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Environmental competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 3:
Reflecting on a strategy for improving environmental competitiveness


3.4 Examples of strategies


The above description of the stages involved in any strategy to improve environmental competitiveness forms a complete circuit integrating all of the different levels of intervention.

However, the examples given to illustrate each phase of each process (starting point, implementation, consolidation, monitoring/evaluation) and the various methods for creating a collective dynamic are in the main only partial examples of processes.

The fact is that it is usually difficult to ensure that rural areas acquire genuine environmental competitiveness, due to a combination of:

  • the complexity of the processes to be implemented;

  • the fact that, since the environment has only recently become a concern, experience is still limited;

  • the difficulty in linking together the different types of intervention and instruments available. A proper strategy of environmental competitiveness would mean linking up with planning and regional development, as well as with farming subsidies, two areas that are outside LEADER’s sphere of intervention.

In addition, there are reasons more directly linked with the context of rural areas themselves. Two particular conditions are essential to initiating the four processes described above:

    1) A balance of power between production requirements and environmental concerns that is not too unfavourable to the latter. Indeed, to varying degrees, in rural areas there is always a latent conflict between the two. It is a conflict which, to be overcome in the territorial project approach, must be tackled straight away. However, in rural areas, economic interests are often so predominant that very little leeway is left for environmental concerns.

    2) The presence at local level of a minimum number of players on whom to rely.
    This leads us to define four types of area: those where the first of the two conditions is fulfilled; those where the second of the two conditions is fulfilled; those where neither condition is fulfilled; and those where both conditions are fulfilled.


The four types of rural area, defined on the basis of the two conditions essential to launching a strategy to improve territorial competitiveness
Environmental concerns withstand pressure from economic interests
Yes No
There are local players on whom to rely Oui Type 1 Type 2
Non Type 3 Type 4



3.4.1 Examples of strategies for Type 1 areas
(there are local players on whom to rely and environmental concerns withstand pressure from economic interests)

In Type 1 areas, all of the conditions are fulfilled for launching a strategy to gradually improve environmental competitiveness. The differences between strategies therefore pertain mainly to the starting points used.

In the two examples described earlier, these starting points were: 1) work to introduce area-wide standards for ecological production among farmers (Ticino); 2) reclaiming the historical heritage based on a new territorial identity (Pays Cathare).

Below are two further examples of strategies using alternative starting points.

    Strategy using the existence of a nature reserve as its starting point

    In the Vindlefjallen LEADER area, situated in Lapland in northern Sweden, the conflict between economic interests and environmental demands focused on the systematic exploitation of forests for the production of papermaking pulp, which threatens the wetlands and biodiversity. However, the balance of power favours the environmental approach: in the eyes of the local population of this very isolated region, the environment provides the only development opportunity and the existence of the Vindlefjallende nature reserve, created in 1974, is a considerable asset.

    In this context, a children’s study centre was created in the village of Ammarnas in 1970, prior to the creation of the nature reserve into which it was later integrated. This centre, like the 12 others throughout the rest of the country, provides Swedish children, as well as children from neighbouring countries, with an opportunity to come into contact with the natural environment in an educational way, as well as with the local traditions and culture of spatial management. It is also used to teach students from the two nearby universities.

    Recently the centre took over the management of an abandoned site which, due to its proximity to a lake, enables children to discover fishing traditions. Later it decided to build a small house within the confines of the old site. Permission was immediately granted by the local authority, but permission from the region, which was also required because the site is situated within the Vindelfjallen reserve, was refused under the pretext of preserving the wildness of the reserve. The press was alerted and the regional authorities were criticised for refusing to take into account the need to educate children to respect the environment. The regional authorities were forced to reconsider their position and the permit was finally granted.

    This institutional misunderstanding, a result of the distance between the local population and regional institutions, left the inhabitants with a sense of political isolation, and, as a result, they wanted decisions concerning the reserve to be taken at municipal level. The local LEADER group worked to foster dialogue and mutual understanding by organising forums between village representatives, local councils and the regional and national authorities.

    Strategy using concerted initiatives to revitalise a village as its starting point Germany and Austria provide several examples of concerted initiatives to revitalise villages in crisis.

    In the mid-1980s, the serious structural crisis in rural industries in the Kirchdorf region of Upper-Austria prompted the members of the Steinbach an der Steyr municipal council to promote sustainable local development and so to establish a consensus on a number of rules and principles of cooperation. In the years that followed, around 40% of the local population has taken an active part in implementing the various projects. Provided that they abide by the basic rules established by the council, all those proposing new ideas for sustainable local development are given official recognition from the local authority. The renovation of the historic centre, the redefinition of areas of housing concentration, the relaunch of traditional organic fruit syrups, the installation of biomass heating stations and the creation of 124 jobs in firms, were all visible results of the “route to sustainable development in Steinbach”, as the citizens like to dub their approach.


3.4.2 Examples of strategies for Type 2 areas
(there are local players on whom to rely but environmental concerns do not tend to withstand pressure from economic interests)

In such areas, strong economic pressure - whether from intensive farming areas, regions with heavy tourism or peri-urban areas where property speculation is becoming rife - makes launching environmental competitiveness strategies very unpredictable. However, there are local players who can be relied upon to launch certain initiatives.

    Small-scale demonstration strategy: One possible strategy is to start working on a small scale first, by choosing a limited area that is subject to less pressure on which to focus any environmental protection energies that are available in the area.

