The Geelong Cleantech Forum launch

I attended the Geelong cleantech forum launch on Friday. The event was held at the Geelong Pier; a stunning room with floor to ceiling windows, overlooking the sparkling water and gently bobbing boats that were moored in the bay. The event was over subscribed, and attended by a fabulous range of people from industry, local and state government, academic, and education sectors. Attendees were provided a place at one of around ten round tables and I was seated at the Manufacturing/engineering table.

It is tough times for traditional Geelong industry. Ford has announced it will close in 2016, Shell is for sale, big industry that has been here for so long, is struggling to compete globally based on cost. The Geelong City Council recognises that they must act to support a stable, thriving economy and there is another route. By launching the forum, the Geelong council supports Cleantech as part of their strategy to ‘future proof’ Geelong, transition from old industry to new and support continued growth and jobs in Victoria’s second largest city.

The Keynote presentation was provided by Prof Goran Roos. I really enjoy presentations by Goran. He unashamedly pokes light-hearted fun at Australian culture. I think Australia needs more of this type of external perspective. It’s true that the parallels between Sweden and Australia provide stark contrast. By Goran’s reckoning, if he were to write a book about Australia, it would be titled (something along the lines of…) – Australia, the unlucky country – the curse of having it too good for too long.

Following Goran’s presentation my table of newly found colleagues discussed some of the key points of his presentation. They were:

  • The importance of R&D in developing a cleantech business
  • The long lead times before a cleantech business turns a profit
  • The importance of lead customers
  • The value of investment in staff training and education
  • Australia must compete on adding value to products, develop niche, superior products and aim for 60% of the global market.
  • Australia can not compete on cost (we are the most expensive country in the world to do business)
  • Australia is not reaping the rewards from its investment in cleantech.

To expand on this last point, Goran presented a slide on the Global Cleantech Innovation Index. Denmark is world number 1. Their indexed input figure was 3.5 and ouput 6.0 – meaning the get out almost twice as much as they invest in the cleantech sector. Denmark have a globally well recognised and highly successful cleantech cluster and there is a fantastic You Tube feature I would encourage you to check out (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWS3jGGPdkw).

By comparison, Australia’s input was 3.4. Sounds great, right? That’s close to Denmark. However, our output was 2.0. Yikes! In short, we are not translating our investment in cleantech into industry output. There are a range of contributing factors here such as productivity, policy, culture, lack of investment and the complexity in commercialising cleantech R&D.

One idea I found fascinating is that public procurement can incubate and support cleantech investment, by placing a tender for products that don’t yet exist. On first hearing this from Goran, I was skeptical. It wasn’t until Tina Perfrement took the stage again that this policy idea started to make sense. Tina described a successful UK example of a prison placing a tender for a zero waste mattress with a three year lead time to develop it. I googled this example and found that not only were the HMPS (Her Majesty’s Prison Service) successful in stimulating the market to develop a zero waste market, the also ran a supply chain workshop. This gathered respondants to from across the supply chain to further develop a solution. This public sector policy also has an acryonm – FPC or Forward Procurement Committment.

I watch with interest this fantastic cleantech initiative in Geelong and look forward to being involved in the transition to a cleantech market.

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