Green technologies and smart specialisation: a European patent-based analysis of the intertwining of relatedness and Key-Enabling-Technologies

Sandro Montresor, Kore University of Enna

This paper investigates the way regions move towards sustainable development by diversifying into new green technologies. In particular, we analyse the extent to which this diversification occurs by recombining and branching extant regional technologies, as the principles of smart specialisation would recommend. First of all, we consider whether the regional acquisition of new environmental technologies is, according to the smart specialisation logic, driven by their “relatedness” to existing knowledge of both green and non-green nature. Second, we address the role of the Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) that European policy-makers recommend regions to prioritise in their smart specialisation strategies: not only in fostering the adoption of green technologies, but also in affecting the dependence of this acquisition on the pre-existing knowledge-base of the region. Combining regional patent and economic data for a 34-year panel (1980-2013) of 180 European regions, we find that their achievement of a new green-tech specialisation is actually more probable, the more related is the acquired environmental technology to their existing knowledge-base. Quite interestingly, relatedness helps with respect to both green and non-green extant technologies, suggesting that the environmental diversification of regions also benefits from the recombination and possible “hybridisation” of present non-environmental technologies. On the other hand, the chances of green diversification provided by relatedness are higher with respect to non-green than green technologies, hinting that acting on and recombining the former pays more for approaching regional sustainability than the latter. In other words, for the sake of this objective, regions benefit more from moving closer to their “standard” than to their green technologies. The KETs of regions also help the diversification of their knowledge-base in the environmental domain, confirming the importance of their distinguishing features for recombinant innovations. What is more, KETs negatively moderate the impact exerted on the acquisition of new green technologies by its relatedness to pre-existing ones, of both green and non-green nature. Consistently with recent evidence on their role in regional branching, KETs appear to attenuate the boundaries that relatedness could pose to regions in their environmental diversification. This is particularly relevant with respect to existing non-green technologies, which KETs can make less binding in approaching regional sustainability. The results we have obtained suggest that regions follow the logic of relatedness typical of smart specialisation also when they move towards sustainability, and that the same holds true for role the same logic recognises to KETs. On this basis, it appears that smart specialisation policies can actually boost the intertwining of a smart and sustainable kind of growth, as the European Commission has recently claimed. Furthermore, an additional argument emerges to recommend regions to plug KETs in the tool-box of their specialisation policy-mix. KETs appear to provide regions with more degrees of freedom in the recombination of their knowledge-base, not only in mastering new technologies in general, but also in getting the control of new environmental ones in particular.

Venue: Room 0.16-0.17

Date: 06 June 2018

Time: 12:30 - 13:30