 % higher than in the USA and 197 % higher than in China. This has knockon effects on European competitiveness.

Society in the balance:sustainable lifestyles, green skills, gender equality

Sustainable development, once considered an ‘environmental’ issue, has earned its place in mainstream thinking and policymaking as an overarching concept alongside the economy, poverty reduction or global health. Today, schoolchildren learn how to recycle, corporate social responsibility is de rigueur, whole new green business models are evolving, governments promote alternative energy, consumer goods get green certificates… Society is finding a new balance and economies now embrace ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive’ growth as the model ensuring future well-being for everyone.

Foto: Pokku

Lean, green and smart industry

If we want to be more productive at work or home we might ask a time-and-motion expert to help us cut out redundant and wasteful steps. But what do we do when the waste and inefficiency applies to whole industries, economies or societies? To achieve ‘green growth’, we need to re-evaluate our goals, the available resources to reach them, and whether the output matches our expectations today and in the future.

Natural disaster: plan for the worst, prepare for the best

Earthquake and tsunami early-warning systems, sensors for volcanic activity, global monitoring expertise, land-management and models to prevent floods, fire and landslides… These are just some of the innovations and technologies coming out of European research which help us prepare for the worst but plan for the best, knowing that we have strategies in place to mitigate the damage and speed up the recovery.

Climate change: it’s happening… time for Plan B

Climate change is currently the greatest environmental, social and economic threat our planet is facing. Europe, together with its partners around the world, is working to promote an ambitious global response to climate change through research, knowledge-sharing and informed policy-making.

2 thoughts on “Green innovation for sustainable solutions

  1. ACEEE: Major New U.S. Energy Find Could Offset Nearly a Quarter of Nation’s Power Use

    The full ACEEE report is available online at

    “Not Your Father’s Energy Efficiency”: New “Intelligent Efficiency” Discoveries Focus on Interconnected Systems-Not Devices Such as Cars or Refrigerators; Shift in Emphasis Could Slash 12-22 Percent of Current U.S. Energy Use

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 5, 2012): America now has a major new source of energy that could rival the contribution made to the economy by natural gas, coal, and nuclear power, according to a report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which concludes thatup to about a quarter (22 percent) of current U.S. energy consumption could be replaced by what experts are calling “intelligent efficiency.”

    The key to understanding the rise of “intelligent efficiency” is to stop thinking about energy efficiency simply in terms of individual devices (e.g., autos or refrigerators) and to start thinking about it in terms of complex systems (e.g., entire cities, transportation systems, and other networks) connected through Internet and computer technologies.


  2. Thank you very much Paul for your up-to-date news. I knew ACEEE, since Green Score is a reference for some LEED credits concerning alternative transportation. I downloaded the report. I agree with you, we should start thinking of energy efficiency in terms of systems: buildings, districts, cities, communities.


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