“People do not always do what you tell them to do, but they are likely to follow your example. A mayor must ride the bicycle and save energy through all means possible,” said Bo Frank, mayor of Växjö, a city in Sweden which in 1993 decided to move away from fossil fuel dependence and which he claims is now the greenest in Europe.
The “zero tolerance to pollution” Frank promotes has attracted “a lot of money from the EU for energy-saving projects” and the mayor goes so far each year as to organise competitions of energy-efficient action plans between local authorities.
Image plays an important role in promoting energy efficiency, explains Frank, who contributed to the launch of the 'Engage' campaign, a project that is expected to become the largest EU-wide local authority initiative promoting energy savings within the next year. Gérard Magnin, its executive director, hopes to see its supporters rise from the current 12 to over 150 members.
The 'Engage' campaign echoes the message sent out by the more than 3,000 mayors to national leaders. Organisers are convinced that “people want to know what they can do to save energy and we need to explain to them why they need to store waste in a different box,” said Frank.
“It’s a step-by-step approach,” added Magnin, pointing out to the bottom-up approach. “Local-level citizens are committed to help their mayors achieve their goals,” without having to wait for leaders to sign supranational targets.
Through 'Engage', mayors are teaming up in order to have a single, stronger voice. “Each city has a message of its own, but a shared vision is important, because it is wide-reaching,” said Jennifer Katan of the London-based communication company Futerra, which plans to publish a guide on best practices to distribute online and to hold biannual conferences.
The project is still young, but “it’s been tested and it’s working,” says Magnin.
Giovanni Degorte, mayor of Sedini, a commune in the province of Sassari in the Italian region of Sardinia, has promised to reduce his commune’s energy consumption by 20% until 2020. The commune just joined the Covenant.
Degorte could take advantage of the network to introduce further energy savings. Frank has managed to reduce the CO2 emissions of Växjö by 36% since 1995, but he admits, like other mayors, that communication is the greatest challenge. “Organising conferences in different parts of the city and getting people engaged, that’s what it is all about,” said Frank.
Whilst some like the human approach, others tackle the issue by more modern means. For example, Sir Richard Leese, leader of the Manchester City Council, encourages companies, universities and NGOs to buy technological equipment that uses less energy. He also uses up-to-date technology to monitor consumption and find additional savings.
“I didn’t want to keep waiting for decisions to be taken at European level, so I started at a local level,” Leese said. “The increase in the cost of energy will drive energy efficiency to become a real market value,” he said.
Attracting Arab investors
Leese is planning ways to reduce Manchester’s CO2 emissions by 30% in the coming years. Soon, he is hoping to develop heat networks that would be controlled from a central digital system. He is not waiting for money from the EU either. Already, his plans have attracted a number of Arab investors.
Keeping a close watch on energy consumption at a local level can also drive creativity.
The leader of the Bristol City Council, Barbara Janke, has found a more energy-efficient way of controlling traffic, by using technology that creates smart traffic flows.
Miguel Angel Botia, mayor of Murcia, a city in southeastern Spain, prided himself with the very high use of photovoltaic panels in his local authority.
At a conference organised yesterday in the European Parliament, especially for those mayors taking part in a separate project, the Green Digital Charter, Botia mentioned the awards his city has won for its efforts in this field and promised to reduce the GHG emission in Murcia by 40% in the following eight years.
Mayors are surely seeking appreciation and recognition for their efforts to boost energy efficiency even though most countries are failing to meet EU targets. Their steps may be small, but have started to become more and more coordinated.