The SocKETs project is developing six case studies – called SocKETs Labs – to exploit the potential of co-creation in enhancing the innovation process and aligning innovation to societal needs, with a specific focus on Key Enabling Technologies (KETs). This blog issue is focused on the Italian lab led by Airi- Italian Association for Industrial Research. It deals with KETs-based innovation to enable circular by design processes in the building and construction sector, towards sustainable consumption and production.

The analysis includes considerations on the innovation context, the barriers and opportunities for the introduction of new technologies, the key actors, the main trends and challenges of the sector, relations and networks involved, and the relevant actions and interactions taking place. It aims to inform the design of a participatory process in which relevant technologies that could support the transition towards a circular economy in the sector will be discussed, to identify desirable innovation developments.

The mapping report highlighted the importance of promoting co-creation in the sector. Indeed, the building and construction is:

  • one of the most relevant sectors in terms of waste and emissions generation,
  • With a growing request both for decoupling the sector growth and the consumption of non-renewable resources (such as soil or sand)
  • with a request for an urban regeneration aimed at reducing pollution and increasing citizens’ wellbeing in urban areas.

Moreover, the sector shows barriers and challenges to the introduction of technological developments and as well new practices such as co-creation. These include:

  • regulatory unpreparedness
  • Limited innovation culture
  • fragmentation
  • Limited attitude to cooperate/network among stakeholders
  • skepticism with respect to innovation from all stakeholders
  • lack of professional education (g., on innovation and sustainability)
  • generational gap (in the approach to both innovation and sustainability issues.)

Our report identifies a series of KETs-based innovation, which are seen as the most promising ones to support the transition to circular economy, including:

  • Advanced materials
  • advanced manufacturing systems
  • digital technologies (such as IoT, distributed ledger technologies, and artificial intelligence).

And the key actors in the innovation ecosystem, that will be natural targets for the co-creation process, including

  • Construction, materials/chemicals, manufacturing,
  • tech (ICT-IoT-AI) companies;
  • Professionals and associations of professionals (e.g., Architects, Engineers, etc.); Research organizations and research centres;
  • Utilities companies.

Professional designers will play a relevant role, as underlined by some interviewees:

“The construction companies realize what is prescribed by the project and usually professionals are also responsible for the coordination of on-site operations”.

From a societal perspective, the built environment may have a large impact (both positively or negatively) on people’s everyday life, and this might imply both a positive attitude, or as well high resistance to change from citizens. There is a clear need to increase awareness and build a culture of quality and sustainability in the sector.

Eventually, it is a traditional sector, that missed a lot of opportunities for innovation in the last decades. However, there seems to be a convergence of interests, and policy actions at different levels (e.g., national, EU) pushing for a shift towards innovation and sustainability.

The information provided by the report will be crucial for the design of the SocKETs co-creation activities. Co-creation will allow exploring in-depth the issues that emerged from the analysis and promoting more inclusive, desirable, sustainable innovations.

Read the report on the Italian innovation ecosystem.
Read the report on the 6 SocKETs Labs innovation ecosystems.