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Environmental competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 3:
Reflecting on a strategy for improving environmental competitiveness


3.2 A few methodological guidelines


How can a strategy be developed for improving environmental competitiveness based on a territorial project approach? Clearly, the stages are the same as when drawing up a territorial strategy:

  • defining objectives that allow a general policy to be established;

  • establishing priorities based on what can and cannot be achieved in the short, medium and long term;- on this basis, ascertaining the best starting point; - seeking the methods best suited to medium-term implementation;

  • subsequently, seeking the methods that will optimise long- term consolidation;

  • not forgetting monitoring/evaluation methods and tools, which are essential to preventing divergences between expectations and reality.


3.2.1 Choosing a general policy

Developing and implementing a global project that turns the environment and the relationship between local players and the environment into a key element of the area’s distinctiveness Isolation, demographic dispersion and the problem of making local services viable in rural areas mean that, in most cases, rural areas are able to increase their competitiveness only by emphasising their distinctive qualities. This is one of the basic principles which LEADER groups [5] have exploited to the full.

The environment and the relationship between local players and their environment are often a key element of such distinctiveness, although they are not sufficiently promoted. The environment is commonly associated with vestiges of the past (monuments, historic sites, etc.) or with the natural environment (nature reserves, visitors’ centres, etc.), or else a certain quality of life (tranquillity, pure air, landscape beauty, etc.), but is rarely seen as part of a whole which decisively contributes to making the rural area distinctive.


    The managers of the Haut-Jura regional nature reserve (Franche- Comté, France) have adopted a strategy for integrating the players concerned with each of the five functions attributed to this nature reserve:

    • Nature: the park is developing in-depth knowledge about the area and changes in it to alert local councils to the risk of environmental degradation;

    • Rural activities: in consultation with trade organisations and local authorities, the park is helping young farmers to get started. It requests pilot “heritage production rights”, supports high quality cheese production and backs diversification initiatives (in particular by granting the Park’s label);

    • Skills: the park is endeavouring to draw up an inventory of traditional skills, helping to update them and ensuring that they are promoted. The aim of this initiative is cultural as well as economic, in that it helps with understanding the history of the local heritage. Furthermore, it encourages companies to integrate environmental, landscape and human quality requirements as factors of development;

    • Tourism: the park helps to arrange cooperation between tourist organisations in order to construct a coherent overall image of tourist offerings in the Haut-Jura region. Furthermore, it encourages joint consultation between ski stations in order to develop a global scheme for restructuring skiing areas, that specifies which developments should be introduced over the next ten years;

    • Coherence: the park is equipping itself with a real communication policy. It organises cultural and festive events, educates a number of different target groups and seeks to organise the area’s prime movers. The park also strives to develop close and sustained upstream consultation with the central government and the Regions in order to ensure the effective implementation of public rural development policies, whether initiated by the European or the national authorities. It works as the key partner of these bodies for testing innovative policies. [6]

This example gives some idea of the all-too-often neglected potential of the environment. It also shows just how important it is, from the outset, to conduct in-depth consultations on the environment as part of a whole, in order to define long-term objectives. Such consultations must be allowed to stray from the beaten track so that new solutions can be dreamt up that form part of an overall territorial strategy involving local players as much as possible.


    The Lesachtal valley in Carinthia (Austria), lying deep in the mountains and accessible only via a rather narrow road, has suffered from heavy emigration of its young people. Here peasant farmers are involved in farming/livestock production and exploiting the forest on steep slopes. Summer tourism is closely linked with farming activities and there are no ski tows. There is a very good local community spirit and cultural life. In the 1980s, growing public awareness made it possible to launch a programme for developing the built heritage in a way elsewhere considered to be “backward”. The inhabitants deliberately decided against building ski tows for winter sports and restricted work to improve road access to the minimum. The number of tourist beds was limited in line with the number of inhabitants. Today the Lesachtal area is a model of sustainable local development. Tourism, which declined in the rest of Austria during the 1990s, remained at a high level. Numerous initiatives for promoting local products (sheep, handcrafted products, timber) have been adopted and new companies have set up in business, thereby reversing a trend which for many years was negative.

A global project in favour of the environment must first and foremost spring from the will of the local players, with individual projects having to be reoriented in order to adapt the area to a new function. This exercise may appear economically less profitable in the short term, but, in the longer term, it brings benefits at every level (economic, social, cultural, etc.).


