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Environmental competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 2:
Evaluating the environmental competitiveness of an area


2.2 Physical resources of an area


Analysing an area’s physical resources is the second step in analysing the player/environment relationship. It makes it possible, once how much of a burden local players place on their environment has been gauged, to analyse this player/environment relationship from the standpoint of the area’s physical resources and the extent to which they are able to support it.

a) Existing situation and its limitations

    The first aim is to take stock of the area’s physical resources by drawing up an inventory of: land, water resources, forests and biodiversity, as well as architectural heritage (listed monuments, lesser heritage). This inventory, which is both quantitative (surface area, rates of flow, etc.) and qualitative (quality of land and water, the architectural heritage, biodiversity, protected areas, etc.), makes it possible to define the limitations of what can be achieved and to draw a line between exploitation systems that are sustainable and those that are unsustainable under the particular environmental conditions.

b) Utilisation practices: systems of utilisation and their impact

    Analysing the relationship of exploiting natural resources from the standpoint of the resources themselves involves examining what systems of utilisation exist in an area.

    What are the characteristics of the area’s existing systems for exploiting agriculture, pastureland, forest, tourism, mines, etc.? What is their relative importance in terms of land and what is the relationship between them? How much land is used for other activities (industry, housing, leisure, etc.). The same questions should be asked about water, timber, etc.

    This analysis of the systems of utilisation of physical resources makes it possible to ascertain the level of exploitation compared with the existing situation and hence to pinpoint environmental weakness, in particular:

    • Neglected resources or resources which, since they are no longer exploited, call for targeted intervention: derelict industrial and farming land, mines and railways, bridges, roads, etc., which have lost value due to changes in the market. Forests that are no longer exploited because of falling wood prices, and are encroaching into villages, also call for measures whose cost outstrips their strictly economic value.

    • Resources that need to be monitored and conserved - such as water, which in some European areas requires a particularly far- sighted form of management.

    • The negative impact of human activity on the environment, such as excess nitrogen compounds and the use of chemical fertilisers, which contaminate ground water aquifers, and chemical products (pesticides, growth regulators, fodder additives, etc.), which enter the natural cycle and accumulate in the food chain, reducing the diversity and stability of ecosystems and of the biosphere, etc.

    Analysing utilisation practices also concerns the way in which the architectural heritage is used: how is it possible to identify changes in the nature and use of the architectural heritage and evaluate its maintenance or renovation. The possibilities of converting the neglected heritage can also be evaluated within this context, by applying the standards governing the renovation of the architectural heritage and the distribution of institutional responsibilities.

    Finally, another important aspect of systems for utilising resources relates to renewable energies.


      The local cooperative “Baywind”, situated in Ulverston (Cumbria, England, United Kingdom), has signed a contract with Wind Company, a firm specialising in wind energy, to manage electricity production from five turbines. Sixty percent of the shareholders are from the region. The investors are paid 7% of the net annual profits from selling electricity, a sum that can be converted into reductions in their electricity bill. Some 0.5% of the revenues are invested in energy saving measures (e.g. low watt light bulbs for public lighting).


      In the Sierra de Segura region (Andalusia, Spain), a group comprised of the Seville electricity company, the renewable energy institute of the Ministry of trade and industry and the Madrid institute of telecommunication engineers offered to install a complete electricity system in 57 houses dotted around five mountain villages. Now the population has taken these new technologies totally on board, thanks to a series of awareness- raising efforts since 1988. In 1993, a local association, which went on to become the LAG, launched the theme of the “photovoltaic route”, brings together all types of renewable energy exploitation (water, wind and biomass). This has updated the area’s image and a good many inhabitants have decided against the idea of abandoning their village and instead have started to modernise their homes.

c) Rules of utilisation: the rules of use, taking costs into account

    What are the rules governing systems of utilisation? Apart from individual or collective ownership, this includes rental systems, rights of use, etc. Rules have also been established for the collective use of resources, in particular for taking into account costs to the community.

    Individual players often overexploit publicly accessible production factors such as water and air, or factors that fail to be taken into account when calculating costs, such as land fertility, because the benefit they draw from them is rarely correlated with the losses engendered to the community. Even though laws and regulations often exist in this domain, to what extent are they enforced? What are their limitations?

    More generally, for some of the resources considered to be public assets there is no owner to establish their price on the basis of their scarcity, which can result in significant losses for rural areas. Many original environmental assets that are symbols of an area’s authenticity (isolated trees, remote biotopes, rare species, unusual topographical forms, old buildings, etc.) have also disappeared in the race for productivity. Society is aware of the problem, but rarely manages to produce a reaction commensurate with the threat.

    In general, society has recourse to two stopgap measures:

    • zoning and legally specifying the type of land use, making it possible to limit changes in land use and to commit the authorities to new development projects;

    • negotiating and establishing “rules of good conduct” for farmers, entrepreneurs, etc. in line with particularly rigorous quality criteria for sensitive sites (areas where spring water is tapped, inhabited areas, etc.).

d) Values: awareness of the need to preserve and replenish natural resources

    Underpinning practices and rules are the values that the inhabitants attribute to the natural and physical resources of their area, as well as their awareness of the need to preserve and renew them.

    The value accorded to such resources depends first and foremost on the economic interest they represent, although other types of value are also taken into consideration. For instance, when it comes to maintaining hedgerows, embankments, lanes, etc., a farmer’s attitude will often be based on considerations other than economic interest alone.

    Likewise, protecting the local fauna depends more than anything on the value accorded by the local population to the species concerned. In certain cases, such species are considered as a heritage to be protected, whilst in others they are seen merely as a hunting resource, or even a threat to their activities.

    The value that populations attribute to physical resources is linked to the notion of a “collective asset”, a common reference implicitly shared by an area’s inhabitants.

    The value accorded to such resources and awareness of the need to preserve them also depend on local players being aware of the importance of such resources to the ecological balance. The use of procedures for monitoring and publicising the impact of human activities on natural resources is a means of reinforcing such knowledge and awareness.

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