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Environmental competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 2:
Evaluating the environmental competitiveness of an area


2.4 External relations and markets


After human resources, physical resources and their spatial planning comes the fourth component of the player/environment relationship: external relations and markets. Indeed, an area’s environment concerns not only its inhabitants but also society in general. Society expresses certain expectations of its environment in terms of markets and formal requirements that constitute key levers upon which the players can base their area’s development.

a) Existing situation: identifying the new requirements and changes in them

    At market level, consumer requirements take the form of demand for quality products; for labels based on environmental specifications, such as organically-farmed products, products from protected areas; new livestock production requirements (natural feedstuffs, animal welfare, etc.); and natural products in general. Also in this category are tourists’ environmental demands for the services offered to them.

    In addition to market requirements, we find other more explicit forms of requirement, such as regional, national or European legislation and recommendations regarding environmental protection, Agenda 21, national and international programmes to curb desertification, etc. Apart from these formal requirements, there are initiatives by civic organisations to promote the environment (lobbying groups, non-governmental environmental protection organisations, etc.) that exert maximum pressure to influence the decisions and recommendations of the public authorities and frequently lead practical action in the field.

    As a result, numerous rural areas are subject to interventions from national or international environmental organisations, usually acting in partnership with local organisations, thereby bringing into the area all sorts of knowledge, skills and support (institutional, financial, methodological, etc.) for the environment.

    An overview of these diverse types of external requirements and/or interventions and changes in them makes it possible to define what opportunities are available for developing an area’s environmental competitiveness.

    For example, the growing demand for organic or natural products provides an opportunity to develop environmental standards in the area’s agricultural production systems [4].

b) Utilisation practices

    How are these new requirements promoted at area level? Are only a few individual players concerned, or do collective approaches already exist that could serve as the basis for common standards at local level? If not, what are the chances of such an approach emerging?

    In the case of markets, for example, this can take the form of creating labels for the area. However, at present labels often promote the intrinsic qualities of the product whilst ignoring production conditions, even though reference to the environment can be a key element of competitiveness for all products from rural areas, whether food or tourist products.

    LEADER groups have carried out numerous initiatives to highlight the importance of a clear relationship between product quality and the landscape, especially in the case of meat. By agreeing to apply less intensive farming standards, livestock producers have promoted labels associated with harmonious landscapes or with areas that also cater for tourists, treat water, respect animal welfare, etc.


      At Umhausen (Ötztal LEADER area, Tyrol, Austria), an entrepreneur invested in a medium-sized wool-washing plant in order to meet the development needs of a line of textile products that produces no waste from processing. The plant uses water from a river that is 100% soft, which makes it possible to wash the wool completely using only soap, producing no waste water. By rebuilding a value- added processing chain using wool from alpine sheep, a product that has been undervalued for many years, the entrepreneur and the LAG are hoping to diversify the activities of the valley, which lives mainly from mountain tourism, which have a serious impact on the landscape.


      A young entrepreneur from Gaeltacht Cork (Ireland) invented an organic fertiliser by recycling waste from a mushroom-growing firm near his home. With the support of the LEADER group, he created a company to market his product, called “Earthcare Organic Compost”.

c) Rules

    Fulfilling external requirements, whether they are expressed through markets or recommendations, calls for preliminary studies to be carried out, agreements to be negotiated and rules to be defined, either at the level of the individual farm/firm or at a more collective level. In many cases the key aim is to reduce pressure on the environment.

    Not only business firms but also the local authorities can considerably reduce their consumption of physical and energy resources by introducing certain internationally recognised production standards, such as Agenda 21.

    For example, carrying out a corporate “eco-audit” allows a company to reduce its consumption of water, energy and raw materials, which not only translates into financial gains but also gives the company a positive image.

    An “environmental assessment” is a more collective approach that goes beyond the scale of an individual company. It assesses the consumption of natural resources and the environmental impact of a product or range of products. Essentially it is a guidance instrument that makes it possible to choose between diverse solutions.

d) Universally recognised values

    The ever-stronger emergence of universally recognised values, such as sustainable development, landscape quality, heritage preservation, etc., is a considerable advantage to the environmental competitiveness of rural areas. And nowadays it is becoming increasing difficult for rural areas to remain aloof from such issues.

    How are such universal values recognised and shared at area level? Clearly it will be difficult to attract the support of producers and other entrepreneurs for negotiation processes concerning production standards unless they share a number of beliefs concerning respect for the environment and preservation of the heritage, especially if at first sight there is no obvious economic interest.


    [4] The European Commission is working
    on defining appropriate agro-environmental
    indicators and has published several reports
    and other documents relating to the
    integration of environmental concerns into
    agriculture. See Internet site

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