3.2.2 Defining priorities in line with what can be achieved in the short, medium and long term

Designing and implementing an environmental competitiveness project that is integrated into an overall territorial strategy means engaging in a number of parallel processes.

  • The first aim is to raise awareness among the local players, which also involves enhancing knowledge about the environment.

  • At the implementation stage, negotiations must be conducted at every level: consultation with owners, search for mutual commitments or transfers of rights, creation of new forms of collective organisation, etc.

  • Market penetration is essential to ensure the viability of the process, because owners, operators and entrepreneurs will usually only agree to changes where they are certain of at least their medium-term viability. Any commitments that are adopted in connection with global policies or international agreements and which take the form of preferential support (Agenda 21, agro- environmental support measures under the Common Agricultural Policy, etc.) also relate to market access.

  • Finally there remains all the task of physically transforming the area, the visible embodiment of the global project, involving redevelopment, new planting schemes, new production systems, etc. The above four processes are interactive: they do not follow on in succession but are conducted in parallel, mutually reinforcing one another. The following table proposes, for each of these processes, a possible breakdown into short-, medium- and long-term measures.


Possible breakdown of measures for each of the processes to be implemented for improving environmental competitiveness
Four interactive processes Knowledge and awareness Negotiations and collective approaches Market penetration and search for external commitments Physical transformation of the environment
Short term Collective work on people’s perceptions

Establishing an initial overall project
Raising the awareness and gaining the support of owners

Reintroduction of past forms of organisation
Integration into the local market

Exploitation of renewable energies

Making use of environmental measures associated with the CAP
Pilot and demonstration projects
Medium term Research into knowledge about the environment Conclusion of agreements with owners and public administrations

Creation of new forms of organisation
Integration into existing quality markets

Creation of a pilot label for the area

Commitments as part of international agreements (Agenda 21, etc.)
Gradual changes
Long term Raising children’s awareness Global agreements such as “territorial charters” Consolidation of the area’s label Global transformation is completed



3.2.3 Choosing a starting point.
Launching initiatives with a visible short-term impact whilst at the same time preparing longer-term initiatives

Obviously the scale and time required for each of the above- mentioned four processes depends on the context, i.e. on the area’s resources at the outset. In an area where absentee owners are disinterested, the process of negotiation will certainly take longer. Likewise, in an area where farming land provides high yields using intensive methods, it will be harder to convince farmers of the need to change over to more environmentally-friendly production systems.

Below are a few possible starting points for each of the four processes.

a) Knowledge and awareness

    Exploring with the community its perceptions of the environment and what it conjures up in their imagination can lead to it re- appropriating the heritage and becoming aware of the area’s diverse functions, which are sometimes conflicting. On occasion it may be useful to invite visitors, school groups, etc. to explain their points of view.


      The population of 16 local councils in the Toulois area (Lorraine, France) was invited by the Lorraine regional nature reserve to take part in collectively evaluating the landscape, with the aid of a map of the landscape indicating the ecological assets. Three percent of the population replied to the invitation and a series of proposals was made concerning roads through villages, the restoration and upkeep of public buildings and the development of meeting places for young people. Schools also contributed by organising “landscape classes” and exhibitions of pupils’ work on the subject.

b) Negotiation

    It is sometimes useful to base an initiative on a strong element of the local identity in order to more easily gain the support of owners and other players concerned and to identify those project promoters likely to facilitate negotiations and to scale up the process.


      In the Vale do Minho area (Portugal), the LEADER group supported the initiative of the mayor of a small district wishing to renovate the houses traditionally used for summer transhumance in the past and convert them for use by tourists. Thanks to his tenacity and to the fact that this was a strong element of the local identity, associated with traditions still very much alive in the memories of their owners, negotiations advanced rapidly and the project took only two years. The houses, whose original architecture was respected, now have all the modern conveniences. One also serves as a centre for gastronomy and the sale of local products. In parallel, a local visitors’ programme was organised around the activities traditionally associated with transhumance and a tourism company was set up comprised of the owners. For the LEADER group this initiative currently serves as a lever for other initiatives to valorise the environment, especially mountain areas abandoned by younger generations.

c) Market penetration and the search for external commitments

    It is often easier to start with local markets, which are easier to manage and have the advantage of allowing direct links between producers and consumers. Initiatives for producing renewable energy are a good illustration of this.


