SPOTLIGHT on Nantes, France – European Green Capital for 2013


Happy New Year, everyone! With a new year come new hope, new energy, and new vision. So this year, I would like to increase the scope of GreenIsMyThing to include posts highlighting laudable green actions of cities, states, or countries around the world. And Nantes, France is the perfect place to start…

Why? Nantes was named as the “European Green Capital” for 2013. The European Green Capital designation began in 2010 with the city of Stockholm, Sweden and has since been awarded to Hamburg, Germany (2011), Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain (2012), and now Nantes, France. Copenhagen, Denmark is set to receive the designation in 2014. The European Green Capital award is an initiative of the European Commission. The rationale is that because 80% of European citizens live in cities and because cities are a significant source of environmental harms, cities are an excellent place to focus greening efforts.

What is so special about Nantes? Its residents are taking the threat of climate change to heart and have decided to take some serious action.

1)   This metropolitan area of 600,000 people has adopted a climate action plan that aims to reduce carbon emissions 30% below 1990 levels (the reference year set by the Kyoto Protocol) by 2030.

2)   Nantes is also a leader in global climate conversations. The city spearheads a worldwide coalition of cities participating in UN climate negotiations and co-chairs with Copenhagen a working group of European cities working to address climate change. They are also going to be the host of 8 upcoming environmentally themed meetings, including EcoCity 2013 in September and an international meeting on wetlands in October.

3)   They are heavily investing in their public transit systems. In fact, 95% of homes are within 300 meters of a transit stop (that’s about 400 steps, according to Google). That means 95% of the city’s households can use public transportation to get around if they so choose. How? In recent years, Nantes has reintroduced streetcars and light rail in the area, created a dedicated busway, and has developed a bikesharing system. All of these improvements have helped Nantes achieve per capita CO2 emissions of only 4.66 tonnes! (To put this into context, per capita CO2 emissions in the U.S. are 17.3 tonnes.)

That’s all pretty impressive, right? But there’s more. Nantes has initiated three projects to further enhance and focus on sustainability.

1)   Île de Nantes – This project will revitalize a large “brownfield” area of industrial development into an “eco district” that will contain a large park, housing, public transit stops, and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.

2)   Ma Ville Demain 2030 (My City of Tomorrow 2030) – This project strives for civic engagement to determine Nantes residents’ long-range vision for the region, and sustainability has become an important part of that vision.

3)   Estuaire – This project will place pieces of public art along the river in order to draw interest and attention to the area’s estuary and its many environmental benefits, the hope being that increased knowledge will increase residents’ pride in and desire to protect the estuary.

I love all of the green things that Nantes is doing. No one can transform to being completely green overnight, but Nantes is making sustainability an important part of the city’s identity so that becoming greener is a continued part of local development. The European Green Capital designation rightly reinforces this commitment by praising these practices and lifting up Nantes as a positive example for the rest of the European Union.

I also love the European Green Capital initiative as a whole. First, it focuses on change at the local level, which tends to be more effective than changes at a national level. Action at the local level is easier to coordinate and implement, not only because of the smaller scale, but also because pride and concern for one’s own city can be highly motivating. More importantly, the initiative encourages sharing of best practices between cities so that effective ways of increasing sustainability can be realized on a larger scale. I think the United States could benefit greatly from a similar green cities initiative and form of recognition.

All in all, two thumbs up to the European Green Capital initiative and to Nantes, France for making greener cities a priority and a reality.

Is your city doing something green and noteworthy? If so, feel free to share it in the comments!

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