The importance and role of cleantech for economic recovery after COVID-19
Whichever way you look at it, COVID-19 presents an excellent opportunity to rethink how we do things. Clean technology has long been a priority for the economic growth engine in many countries, and this is because it accelerates the transition to alternatives to the way we still too often deal with raw materials and energy sources. In other words, cleantech is ideally placed to help fuel the economy after the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employment in cleantech is expected to grow with well-paying jobs. Research and development in cleantech can lead to manufacturing and related logistics activities, and innovative cleantech solutions have the potential to conquer the world through exports to the four corners of the globe. The result is twofold: support for cleantech not only has a beneficial impact on the environment and a healthier society. It is hopeful and optimistic because it also creates employment and economic growth.
Cleantech is firmly on the radar of all policy levels. There is the European Green deal, but also the Flemish government has launched its green deal. It is a voluntary agreement between (private) partners and the Flemish government to start a green project together. It pursues environmental and climate goals that go hand in hand with increased competitiveness and good business management. The agreement contains a clear division of roles, a description of the expected results, the related actions and the time schedule.
Unless the parties wish otherwise, the Flemish Green Deal is an effort commitment, not a result commitment. This is to be welcomed, as it encourages both the authorities, companies and organisations to submit proposals with, ideally, a lead time shorter than three to four years. As such, the Flemish Green Deal provides an acceleration or serves as a lever for other (similar) initiatives. Conscious use is made of the dynamism, creativity and knowledge present in society to tackle these social (environmental) challenges. Companies and organisations as well as governments can submit proposals. Via the Green Deal website, experience and knowledge are disseminated publicly. The Green Deal allows for the creation of 'experimental space' or 'open zones', which help an innovative project through a sometimes difficult start-up phase in order to achieve a breakthrough or change at the system level.
The role of the government will mainly be facilitating and supporting. For example, there may be offered help in the search for funding, with the government providing the necessary information. Solving the bottleneck must be in line with the role of the Flemish government. By participating in a Flemish Green Deal initiative, the partners get a clear point of contact with the government, which can act as a mediator vis-à-vis the various policy areas. The Flemish Green Deal thus leads to less obvious collaborations with other partners and can speed up initiatives. Furthermore, the government can help companies to enter foreign markets. If a bottleneck cannot be solved within the regular framework, it can be investigated whether a breakthrough is possible through experimental legislation or open zones.
Actions and measures to combat the pandemic are still extremely important. Companies that were able to do something about the pandemic, such as making alcohol gels and mouth masks, found new opportunities. However, many cleantech start-ups and scale ups depend heavily on private investors. We therefore hope that support for cleantech start-ups will not fade into the background. Let this therefore also be a call to give new impetus to efforts in cleantech research and development. The provision of financial resources alone, however, is not enough to build a successful cleantech industry. Various organisations such as accelerators and incubators, spearhead clusters and innovative business networks, sector organisations and research institutions are ready to support cleantech companies. More than ever, a combination of private and public investment will be required to enable solutions that help maintain the already difficult balance between our planet, the people and the economy.
Director Cleantech Flanders