      In Deutsch-Tschantschendorf (Burgenland, Austria), a village cooperative, created in the spring of 1993, built a 1100 kw central heating station in October 1994. The station is fuelled with twigs and bark gathered almost exclusively from clearing up surrounding forests. Moreover, 325 square metres of solar panels supply hot water to the 29 users, especially in summer when the boiler is switched off, and an energy top-up during the remainder of the year. The project forms an integral part of a programme called “renewable energy region”, which covers the Güssing administrative district. The station was built largely thanks to the system of mutual aid still very much alive in this region of peasant farmers, who often work half time in the building trade.


      With the help of a specialist consultant, the Stirling LEADER group (Scotland, United Kingdom) provides technical support to local businesses wishing to carry out an energy assessment. This consists of studying what improvements could be made to reduce energy consumption. When invited to undertake a collective approach, firms secured better prices for their electricity supplies from private enterprises which - as a result of deregulation - now distribute electricity throughout the country.

    In order to facilitate the short-term viability of new, more environmentally-friendly forms of exploitation, it is also possible to harness external aid, such as, in the case of agriculture, CAP agro-environmental measures (former regulation 2078/92, regulations on organic farming, etc.).

d) Physical transformation of the environment

    If commenced at the outset, this process, which normally begins after the other three, can be of demonstration value. In some cases, transforming the environment arouses interest and can even serve as an example to raise awareness and encourage negotiation.


      In the Trièves area (Rhône-Alpes, France), the Terre Vivante centre, created by the LEADER group in partnership with an environmental association and a district council, provides examples of small scale sustainable exploitation systems (in the sphere of organic farming, gardening, waste treatment, etc.). The centre currently serves as the basis for initiatives to raise the awareness of farmers, residents, decision-makers, etc. and for demonstration projects.

    This form of intervention is particularly useful in a deteriorated situation where urgent action is required.


      In Vindlefjallen (Sweden), the LEADER group, faced with forest degradation stemming from intensive commercial exploitation of a single species used to make pulp for papermaking, set up a centre to demonstrate exploitation methods that respect biodiversity and local ecosystems, especially the wetlands.


3.2.4 Implementing a territorial project based on medium-term initiatives

At the implementation stage, the project’s credibility and feasibility come into play. It is then necessary to undertake more in-depth projects that can be completed in the medium term.

a) Knowledge and awareness

    Research work backed up by researchers or academics may make it possible to further knowledge about the local environment and to highlight other opportunities.


      With the aid of historians, anthropologists and the LEADER group, the inhabitants of South Pembrokeshire, Wales (United Kingdom), learned more about their area’s natural and architectural heritage prior to organising tourist activities. Raising the community’s awareness of the value of its heritage was one of the keys to success, leading to environmentally-friendly tourism based on the inhabitants’ new-found pride in their own development. Gradually, further elements of identity were integrated into the approach, such as the inhabitants’ traditional sense of hospitality and the region’s gastronomy.

b) Negotiation

    Mobilising various players during the start-up phase makes it possible during the implementation phase to find ways of combining interests that make it easier to accommodate them. Indeed, a key role can be played by initiatives to settle conflicts between economic and ecological or individual and collective interests to ensure short-term performance without compromising long-term interests.


      In eastern Styria (Austria), the movement for self-build solar energy collectors shows that, within a global project, economic interests (in this case, lower energy prices for users) can perfectly well exist alongside technical curiosity and idealism. After a slow start with part-time farmers from rural and peri-urban communities, the experiment was quickly extended to other regions and professional groups. An association was set up to support mutual aid groups in assembling solar panels. Contacts between groups, the association and suppliers made it possible to choose the most appropriate techniques. After 15 years of existence, the association has now become an international group of consultants and today the region is the largest consumer of solar energy in Europe - the factor on which it has based its distinctiveness.

c) Market penetration and search for external commitments

    In the medium term, it is possible to penetrate markets for quality products situated outside the area, by cashing in on new consumer demands.


      Nineteen farmers from the Coteaux du Lyonnais region (Rhône-Alpes, France) organised themselves into an economic interest group (EIG) in order to sell their products from a collective point of sale. A fruit processing building made available by a member of the EIG is used as the sales premises (25 km from Lyon). A varied range of products is on offer: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, jams, fruit juices, wines, sheep’s cheese, sausages, poultry, rabbits, pâtés, terrines and fruit sorbets. This approach is a novel one in that urban consumers come to spend a weekend in the country, where they produce their own tarts, pâtés and apple turnovers. This has the advantage of reassuring Lyon city-dwellers about the quality of the products they consume.

