Why was the Circular Economy Technology Platform created, what are its main objectives?
One of the fundamental challenges of the coming years and decades, alongside digitisation, is how we can responsibly leave our planet to future generations. It has become increasingly important to develop a platform for common thinking about the circular economy where educational and research institutions responsible for knowledge production sit down with large companies, SMEs, NGOs and public regulatory institutions to work together to create value and achieve the goals. The central idea of the circular economy model is the recycling of materials and energy, and the spread of this approach will also help to make our country much less vulnerable to global challenges such as energy prices or supply chains.
Did the Covid-19 pandemic that reached Hungary in 2020 and the resulting global economic uncertainties spur the creation of the platform?
In recent years, Covid has shown the consequences of disrupting supply chains. Today we are seeing very similar things because of the war in our neighbouring country, for example in the food industry, not to mention the energy supply problems. The challenges are changing the economic model in many areas, and a shift towards circular economy, rather than the linear approach of the past, is a good solution.
Who is organising the circular economy platform?
All stakeholders have delegated a member to the board and we have also made sure that businesses of all sizes are represented. The board includes major players from the chemical, agricultural and construction industries, as well as water science and knowledge dissemination companies from the SME sector, the Hungarian National Bank, the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and representatives of the academic sector. Everyone accepted the invitation from the NRDI Office, which shows that the idea was very timely.
How many people have joined the platform so far?
I am proud to say that more than 180 companies have now joined the platform, the vast majority of them SMEs. A notable member is the chamber of commerce, which has played an important role in attracting the interest of smaller companies. Twenty knowledge organisations, most of them universities, have already joined. There is no limit to the number of participants, everyone is welcome. Importantly, university-level courses on the circular economy will also be launched: in 2023, three new courses - economics, engineering and tourism - will be offered at the University of Pannonia.
What steps have been taken so far to achieve the objectives?
Everyone here works pro bono because everyone feels the importance of the subject. In the more than six months since the platform was launched in March, we held our first workshop to define the main directions and identify the most important objectives. Working committees were set up from September and presented their project ideas in Veszprém in November. A working committee brings together representatives of organisations from different places and with different interests, which in itself improves cooperation considerably. There are a lot of horizontal issues which can have a big social impact; but we also need to start building the regulatory background, the legal environment.
Much work has been done in the framework of the Territorial Innovation Platforms to enable universities to work effectively with the business sector. Where is this process now?
Our priority is to bring universities and research institutes together with knowledge-intensive companies, typically SMEs, that do not employ their own researchers. The next two decades will be about building more added value into products, and this will require the effective involvement of knowledge organisations. This was the aim of the Territorial Innovation Platforms (TIPs). Obviously, universities must primarily help modernise their own socio-economic environment, but it is also very important that as specialists in a particular field – in Győr in the automotive industry, at the University of Pannonia in the chemical industry, in Szeged in the biological sciences and nanotechnology – they also bring something to build on. The TIPs have effectively created small “NRDI Office Representations” on university campuses across the country to suck as many SMEs as possible into the innovation bloodstream in the region.
Is the international visibility of innovation projects high enough these days?
We have a central role, a “leavening” role in this, we have to disseminate a lot of new information. But the key to internationalisation is first and foremost the extent to which universities can attract top researchers, teachers and foreign students to the new system. For example, if a Hungarian university makes it into the Top 200, there will be plenty of affluent Asian students coming to Hungary. The key to a good university is that it is not only funded by the state, but also has a significant market income. In addition, participation in the National Laboratories also increases the visibility of national institutions. To date, 27 such labs have been launched in Hungary. We have built a matrix of collaborating organisations around a competitive theme. Anyone searching from abroad will see the full Hungarian “competence map”, which is key for international cooperation and participation in calls for proposals.
What are the main objectives of the platform in the short term?
Over the past four years, we have laid the foundations for the new RDI system. We have set targets, we have created the missing institutions, and we have also seen a massive increase in public funding; now the efforts should be paying off. From now on, we ask all our collaborating partners to describe and articulate what scientific, social or economic success their idea will bring. It is necessary to know where you want to go from the beginning of the project. We want to spread a mindset, a culture, where it is clear that public support is not a gift, but an investment that must bring some kind of return.