Identifying opportunities for eco-innovation in the food & drinks and chemical industry value chains

In early 2015, the greenXpo project has organised two dialogue events which aimed to discuss eco-innovation in specific value chains. 

Identifying opportunities for eco-innovation in the food & drinks and chemical industry value chains

In early 2015, the greenXpo project has organised two dialogue events which aimed to discuss eco-innovation in specific value chains.

The first event "Motivation and implementation of eco-innovation with the help of ICT to enable interaction between different actors along the value chain: The example of food" on the food value chain took place in Cologne, Germany on January 24. It explicitly only looked at one aspect of eco-innovation in the food and drink sector, namely ICT based interaction between companies and society. It included a panel discussion, a plenary session and a gallery walk where the greenXpo project and some of its case studies were presented.

The discussions showed that more than in other product groups, consumers have a genuine interest in understanding, which ingredients are used for food and drink products and under which ecologic and social impacts the product has been grown, transported and produced. It is therefore a very relevant product group for companies to increase their sustainability efforts, as consumers value transparency and greener food and drink products (market pull), and at the same time are sensitive for scandals that involve these product groups (risk management).

The intensified interaction between companies and society, which clearly goes beyond one way communication but involves active feedback from consumers on company strategies and concrete products is another innovation only enabled by improved ICT tools that not only forces companies to clearly think through the impacts of their products and make them transparent but also allows consumers to critically question and push companies to increase their efforts.

The companies and other stakeholders present agreed that in the future the amount of information on food and drink products and the use of ICT tools for communication would increase further. This was seen as an opportunity to improve the sustainability performance and eco-innovation of companies in the food and drink sector.

The second event "Greater interface efficiency in chemical value chains – challenges and potential" took place in Chester, UK, on March 3, 2015. The purpose of this event was to bring together chemical industry representatives, innovative SMEs, innovation and environmental consultancies, policy makers, public bodies, and other experts, to discuss integrated optimisation of the value chains, especially of the interfaces between different production stages and factories.

The event allowed identifying a number of specific barriers and opportunities for value chain eco-innovation for the chemical industry. Among the key factors identified were the lack of trust between companies of the same value chain, absence of adequate business models to support cooperation, and insufficient commitment at the strategic and management levels to joint innovation activities with other supply chain companies.

At the same time, several opportunities were also highlighted for improving value chain eco-innovation in the chemical sector. One promising way to support the cooperation was seen in smart funding mechanisms that encourage integrated optimisation across the various interfaces of the value chains. Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network provided a few ideas about how public funding could facilitate cooperation, such as making funding dependent on the presence of at least two members of the same value chain, one of which is the end user of innovation. Also, the formation of clusters and shortening of value chains were named as important factors allowing for stronger cooperation between the companies.

The industry reactions to value chain innovation will be once again tested during the dialogue event for the building sector. The meeting is scheduled for 16 April in Graz, Austria, and will be organised together with the Styrian Energy Agency.