The biobased economy is growing at a steady pace. It represents a large share of the overall European GDP, with €2 trillion in annual turnover, employing over 22 million people. While the growth rates are steady, they remain slow. One of the things that is lacking is a convincing communication strategy; one that highlights the benefit and sustainable advantages of the biobased projects. The European Union annually finances hundreds of projects in the biobased sector. However you will not hear much about the outcome of these projects afterwards. Europe needs a modern communication strategy that puts the effects and outcomes of these projects in the spotlight. It is in the interests of the citizen as well as of all persons involved in the sector that these projects and developments receive attention and acknowledgement.
Although recycling and sustainability have become household names over the past decades, the advantages of biobased consumer products remain largely unknown to consumers and producers alike. We need to improve the public perception and awareness of the biobased economy. An integrated approach for all stakeholders of the biobased economy is needed. The world is ever more connected; the communication approach for producers strengthens both portions. Showcase examples could be used to convince stakeholders and future developers/producers of the (local) added value of the biobased economy. The EU can and should contribute more to this process of awareness raising. Luckily there are a few EU-initiatives that try to do just that: take for instance the annual RegioStars Awards, awarded this October in Brussels. These Awards highlight original and innovative projects, supported by European Structural Funds, which are attractive and inspiring for other European regions. There were more than 100 projects, 24 of which were nominated for this prestigious award. The finalists from 20 EU Member States and their neighboring countries were judged on the basis of four criteria: how innovative the project is, what impact it has in the region and for citizens, how sustainable and what partnerships it builds.
In the category “Smart Specialization for SME Innovation,” the Bio Base NWE consortium was awarded the RegioStars Award. This consortium, supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2007-2013 / Interreg North West Europe, brings together biobased economy experts from eight organizations in five different countries. It covers the Netherlands, Germany, UK, Ireland and Belgium. Together they have provided networking and technological solutions for more than 755 small and medium-sized businesses. These campaigns received business support on how to bring their products and ideas from the lab to the market. In addition, financing opportunities have been provided for in the form of so-called innovation coupons.
However, more should be done to better involve the citizens. The first steps have been taken: in the Netherlands we organized a biobased art exhibition, LandArt Diessen, with the European Commissioner for Regional Development, Ms. Corina Cretu. In collaboration with the Dutch BioCannDo project, we collected about one hundred so-called biobased products which were showcased for the public. The EU-funded BioCannDo project focuses on the promotion of biobased products among the general public. For example, by indicating where to buy these products and what the added advantages are. This approach will be rolled out throughout Europe in the coming years. Brussels will help entrepreneurs by taking over some of the business risk. My local exhibition was also the kick-off of the “Let the Stars Shine” initiative. In the coming months, eight colleagues and I will select projects funded by European funds and look at their innovative ways of communication used to involve citizens, cities and regions in the project. We want to highlight these projects to communicate their narratives. In 2018 we will bring together innovative projects in an exhibition in Brussels. Of course innovative biobased projects should be included on this list. In the booklet “Let the Stars Shine” you can read more about this initiative.
RegioStars Awards, www.regiostars.eu
Bio Base NWE, www.biobasenwe.org/en/home
LandArt Diessen, www.landartdiessen.nl
Top image: Lambert van Nistelrooij MEP and Commissioner for Regional Development Corina Cretu together with one of the winners of the RegioStars Awards 2017, Bio Base NWE. (source: flickr)