Applied Circular Economy at its best: Welcome to the Green Tech Valley. Interview with Bernhard Puttinger

Born in 1974, Bernhard Puttinger is a trained engineer in the field of energy and building technologies. He has more than 17 years of experience in the field of eco-innovation.

Since 2007, he is the CEO of ECO WORLD STYRIA and initiates cleantech innovation projects including companies and research institutes in areas like biomass, recycling and smart cities.

The cluster companies in this ‘Green Tech Valley’ around Graz, Austria, performed with an average annual growth rate of 16.4% nearly twice as good as world markets and have become international technology leaders.

ECO is now globally regarded as a good example: number 1 cleantech cluster worldwide in all rankings so far (Global Cleantech Directory 2012, US-Cleantech Group 2010), EU Regiostars-Award 2012 and Hidden Champion Award 2013.

Furthermore, ECO holds the highest European ‘Cluster Management Excellence – Gold’ label and Mr Puttinger chairs the European experts group on this topic.

Circular economy, what is it?

Circular economy is defined as the thinking and entrepreneurial action in cycles, so as to use materials in a circle rather than to deposit them. That means sustainable product design, green materials, reuse and recycling of materials into new products.

You are Managing Director of ECO WORLD STYRIA. An initiative that supports Styrian companies active in the areas of energy and environmental technology. What do you do exactly? Can this concept be applied outside of Styria?

ECO WORLD STYRIA is an environmental engineering cluster with financing coming from owners of the private and public sector (Public Private Partnership).

Each year, we initiate around 20 innovation projects with companies and research institutions in accordance with the principle of ‘growth through innovation,’ provide international contacts for export and support the companies with industry-related services. Worldwide, the number of such cluster organisations continues to rise.

In the field of the environmental sector, there are more than 100 worldwide. We were lucky to be elected number one in global cluster rankings!

Environmental Protection AND economic growth, is that possible?

Yes, there are whole worlds of opportunities between economy and ecology. The global market for environmental technologies including energy efficiency and renewable energy contains over 2,000 billion euros worldwide. Thus, it is on par with the automotive industry.

Whereas previously environmental laws and climate programmes were the key growth drivers, this is now shifting to sustainable thinking consumers and there is also a shift in geographic terms towards Asia and America.

Can the circular economy also be useful for other areas than energy and environmental technology? Can you give an example?

Yes, the circular economy offers many opportunities.

For example, the resident of Graz SME packaging centre Graz (VPZ) specialised early on in recyclable, bio-packaging. For a year now, their newest product, packaging nets made ​​of cellulose, is competing successfully against the nets made of plastic used by the European supermarket chains.

In addition to the environmental aspect and the little extra cost in industrial production, the particularly soft feel of this substance was critical to its success: customers significantly prefer to buy the onion or potato packaged in cellulose because of the compostable material has a better feel to it.

The world’s first Green Tech Valley. What is the secret behind the success story?

Three locational factors have been mutually reinforcing the success here in southern Austria: the early pioneering in environmental protection since the 1970s, Europe’s second highest R&D ratio of 4.7%, and the strong industrial development of Styria led to the high concentration of 20 technology leaders within an hour’s drive from Graz.

Furthermore, the companies in this Green Tech Valley grow twice as fast as world markets.


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