Grow2Build – developing sustainable transnational business models

Article published in European Commission’s (DG REGIO) website (For European Service Network – ESN)

The EU-funded Grow2Build project worked on the transition from an oil-based economy towards a bio-based model within the North-West Europe region (NWE) through the promotion of flax and hemp as building materials.

Grow2Build worked on the remaining bottlenecks in the production and supply chain of locally-grown hemp- and flax-based building materials to develop a sustainable and profitable bio-business across Netherlands, United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany.

“ Hemp- and flax-based building materials offer an innovative perspective on sustainable growth and jobs with proven advantages in the field of greenhouse gas emissions and health. While cooperation in the product chain is essential for promotion purposes, to create and encourage market demand, demonstration initiatives should be used for both knowledge transfer and education.”

John Verhoeven, Grow2Build Project Manager

The project focused on developing an interregional and transnational supply chain for hemp- and flax-based biomaterials by providing information and guidance to encourage collaboration among all relevant stakeholders. Sharing best practices and the latest innovations, the project also sought to optimise the cultivation and processing techniques to improve the overall performance of the materials.

Developing new business models through cooperation

Despite the suitability of the NWE region for cultivating hemp and flax, the project has faced numerous challenges, including the need to involve different actors in creating new business models. To identify bottlenecks in the production chain, Grow2Build held several meetings and carried out surveys among farmers, industrial actors and stakeholders. The findings have been summarised in a policy paper with ten recommendations aimed at policy-makers for the stimulation of bio-based building materials. Also, a ring test has been carried out to improve the processing of hemp and flax and a label catalogue and brochures have been published.

Other outputs include six pilot schemes in cooperation with SMEs and private companies to improve the cultivation and development process of hemp and flax through innovation. These have resulted in a more comprehensive understanding of the behaviour of various products, the release of market-ready products and further investment. Grow2build has also developed a centre of excellence based at Brunel University, which acts as a research hub in the field of hemp and flax construction materials. The centre offers an online and physical database of existing resources and samples. It also includes an online interactive map (GIS tool) with an overview of all flax and hemp initiatives conducted in the NWE region.

2016_09_20_regio_standard2704_grow2build_mobile-exhibition-tool
A mobile exhibition tool presenting Grow2Build as the environmental alternative to existing building materials. © BASBOUWEN.BE

Promoting and raising awareness of the production of bio materials

A key part of Grow2Build’s success has been the knowledge sharing and promotion of the production, use and potential of flax and hemp building materials. This has been possible through open innovation events organised by stakeholders, as well as exhibitions, study trips and workshops across the NWE region. In particular, an Airstream was converted into a mobile exhibition tool to provide information about the complete chain of hemp and flax for building materials.

Grow2build has also established a network of different actors, including architects, building contractors, public administrations and stakeholders to share knowledge and explore future collaborations. The project has benefitted farmers who received support for growing hemp and flax; processors, manufacturers and retailers who ensure the quality of the products; and the builders who use the materials.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Grow2Build – Local cultivated hemp and flax as resource for bio-based building materials” is EUR 3 170 671, 62, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 1 585 335, 81 through the Interreg North-West Europe for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Jobs, Growth and Investment”.

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