Innovation and dialogue as drivers

men walking to the sky
© Thomas Brown, "DSC02197". (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

A resource-conserving and -efficient economy needs new solutions. If Switzerland wants to maintain its prosperity, it must generate this prosperity using considerably fewer resources. The economy has shown that this is possible in recent years. Economic growth has already started to decouple from resource consumption. However, this decoupling needs new technologies which will enable the provision of new products and services. This requires an abundance of innovations.

Switzerland is well positioned for this. It is one of the most innovative countries in the world. With the two Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH), the universities and universities of applied science, and the numerous specialised institutes, Switzerland has an extensive network of research institutes, many of which are global leaders in their fields. The country’s scientific prowess extends from basic and applied research in the universities and institutes to the work carried out in the research and development departments of companies. This ensures that science and research can respond to the challenges posed by the economy and society.

To meet these challenges effectively, research capacities are pooled, also across the disciplines. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) contributes to this process with its research funding. Many universities also cooperate on an interdisciplinary basis in the context of the “Coordinated Energy Research Switzerland” action plan. To this end eight centres of competence in the area of energy research were established, each of which is coordinated by a research institute. They work on topics like energy efficient building and industrial processes, the electricity infrastructure of the future and heat storage, and on mobility and the transformation in societal behaviour.

Switzerland has tried-and-trusted instruments for transferring research results to companies. The most important instrument for this purpose is the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI). This enables companies to work jointly on concrete projects with the universities and other research institutes. The Federal Office for the Environment’s (FOEN) environmental technology promotion supports the development of systems and processes for reducing environmental pollution. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy’s (SFOE) ‘Lighthouse Programme’ (German, French Italian) provides funding for pilot and demonstration systems and for projects enabling the reduced and rational use of energy and use of renewable energy sources. The individual universities also engage in knowledge and technology transfer in different ways. Technology parks help university start-ups to transform new research findings into marketable products and services. Many of these start-ups are involved in the area of the green economy. For example, Solar Impulse, one of the most globally renowned start-ups from the Swiss green economy which was established by aviation pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, is based in the Scientific Park of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne.

In addition, the federal authorities have developed an instrument specifically for reducing resource consumption. The technology fund (German and French) which is enshrined in the CO2 Act, provides loan guarantees for companies. The aim here is to promote innovations which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote the use of renewable energies or enable the reduction of energy consumption.

Society must support the Green Economy. Innovation alone cannot reduce resource consumption sufficiently. This requires a broad societal dialogue about how the country’s prosperity can be guaranteed sustainably into the future. The objectives, measures and contributions of the different actors to a green economy and its further development should also be discussed as part of this process. This dialogue takes place to a large extent in the societal forums suited to this purpose: the political parties, organisations and the media. National and cantonal referendums contribute to stimulating this dialogue. For example, the Swiss people may be asked to vote on the national popular initiative “For a sustainable and resource-efficient economy (green economy)” which was submitted in September 2012.

The dialogue should raise awareness of the necessity for and opportunities offered by a green economy. It is open to everyone who wants to contribute to the solution of one of the most fundamental challenges of the present: guaranteeing a future worth living for today’s and future generations in a time of increasingly scarce resources.

Last modification 10.11.2015

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Swiss National Science Foundation: Homepage
Commission for Technology and Innovation: Homepage
Technology Fund: Homepage
Green Economy Action Plan
The FOEN’s support for environmental technology (in German, French, Italian)
Lighthouse Programme (in German, French, Italian)
SFOE: Pilot and demonstration programme (in German, French, Italian)