[ Summary ]
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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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.