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| A sustainable future for Europe’s industrial parks

When successfully run, Europe’s industrial and technology parks play a key role in the urban economy, providing vital employment and a place for enterprise and innovation to flourish. Unfortunately, they can also be dreary, unfriendly places that suffer from problems such as poor environmental management, traffic congestion and pollution. These issues have a negative effect on people who work in industrial parks and live nearby. An EU-funded research project called ECOPADEV aims to give such areas a sustainable future by providing town planners with the tools they need to develop more eco-friendly industrial parks.

Bilbao Technology Park
Bilbao Technology Park played a key role in the ECOPADEV project
Europe’s town and cities have had to grow rapidly over the past century to accommodate more and more people looking for work and a better quality of life. Now about 80 per cent of Europeans live in urban areas – but this has put pressure on local resources, including those industrial spaces where businesses are supposed to grow and prosper. Rather than enhancing quality of life, many of Europe’s industrial parks are growing and operating in an unsustainable fashion. They are often run-down spaces, marked by social and environmental problems caused by poor planning decisions.

Often local authorities lack the information to steer these parks to a more sustainable future. An inability to innovate and develop can leave industrial areas vulnerable to economic change. Unemployment is likely to become a problem as investment dries up and the best firms leave to look for better places to operate from. The resulting stagnation is likely to have a detrimental impact on nearby residential areas and the entire local urban region.

The ‘Eco-Park’ concept

The ECOPADEV project aimed to change this situation by encouraging urban planners to transform these areas into ‘eco’ industrial parks. “The ‘eco-park’ concept seeks to ensure that industrial development in urban areas brings a range of economic, social and environmental benefits to the local community,” explains project coordinator Marian Ibarrondo.

Eco-parks are run in ways that enhance the relationships between different actors – including municipalities, businesses and the local community – and that optimise the sustainable use of resources. Initiatives to cut down on waste, pollution and traffic congestion are likely to be top of the agenda for those involved in managing more sustainable industrial areas. There are benefits for businesses as well – closer relations engendered by the eco-park ethos could allow for benchmarking activities and improve commercial contacts within a park.

A well-run park is also likely to provide good quality recycling facilities, offer good links to local schools via provision of internships and summer jobs, and be sensitive to community needs, for example by offering open-days and training to local people.

The project began work by defining and collecting data that could act as indicators of sustainability. This included drafting a set of indicators for eco-efficiency covering issues such as waste generation and reduction, renewable and non-renewable energy use, CO2 emissions and vehicle use. The ECOPADEV team fed this information into a web-based tool that it designed and built for use by Europe’s urban planners.

“Our software tool can be used by any town hall or municipality to check if an industrial area is being run sustainably – the tool then provides information that can be used to improve those levels of sustainability,” explains Ms Ibarrondo. The tool was tested successfully in three technology parks in Bilbao, Spain, Tampere, Finland and Almada in Portugal.

Information about the particular industrial park under scrutiny is gathered via use of a questionnaire. Users submit answers about a range of subjects such as: environment; health and safety; production processes; energy and sustainable buildings; transport; quality of life issues and community connections; and human resources.

Partnerships for sustainability

Turning industrial spaces into more eco-friendly areas is a complex job because so many issues have to be addressed. The 14-strong ECOPADEV consortium included experts in environmental issues; health & safety; human resources and marketing; energy efficiency in the built environment; sustainable building construction; traffic management; and information technology. “It is important to stress that the eco-park concept is not simply about environment – to deliver change we focus on a range of issues and certainly teamwork is essential,” says Ms Ibarrondo. “If parks are to be successful everyone has to be working towards the same goals and objectives.”

Of course it is sometimes difficult to reconcile the needs of businesses, local communities and local authorities. The project was acutely aware of this and responded by defining procedures to resolve “conflicts of interest” between different actors which might be involved in the sustainable development of a city. ECOPADEV has defined procedures which can be used to solve such conflicts that can be accessed via the project’s extra-net communications system.

The system is designed to promote the exchange of information and experience between groups. It also offers scope to develop international contacts useful to eco-park development and sustainability, and can be used by local authorities to disseminate their policies.

European impact

The project’s ethos and objectives complement the European Union’s commitment to the UN’s Local Agenda 21 initiative, which was developed specifically to stimulate local policies for sustainable development through the building of partnerships between local authorities and the communities they serve.

ECOPADEV is also in step with the EU’s sustainable development strategy, which was signed in 2001. The project’s desire to improve the urban environment, reduce transport congestion, promote energy efficiency and cut waste and emissions reflects many of the strategy’s key priorities.

The project finished in 2005 but its partners continue to disseminate the results and promote use of the web-based tool. ECOPADEV was presented globally, last September, at a conference in China that was organised to discuss eco-parks and sustainable development.

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