    In the Ribatejo Norte area (Portugal), situated 100 km from Lisbon, which is subject to heavy pressure from tourism and property development, an environmental association, backed by the LEADER group, has focused its efforts on preserving an area of around 20 km2, featuring a small, relatively well conserved mountain. Here it was possible to create a balance of power that made it possible to withstand the many different pressures and threats hanging over it. Little by little, the association succeeded in gaining the support of the population, schools, then the local authorities, and finally the national authorities, with the result that the area is now being declared an officially protected area and already figures in the Natura 2000 programme’s Portuguese list.

    Due to its scale, widespread local support has begun to prompt a change in attitude which, as it gathers momentum, may perhaps reverse the balance of power and lead to the gradual acquisition of environmental competitiveness.


3.4.3 Examples of strategies for Type 3 areas
(there are not really any local players on whom to rely but environmental concerns withstand pressure from economic interests)

In such areas, although the balance of power is more favourable to environmental protection, it is an issue that nobody cares about and for which it is very difficult to gain the support of local players.

This category essentially includes areas that are falling into neglect and are marked by rural depopulation and agricultural decline, as in many marginal and isolated rural areas that have barely any assets on which to base their development.

Long-term awareness strategy

In this type of situation, development agents can start by raising the awareness of local players in order to arouse an interest in the area and its environment. This must form part of a long-term strategy, because all the local players have their attention focused further afield. Young people, in particular, seek to leave because they can only envisage a future outside the area.


    In the Agueira-Dâo and Caramulo region (Centre, Portugal), the LEADER group, faced with the young people’s systematic desire to move to the coast or the city - a desire that was jeopardising the area’s future - launched the initiative “children’s images of development”. This involved asking 3,500 primary school children to portray, in the form of individual or collective drawings, their idea of their region and its future. These drawings highlighted the children’s strong attraction to modernity in the guise of urban landscapes. Socio-educational activities were then carried out with the children (school discussions, staging local and international exhibitions, producing aids to interpret the drawings and teaching material, etc.), which made it possible to develop the children’s positive perceptions of the local area. Furthermore, the children’s ideas revealed by these socio-educational activities were taken into consideration in the LEADER II business plan.


3.4.4 Examples of strategies for Type 4 areas
(there are no local players on whom to rely and environmental concerns fail to withstand pressure from economic interests)

It is in Type 4 areas that conditions for launching an environmental competitiveness strategy are worst: the balance of power between economic and environmental requirements is particularly unfavourable to the environment, and there are no local players on whom to rely. This is particularly so in areas that have benefited from rapid economic development, to the advantage of all of the local players, but which has marginalised any form of ecological opposition. This particularly concerns coastal and mountain areas that have experienced a steep rise in mass tourism over the past two decades.

In this case there are two possible strategies that can be conducted in a simultaneous and coordinated manner.

Circuitous strategy

Where a problem cannot be resolved directly, seeking indirect ways may provide a solution. It is possible, for instance, to choose a roundabout starting point for the issue of environmental competitiveness, to enable it to be introduced indirectly.


    In the Po delta (Italy), the growth in agriculture and tourism had relegated the problem of the environment to oblivion and galvanising any support at all for the subject was something of a challenge. This was why the Delta 2000 association and LEADER group, created to protect the wetlands of the Po delta, toned down its initial demands and, with the support of the local authorities and trade councils, launched a territorial marketing strategy aimed at attracting business to the area. However, faithful to its original vocation, the association imposed respect for the environment as one of the criteria for receiving funding. New “clean” companies were then established: at the same time as providing a certain economic dynamism, they help to promote the image of an environmentally-friendly area. However, more time and greater legitimacy are needed before this will be recognised as a credible alternative.

Anticipation strategy

The other possible strategy in this type of area is to prepare for the time when the balance of power tips in favour of an environmental approach. What is certain is that the conflict between economic interests and environmental concerns cannot indefinitely be resolved to the benefit of the former. Eventually the time comes when environmental degradation itself calls into question the cost-effectiveness of economic activities. Local players may then change their position and espouse environmental objectives. In areas that fail to ensure the renewal of their natural resources, this reversal in the balance of power is bound to happen sooner or later.

The problem is that it is very often too late to repair the damage, since the degradation has become irreversible. What is more, many of the solutions cannot be implemented overnight: time is needed for negotiation, experimentation, adaptation, etc.

The LEADER group can choose to anticipate the time when the balance of power reverses, by developing solutions ahead of time which, because they have already been tested, will be easier to implement when the time comes.


    On the very arid island of Gran Canaria (Canary Islands, Spain), lack of water has become such a critical issue that it is calling into question the survival of farming activities, even though they are essential to maintaining the island’s plant life and combating erosion and desertification. However, within the current context of expanding seaside tourism and coastal towns, it is very difficult to galvanise decision-makers to address the problem. What is more, the privatisation of water distribution companies has introduced the short-term profit rationale. Privatised water companies are pushing consumption and prefer to collect already over-exploited underground water rather than desalinating seawater, so putting them into direct competition with farmers. It was against this backdrop that a simple solution of conserving water by fitting a reducer into taps in residential homes was devised by an engineer but rejected by water distribution companies because it was not in their interests. The LEADER group then decided to finance the pilot installation of such reducers in an inland village in order to acquire know-how that will be available when the balance of power changes.

This example shows that the outcome of a conflict between economic interests and environmental concerns can also depend on decisions taken outside the area itself, and that a regional or national policy can tip the balance one way or another. In our example, it was privatising water distribution in 1985 that tipped the balance against environmental concerns. This is why, for Type 4 areas (or even Type 2 areas), it can be useful to seek higher level solutions, in order to tip the balance of power more in favour of implementing an environmental competitiveness strategy. The whole issue of the links between local and global concerns is something that we shall be addressing in Part 5.

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