Posts tagged ‘European Green Capital’

Barcelona, European Green Capital?

The new European Green Capitals for 2012 and 2013 will be announced at the end of October. One of the candidates is Barcelona, the city where I live. Is Barcelona up to the high standards set by Stockholm (European Green Capital 2010) and Hamburg (European Green Capital 2011)?

The first impression is NO, Barcelona can be a lot of nice things, but definitely not a green city. But, what is a green city anyway?

Let’s have a look at some of the selection criteria to be a Green Capital:

  • Local contribution to global climate change. It would be very interesting to know how Barcelona is contributing to reducing its carbon footprint, not only by cutting down the emissions “in” the city, but also the emissions caused outside the city (for example, when goods are imported from very far away). Only by reducing the overall carbon footprint we can say that a city is sustainable and contributes to fighting global climate change.
  • Local transport. The local transportation system is very good and covers practically all the metropolitan area with subway and commuter trains. However, too many cars are still in the streets. Parking on the outskirts should be possible, as well as some kind of tax to discourage people from using their cars. Barcelona has an advanced bike sharing system called bicing. This system has become very popular and, thanks to it, bicycles have become a familiar sight in a city where cars are still the kings of the road. Unfortunately, the bike lane system has not been improved accordingly, and bikers (me included) still feel very unsafe riding on the road.  Car restrictions and bike lanes are definitely things to improve, very urgently. Improve intermodal transport as well (bike+subway+train).
  • Green urban areas. In Stockholm, 95% of the population lives close to green areas. Obviously, that does not happen in Barcelona, although that depends on the definition of a “green area”. Unfortunately, Barcelona has got no room for more parks; the city is packed with buildings. But the parks already existing should be more protected. Good news: the mountain of Collserola will be declared Natural Park soon.
  • Nature and biodiversity. I hope that the declaration of Collserola as Natural Park will mean real protection for the biodiversity of the city, as well as provide with ecological corridors for the species. There is a lot to be done, like the interconnection of the different parks (especially in the upper town), as well as especial protection for Montjuïc (one of the hills surrounding Barcelona).

View of Barcelona from Collserola Park

  • Noise pollution: This is one aspect where Barcelona really has to improve, starting with the noise pollution caused by public vehicles (waste trucks etc.) and continuing with creating a culture of quietness among citizens (also with fines, not only through advertising)
  • Waste production and management are improving in Barcelona, especially waste management. More and more citizens are recycling their waste (from 20,000 tons glass in 2003 to 31,000 tons in 2009) and city campaigns are rising people’s awareness.
  • Water consumption and waste water treatment. Well, this is a point where Barcelona can be really proud. Water consumption per capita is one of the lowest in Europe, thanks to campaigns and citizens’ change of attitude. Water consumption per capita was only 116 litres per person and day, compared to 503 in New York.
  • The programme of communication of environmental actions is one of the big flaws of the City’s green activities. In fact, Barcelona’s bid as European Green Capital is unknown to the main public. It’s almost an information for insiders.

One last remark: Knowing that the City has also applied for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, how credible is Barcelona’s green bid? For me, it’s hard to believe that a Mediterranean city that wants to organise such an unsustainable winter event is at the same time bidding to be “the” European Green Capital.

21/09/2010 at 20:00 4 comentarios

Stockholm, First European Green Capital

A view of Stockholm from Skansen

This summer I’ve spent two weeks in Stockholm, European Green Capital 2010 and the first city ever to win this award. I was aware that Stockholm is one of the greenest cities in the world: there is nature all over the place. The question was: What had Stockholm done in order to deserve this award? What great achievements, apart from being a sustainable city surrounded by water, forests and all kind of green areas?

Stockholm, a truly green city

First of all, it’s easier to be environmentally friendly when your relationship with nature is so close. Furthermore, Stockholmers have earned the title of green city during the last decades; they were able to transform a town surrounded by dirty waters 100 years ago into a place where everybody can have a bath or spend the time fishing. This has not happened all of a sudden; Stockholmers have worked hard for that, with strict regulations and sustainable measures.

