Guardians of sustainability

Posted January 20, 2017

”If I could buy an Elsa-doll for my kid, made of sugarcane-based plastics, instead of oil-based plastic, I would certainly pay the higher price” says Per Simonsson, CEO of Sustainable Business Hub. A McKinsey report from 2015 states that the renewables sector is more resilient than ever: global clean energy investments increase despite low oil price.

France has become the first country in the world to ban disposable plastic cups and plates – it is to be made from 50% biologically-sourced materials by January 2020. Per Simonsson says that legislation indeed is pushing environmentally-friendly innovations, but there also is a great shift going on among consumers. We are now becoming so aware that it affects the market.

Sustainable Business Hub is a Triple Helix cluster for sustainability and cleantech in Southern Sweden. The 107 members are clean tech companies, public sector with regional and local authorities, universities and research institutes. The mission is to promote innovation and business development in value chains that lead to a sustainable society.

Basic needs drive innovation

In June 2016, Per Simonsson led The Bridge workshop Smartening up urban water: Digitizing water supply in developed and developing cities. He project manages Urban Magma, a Region Skåne water project that won the contest Vinnväxt from Vinnova – the Swedish governmental innovation agency. It includes a ten-year financing program.

Water management is very different in other parts of the world. “We see water as the obvious foodstuff but for the Indian participant in the workshop, water has a clear connection to education and social development. If you don´t have water in a society, nothing really works”, says Per Simonsson. Water management touches upon several of the UN Sustainable goals, such as Clean Water and Sanitation, Responsible Consumption and Production, Sustainable Cities and Communitites and more (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/).

What it takes to become a sustainable and innovative business

Sustainable Business Hub (HSB) is facilitating and assisting in contacts between companies. HSB can go into unprofitable projects and make them more sustainable and commercial. Per explains “Companies often want to improve their environmental performance. They can have the benefit of companies in our network and our know-how what they should do in their process”. The market has previously been ruled by environmental policy decisions but it is now more market-driven e.g. solar panels. But why should businesses care? Apart from regulatory decisions, consumers are becoming more and more aware, and want environmentally friendly textile, transportation, food etcetera. A shift is underway and you need to listen to the market.

What it takes for business, municipality and academia to work together

“This is exactly what the Vinnväxt-project is about”, says Per Simonsson. “We establish sustainable environments in the home market to test and evaluate what can be done in different segments of the market. We develop test beds; Vera Park in Malmö for example is the future of waste management. It is a network of environmental technology companies in waste management and the idea is that the corporations involved will engage in a circular economy, recycling everything together treating waste as resource. For a test bed to be successful and implemented in the rest of society, you need to connect it to human behaviour and engage in research on what works”, Per Simonsson concludes.