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Sustainability creates new opportunities

These days, successful businesses are resolutely focussing on sustainable development. After all, ‘sustainability’ is the answer to the many challenges we are facing. By 2050, not only will 9 billion people be living on the Earth, but also the demand for natural resources, energy, food, drinking water, improved quality of life and health will continue to increase exponentially. And the reality – if appropriate actions are not taken – is that this increase will lead to the ‘overconsumption’ of our planet.

That’s why European and local policymakers are deliberately opting for sustainable growth. However, sustainable development is not possible without innovation, and the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry plays a crucial role in this. So the sector is constantly seeking out more efficient processes, high-quality, innovative products and appropriate business models. Companies are focussing on renewable raw materials, closing material cycles, and actively collaborating in the development of more energy-efficient buildings. The interesting thing about all of these efforts, is that each one creates new opportunities and markets.

essenscia believes that bundling knowledge and skills creates the necessary leverage to allow innovation to actually break through. Because breakthroughs are achieved by creating new value chains in the context of open collaboration. Our country is already one step ahead in this: having a strong industrial fabric, within reach of many universities and research centres. This cross-border approach generates an innovative force within our SMEs and multinationals. Their broad ranges of new niche products and services are the best evidence of this.

At the sector’s instigation, the Flanders Innovation Hub for Sustainable Chemistry (FISCH), a competency pool on sustainable chemicals was set up in Flanders, and the competitiveness clusters Greenwin and Biowin were set up in Wallonia. These are concrete interpretations of open innovation. These innovation platforms act as a forum in which small and large companies from diverse sectors of industry exchange their knowledge and expertise through open cooperation with knowledge centres and universities, thereby developing sustainable solutions for chemicals and (bio) pharmaceuticals. Together, in collective projects, they are making a tangible and positive contribution to the many social challenges.

In addition to innovation, industry-friendly, supporting policy is required to keep chemicals, plastics and life sciences firmly anchored in our country. After all, the transition to a sustainable, innovative chemicals sector must be borne by companies, the government and all other stakeholders. Our sector plays a pioneering role in this area. essenscia was the first industrial sector to conclude an agreement with the trade unions, in which the social partners acknowledge that innovation and structural transformation are of vital importance for meeting the challenges and guaranteeing sustainable growth. In recent years, the sector has also cooperated constructively with the government. This occurred via a structural consultation platform (High Level Group) tasked with creating the right preconditions for an optimum investment and innovation climate. Amongst others, this cooperation resulted in a patent unit (Octrooicel) set up by essenscia and the government. The aim of this unit is to protect intellectual property and to continue to support innovation. In addition, essenscia is organising its biennial Innovation Award. This initiative intends to highlight
the pioneering ideas of companies, and to encourage Belgian companies to keep on innovating.