I wanted to find out why Stockholm was “the” green capital of Europe, know how the city was communicating this happy news and get information on how citizens were participating in the whole event.

Haga Park

Why Stockholm?

According to the information taken from their website: the reasons why Stockholm had being designated European Green Capital 2010 included:

  • the City has an integrated administrative system that guarantees that environmental aspects are considered in budgets, operational planning, reporting and monitoring.
  • the City has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent per inhabitant since 1990.
  • the City has adopted the objective of being fossil fuel free by 2050.

All these achievements are very remarkable, and everyone should congratulate Stockholm for that. The award is well deserved, however, there are two aspects that should be taken into account by the next prizewinners (Hamburg in 2011):

  • The City should involve everyone in the award: the participation of important stakeholders, such as the citizens, is missing.
  • The communication about the event should definitely be improved and be more open to the public. Without communication all efforts could be in vain. Let citizens be proud of their city’s great achievement!

Study visits only for “professionals”

I tried to set up visits to the different activities dealing with the event, as well as meetings with people involved in this process. Unfortunately, all professional tours were addressed to institutions, other cities, universities, etc.

There were no meetings intended for consultants or “normal” people. As an example, the next event is a conference intended for representants from other cities, the European Green Capital Conference. Little information is found on events where “normal folks” can participate.

As one person working for the City told me: “The aim of the study visit programme is to strengthen Stockholm’s network with other cities and increase the possibilities of sharing experience and learning from one another”. But I didn’t give up, I must thank this same person for getting me in touch with different institutions and recommending me to arrange informal interviews with them. I was able to set up one meeting with an environmental consultancy and another one with one person working at GlashusEtt, the centre for environmental information and communication in Hammarby Sjöstad (the new eco-friendly district in Stockholm).

That leads me to one of the things I missed: There were no events intended for the general public or even for tourists visiting Stockholm. The whole thing was too closed, almost for insiders.

Stockholm is the Green Capital of Europe, could you tell?

Another thing I missed was public reference to Stockholm being European Green Capital. The only one I found was a poster hanging in a stairway at the Tourist Centre. It’s great to be sustainable and green but it’s only half that great if you don’t spread the news…

Poster at the Tourist Centre

Communication of the award was inexistent. Even Swedish friends living in Stockholm told me they were not aware of the fact that their city was this year European Green Capital.

One would expect workshops, rallies and other events addressed to citizens and tourists, but there weren’t any, or I couldn’t find them (so hidden were they!)

The Green City and The Companies

The impression after the informal meetings was that the current City government was living up to the high standards reached by the previous one (from a different political party). Some people said that the City government was using the European Green Capital as a greenwashing tool.

My contacts at the environmental consultancy told me that the City government had cut down help to small and medium entreprises who wanted to adapt themselves and be environmentally friendly. I think that local assistance to small companies who want to be greener is a must. The role that cities can play in order to reach sustainability is crucial. They can be the interface between citizens, companies and public institutions.

Communicate, celebrate, convince

Stockholm deserves to be celebrated as a green, sustainable, citizen-friendly city, that’s why a little more effort communicating the event and sharing it with the community would have been recommendable. People need to hear good news connected with green and sustainable matters, not the usual “this is the end of the world”  type of messages.

Being positive, telling the good news and offering alternatives are key for the cause of sustainability.

Hammarby - ecofriendly district

Coming up next: Hammarby - eco-friendly district

In my next post I will tell about Hammarby Sjöstad, the new eco-friendly district in Stockholm, an urban paradise on Earth.

19/08/2010 at 17:27 2 comentarios

Juan Villamayor

Consultor en Responsabilidad y Sostenibilidad Empresarial (RSE). Economista y MBA radicado en Barcelona, con un perfil eminentemente internacional.

Es posible generar más valor mientras se aplican principios éticos. Al final todos salen beneficiados: las empresas, la sociedad y el medio ambiente. Eso es lo que yo llamo "Negocios Con Sentido Común".

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