The global green technology market is expected to double to a value of EUR 4.4 trillion in the next ten years. But where do traditional industry sectors find themselves in this brave new world? And how can green start-ups thrive? Styria’s Green Tech Valley has shown that with some imagination and R&D, heavy industry and eager newcomers alike can find a place in the green revolution.
Styria in Austria, the number one environmental tech location in the world, was home to a dying steel industry just 20 years ago. During the steel crisis in the 90s, the region invested heavily in R&D allowing big steel producers to change their areas of expertise and move forward into green tech.
Today, Styria is still a steel manufacturer but the steel is being used for green technologies. The region now boasts more leading green tech companies within one hour’s drive than anywhere else in the world.
Bernhard Puttinger, of the ECO World Styria cluster, spoke about the evolution of Styria at Green Week in Brussels earlier this month. ‘It was an old steel region. We are still a steel manufacturer but now in terms of machines and plants for green technologies. For example machines that recycle waste glass, machines that do compost handling, etc. The manufacturers moved forward together with a strong R&D focus, combining steel with sensors and so on.’
This change from heavy industries to knowledge-based production with a strategic focus on green tech has coincided with Styria’s development into a pioneer region in recycling, hydro power, biomass and solar energy.
200 companies and research centres are working on the green and clean tech solutions within Styria’s ECO cluster. The cluster supports innovation with initiatives such as its Green Tech Research Alliance involving 1 200 researchers or the Innovators Club which brings together industry and academia to solve R&D challenges.
How can the business world, institutions and regions foster an environment like Styria? Bernhard called for new business models to reflect the different reality of green technologies as well as improved understanding in financial institutions. ‘Training the banks, from my point of view, to do better risk management so that they calculate the risks right is important.’ He added that a move to green taxation is ‘key’.
Green Tech Valley may be leading the pack but it is not alone in Europe. Within the scope of the European Commission’s Europe INNOVA Project, ECO is participating in ECOCLUP (‘Eco-innovative cluster partnership for growth and internationalisation’). This supra-regional networking of European environmental engineering companies involves 13 European environmental engineering clusters from 10 countries. It unites more than 3 500 cluster companies as well as 430 research institutions with the aim of intensifying partnerships and initiating projects.
The figures in Styria are conclusive: 25 % of final energy consumption in Styria is renewable, and the region boasts a 70 % recycling rate – the highest material recycling rate in Europe. Companies have created 7 500 new green tech jobs in six years, and Styrian products have saved 40 million tonnes of CO2 around the globe in five years.
No wonder Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, is impressed. He has previously called attention to the successes of Green Tech Valley, noting, ‘[ECO World Styria] shows…how we can boost synergies between business and academia in sectors of innovation.’