    It is also possible to use international agreements (Agenda 21, and others) to foster consultation between local public authorities and ensure that they are integrated into wider networks.


      In the high Möll valley (Carinthia, Austria), which forms part of the Hohe Tauern national park, an environment and energy working party organised by the LEADER group convinced the valley’s six local councils to join the International Climate Alliance. Following a feasibility study, the six local councils signed a contract to implement a whole series of environmental management innovations.

d) Physical transformation of the environment

    Following the demonstrative start-up phase, it is then possible to introduce processes of transformation that can be completed in the medium term.


      The Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta LEADER group (Ireland) supported the development of former pilgrimage routes in the Dingle peninsula (Kerry). Following the creation of a local development association, the initiative involved developing, jointly with the principal local players, an inventory of the area’s natural and cultural resources. The project, deeply rooted in the history of this isolated area and containing a significant environmental element (redevelopment of sites, paths, etc.), had numerous positive repercussions on tourism and farming activities, as well as on the local dynamic of these two remote villages. The work involved in maintaining the project sites raised real environmental awareness: the population discovered a source of new economic activities that help to protect and valorise the natural and cultural heritage, whilst a number of farmers have turned to organic products and quality farm produce.


3.2.5 Consolidation Encompassing the territorial project within a long-term perspective

At this stage, the aim is to create new production and environmental management systems, to forge a new identity, to enhance the links between players and to ensure strong market integration (consolidation of the four processes).


    In the Ticinese region (Lombardy, Italy) which, though close to Milan, is still well preserved, the inhabitants, concerned at growing urban pressure, called for the creation of a nature reserve. Thanks to cooperation between the public authorities and local players, the activities of an information centre (Carrefour européen) and the judicious use of CAP environmental measures (regulation 2078/92), the creation of the 90,000-hectare Ticino park went on to become the starting point for new environmentally- friendly practices, particularly in farming (introduction of biodiversity into crops and hedgerows, creation of biological corridors between forested areas and restricted use of chemical fertilisers). Little by little, common ecological farming standards were established, giving rise to a quality label which, as a result of its popularity with consumers, is securing the economic viability of farms and the competitiveness of the area as a whole.


    The Pays Cathare region (Midi-Pyrénées, France) provides another example of consolidation, this time in the sphere of heritage resources. It has been possible to recover and redevelop the hitherto totally abandoned historical architectural heritage (castles and their surroundings), by constructing an identity based on the area’s Cathar past and a process of negotiation, which has been on-going for the past 20 years, between the public authorities and local players. The launch of the “Pays cathare” label, attributed to local products and services that meet quality standards for sale to tourists, has made it possible to consolidate market integration. Thanks to the integrated promotion of its historical heritage, this formerly neglected area has succeeded in achieving territorial competitiveness.


3.2.6 Monitoring/evaluation

Monitoring/evaluation plays an essential role in the development of the four processes, because it is through regular follow-up and an in-depth knowledge of such development that the synergies and solutions for overcoming deadlock situations can be brought into play.


    In the Pays de Lanvollon region (Brittany, France), by monitoring the landscape, and in particular by showing photos taken ten years earlier at meetings with the authorities, the local group succeeded in raising the awareness of elected representatives and local players and persuading them to participate in the joint initiative to restore the landscape.

Monitoring/evaluation frequently calls for special skills:

  • The help of specialists in natural resources (biologists, chemists, ecologists, etc.) is often required to monitor transformation systems.


      In the Maestrazgo region (Aragon, Spain), the LEADER group has launched a wide-ranging project to clean up a number of polluted and degraded rivers through the creation of a “river reserve”. The objectives of this project are ecological (treating water, redeveloping river banks, multiplying the fauna, as well as upstream analysis of soil erosion, improvement, conservation and valorisation of the forest heritage), as well as social (educating the local population, improving municipal management and exploiting the river as an element of cultural identity) and economic (creation of water treatment companies and developing tourism). This project requires permanent monitoring/evaluation of the state of the rivers, for which the LEADER group uses the services of biologists and chemists from Saragossa University.

  • Monitoring awareness-raising and negotiation requires observation skills and the ability to understand the position of each player involved, skills which the LAG technicians often acquire themselves only through experience.

  • Monitoring market integration processes calls for in-depth knowledge of commercial matters (marketing, customer loyalty process, prospective analysis of demand, etc.).


[5] See Part 1

[6] Journal du Parc Issue 21, June 1999.

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