Kristina Apiñaniz, Managing Director at Aclima: “The environmental sector will be key to the economy of the future”

-The new Strategic Plan of Aclima, the organization that you are managing, was recently announced. In it, the environmental sector is presented as a lever for competitiveness. Could you explain this statement?

Often, the analysis about the environmental sector that come into our hands, focus on the required costs to comply with regulations, on required investments for companies, etc. But, in short, we must underline the importance of this sector in the present and, mainly, future economy, since the bases of a new circular economy, sustainable, respectful of the environment, with low emissions and greater competitiveness are being forged in its field. The environmental sector is the key axis that will enable global economies to be more competitive, yet sustainable.

At Aclima, (Cluster Association of the environmental sector in the Basque Country) we seek to improve the competitiveness of the environmental sector through collaboration, interacting with other economic sectors and offering competitive improvement through sustainability. We are fully aware of the relevance of the current moment, and for this reason we have focused our Strategic Plan for 2019-2022 with the following strategic goals: to increase technological innovation, to encourage business innovation and to improve the competitiveness of the environmental sector and interaction with the public sector.

-In order to achieve the objectives that have been set, in what areas is Aclima prioritizing its activity?

Aclima has identified three strategic areas in which it has already been working: Circular Economy, Environmental Quality and Climate Change. As a new economic model, the Circular Economy affects all sectors and in this paradigm shift, the environmental industry is a key driver. The eco-industry works actively in eco-design, in minimizing impacts of products and processes, in durability and remanufacturing of products and finally in waste recycling and recovery. Therefore, the Circular Economy is an opportunity both for agents in the environmental sector and for companies from other economic sectors. This is because through the interrelation of sustainability factors and environmental care, companies can save costs by learning to rationalize their resources efficiency, as well as grow in competitiveness.

It is in our hands to communicate more conscientiously and constantly the advantages of this new economic model, especially in the industrial field, since it is there where it can have the greatest impact. There is a wide scope to improve industrial processes through Circular Economy, applying eco-design in products and processes, remanufacturing, reuse or systematic recycling. In this way, industries will become more respectful of the environment, and will save costs, by learning how to make their processes more effective.

In addition, in order to preserve the quality of the environment, the companies clustered in Aclima work for the minimization of environmental impacts in waters, soils, air, biodiversity, etc., seeking to prevent, correct and solve the effects that industrial activities may have on nature.

One of the most evident impacts on the environment, and the most important challenge we are facing, is Climate Change. With regard to this area, the approach of companies in the environmental sector takes place at two levels. On the one hand, to offer solutions for the measurement and adaptation of territories and companies to the new situation that is developing with the effects of climate change. And, on the other hand, everything related to mitigation, starting from dissemination and awareness to change our habits as citizens and companies, but also reducing green house gas emissions in the eco-industry itself.

-Could you tell us about any relevant project that you are developing in the cluster in the field of the Circular Economy?

Aclima has been working for years in the field of Circular Economy, but we would like to highlight two innovative projects in which we are currently taking part: Waste4think in H2020 and ORHI -Poctefa.

The first, Waste4think, is a European research project that aims to provide decision making tools to the public administration with competences in urban waste management to improve this management, fostering citizen participation. To this end, it aims to advance in a new waste management model based on the principles of the Circular Economy that integrates 20 eco-innovative solutions.

The second, the ORHI project, aims to provide value to the agro-food Industry of the western territory of POCTEFA, through the development of synergies between companies from both countries, as well as the cross-border and international identification of Innovative Technologies and new Business Models that contribute to new uses of added value and the effective and efficient use of flows of organic materials and plastics in companies.

-Back to the sector, which is the environmental industry contribution to the rest of industries?

The transversality of the environmental sector brings benefits to the rest of the sectors, such as resource efficiency, minimization of environmental impacts, competitive differentiation through the application of technological advances, etc. Sustainability has a far-reaching effect, since it turns competitiveness durable, by collaborating with the sustainability of companies, it is possible to extend it over time, being a principle of continuous progress. All these factors are a fundamental axis to strengthen competitiveness and job generation in the industrial tractor sectors.

In this sense, there are several areas in which the collaboration of the environmental industry with other industries can be deeper. One of them refers to advanced manufacturing, where technological advances based on digitalization, automation and connectivity will help to ensure traceability, minimize environmental impacts and reduce the consumption of materials and resources, provided that environmental criteria are considered in the implementation of these technologies in companies.

The application of the Circular Economy to organic materials is also an area of interest for the environmental industry: this is what in Europe is starting to be called the Circular Bio economy. It is a sector with growing interest, which today employs 18 million Europeans and has a turnover of 2.3 billion euros. It is estimated that one million jobs related to this area could be generated by 2030.

And we should not forget that we have worldwide sustainable development goals (SDG), many of them have an environmental nature, which we have to meet by 2030 and which will affect all levels: political, economic and social. Companies must also align their strategies with these SDGs: those companies that do it early will be better positioned and more competitive than their competitors, since environmental and social factors will play an increasingly important role in the decision-making process of their stakeholders (customers, suppliers, potential workers, etc.).

The environmental industry is a flexible sector, which has proved been capable of adapting to the new circumstances. Now it must also evolve towards new business models, new solutions, and new value proposals for the rest of the sectors. And it will be necessary to invest in new infrastructures and to create new companies. Supporting technological and non-technical (social) innovation also in the DNA of Aclima, as well as accompanying those entrepreneurs more committed to sustainability.

In this way, Aclima and the environmental sector are seeking to collaborate in turning Basque industry into an intelligent, flexible, connected and sustainable industry, where the Circular Economy, Climate Change and Environmental Quality are the main guiding factors of this transformation.


24 years of work, experience and acquired knowledge have made Aclima – Basque Environment Cluster, the reference of the environmental sector in the Basque Country. It represents both the private sector (industries and services), the academia (universities and technology centres) and the public sector. It currently has 109 members, 81 of which are companies. And it represents the following 6 value chains: waste, integral water cycle, contaminated soils, air, ecosystems and eco-design.

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