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Environmental competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 3:
Reflecting on a strategy for improving environmental competitiveness


This chapter deals with developing a strategy to improve environmental competitiveness based on the situation and issues affecting the rural area concerned. Due to the wide variety of possible situations, we start by addressing general issues before going on to provide a few concrete examples.


3.1 Conventional territorial project approaches


The strategic environmental approaches that have predominated in the past can generally be characterised as follows:

  • they have tended to be environmentally focused sectorial interventions, which are not integrated with other forms of intervention;

  • in the main they are designed and implemented by the public authorities, without any real partnership with private, voluntary or civic organisations;

  • more often than not they are defensive and restrictive strategies that do not always suffice to bridge the divide between environmental protection and development;

  • sometimes they are compensation strategies, introduced to counterbalance or limit the damage caused by business and industry, or to make up for shortcomings, by means of awareness-raising and education initiatives aimed at producers and consumers.

a) Environmentally focused sectorial interventions

    In conventional strategic approaches, natural resources and the environment are treated as objects in their own right, divorced from their context, that have to be protected from external assaults and excessive exploitation.

    This is because environmental protection is the responsibility of specialised departments within the central government (Ministry of the environment, water and forestry department, etc.), which take a sectorial approach. In the past, such government services have tended to ignore the relationship between inhabitants and their environment or treated this as a separate issue or even a potential threat, but never as an advantage and still less as the key element in an integrated approach in favour of the environment.

    However we are now seeing a number of changes in the interventions of specialised services and, in particular, a bid to forge closer links with local players. In France, for example, the national forestry organisation (ONF) is conducting a number of different local experiments, such as the establishment - in partnership with local schools - of an arboretum close to La Mure dans l’Isère (Rhône-Alpes), designed as a place of learning and ecological discovery for children and disabled people.

b) Defensive government strategies

    Legislation and regulations

    There is a multitude of restrictive laws and regulations regarding environmental protection and human health, which are increasingly being harmonised Europe-wide, in order to provide a coherent framework for protecting the quality of life and preventing any disastrous effects from potential “eco-dumping”.

    For example, there are regulations regarding the level of nitrates in ground water aquifers, a ban on hormones in animal feed, maximum distance thresholds for transporting animals to the slaughterhouse and procedures for authorising pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Such control measures can be used as a sales argument for consumers in search of health products.


      On the day when the Nuovo Cilento cooperative, established in the Cilento national park (Campania, Italy), decided to use the ban on pesticides to produce organic olive oil from the local olive variety, WWF Italy helped it to market this oil through an affiliated organisation using the panda as its logo. This led to strong growth in production, rising from two tons produced by five farmers in 1995, to 13 tons produced by 15 farmers today.

    Creating nature reserves

    Many LAGs carry out their activities either inside or alongside a national park and most LEADER areas include protected landscapes and regional nature reserves. The latter, as well as UNESCO biosphere reserves, have been set up to preserve and develop the man-made heritage. These protected areas are subject to a number of restrictions on exploitation aimed at preventing the disappearance of elements of the landscape, historic monuments and distinctive architectural features. As it is a real “world environmental label”, being listed as a “biosphere reserve” may provide rural areas with the opportunity they are looking for to regain lost territorial competitiveness.


      When it was decided to create a “biosphere reserve” in the isolated mountain region of Rhön, straddling the border between the three German Länder of Bavaria, Thuringen and Hesse, most people either had no idea what the future of this “reserve” would entail, or were simply sceptical. It took years of contacts, meetings, awareness campaigns and training courses to attract the interest of local farmers in the local market. Today, a number of hotels in the area offer products more than 50% of which are bought from local suppliers, based on the slogan “breakfast of local products”. Furthermore, the biosphere reserve has enabled farmers whose farms are situated at an altitude between 700 and 1000 metres, who would otherwise have been doomed to extinction, to survive with the help of the environmental income and by raising the local breed of sheep for the quality butchery trade.

c) Government compensation strategies

    Repairing the damage

    The first generation of environmental protection measures often led to relocating polluting industries and setting up dumps in rural areas, usually close to towns. Some such rural areas have attempted to take advantage of the situation by offering themselves up as dumping places for waste, but the costs in both ecological and image terms have often exceeded the financial gains.

    Another example is mass tourism which, due to the excessive numbers of tourists using certain areas (e.g. ski runs), has wrought such damage that local councils have either restricted access to them or obliged visitors to take public transport. Tourist associations are attempting to distribute tourist numbers more evenly by diversifying into alternative tourist activities.


      The Hohe Tauern national park (Austria), which straddles the Länder of Salzburg, the Tyrol and Carinthia, lies close to the panoramic route leading to Grossglockner, the highest peak in the Austrian Alps (3,797 m), which attracts over a million visitors during the summer season. The park also maintains a ski course on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. Realising that neither a strict protection policy nor mass tourism provided the appropriate solution for environmental management, the park administration and the three LEADER groups operating in the region have been seeking to develop quality tourism in the less frequented areas, whilst at the same time emphasising ecology as the principal guarantee of quality. Based on the uniting theme of the national park as an element of identity, the Nationalparkregion Hohe Tauern LEADER group has created a label for the region’s organic products (chiefly meat and dairy products), which is also accorded to gastronomic restaurants and craft workers.

    Raising the awareness of producers and consumers

    Regional and national authorities and non-governmental environmental protection organisations soon realised that there was no future in a policy based on the “command and control” principle. Without intrinsic motivation, a community will never take responsibility for protecting an area from which it feels excluded; on the contrary, it will try to infringe the regulations. Awareness-raising initiatives have therefore been established, frequently accompanied by educational activities to encourage local players to assume new tasks and learn new occupations associated with protecting the local area.

d) “Territorial project” approach

    Today approaches that are developing in favour of the environment at every level, are according an ever-greater role to the participation of local communities and to the search for new forms of partnership. Gradually we are seeing the emergence of what could be termed a “territorial project” approach that can be characterised as follows:

    • isolated interventions are ruled out and instead environmental activities are set within an overall territorial strategy;

    • in order to achieve this, activities are based on a partnership between the public and private sectors;

    • it accords not only an economic, but also a cultural, social and human value to natural resources, preferring the “collective asset” concept to the “protected reserve” concept;

    • this enables it to reconcile exploitation with the preservation of resources;

    • it is encompassed within a coherent overall project to ensure the long-term preservation of the environment which requires fewer compensation strategies;

    • it is based on work to consolidate the population’s relationship of identity with its environment.

    The territorial project approach fundamentally differs from conventional approaches in that it tackles the environmental issue via the player/environment relationship and not as an aim in itself. Consolidating and enhancing this relationship also benefits the environment, which is seen not only as a reserve for natural resources but also as a collective asset representing the area’s economic, social, human, cultural and aesthetic capital.

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