What we can learn from Ljubljana, Slovenia – 2016 Green Capital of Europe

Ljubljana is the Green Capital of Europe 2016, having won this annual merit-based award by the European Commission which recognises cities’ efforts and impact in sustainable urban development. The Slovenian capital has been in the spotlight of environmental discussions at the European level, and it is proving to be a major attraction in the blooming green economy sector.

This prestigious accolade by the European community reflects the city’s active political and social engagement in creating a comprehensive solution to environmental issues via the expansion and preservation of its natural landscape. Ljubljana is keen to maintain its legacy of transparency, environmental awareness and forward-looking vision in order to retain a reliable key role in the evolution of entrepreneurial platforms like Circular Change, which is designed to develop a stronger and more valuable engagement of stakeholders looking towards a sustainable future.

On June 22nd, Zoran Janković, Mayor of Ljubljana, Tjaša Ficko, the Deputy Mayor of Ljubljana, Rudolf Jelinek, the Deputy Major of Essen (Green Capital 2017), and Michael Pollman, Hamburg’s State Secretary for Environment and Energy (Green Capital 2011), got together to discuss the challenges and lessons learned from winning the Green Capital of Europe title.

From left to right: Zoran Janković, Tjaša Ficko, Rudolf Jelinek, and Michael Pollman

From left to right: Zoran Janković, Tjaša Ficko, Rudolf Jelinek, and Michael Pollman

Listen to your citizens

The challenges that come with environmental change involving citizens, firms, and institutions are often seen as problematic or daring, but often these judgments are misperceived. Both firms and citizens will incur higher short-term costs, since changing people’s habits and raising awareness of the public is often a difficult task. But investing in higher short-term costs does not mean that moving towards a more sustainable path will not work in the future. Such is the case of Ljubljana and other award-winning cities like Essen, which prove that conflicting interests are solvable through compromise, political action and through the backing of EU regulations.

Ljubljana received tough feedback after their decision to make the city centre a pedestrian-only zone, but through active listening they realised that their citizens demanded other transport alternatives. They soon decided to open the city centre to electric cars, bicycles and buses, and then implemented electric charge zones and a bike share system.

Aside from the practical aspects, what is striking about the green city projects is that they often derive from citizen engagement and civil society groups. Over 260 proposals and ideas have been sent in by residents, showing that people are genuinely cheering for change and that they are willing to take ownership of their lives. This provides a strong signal for a more self-governing society, and shows that there is a communal will and effort to create a better quality of life.

Green means opportunity

What is clear to understand from the model green cities of Europe is that, regardless of dimension, there is an opportunity for relatively rapid, cost-efficient change that can truly lead urban environments into a better future, guaranteeing benefits to human well-being and providing breathing space for innovation.

The concept of a green city goes hand-in-hand with the Circular Economy, changing the approach to social demands and business by promoting a new model of environmental cost-saving, allowing waste to be revalued and re-circulated in the market in a profitable way while containing the supply costs of scarce resources.

“One of the most impressive factors of Ljubljana is indeed the steady rate of economic growth, 8% in 2016, breaking all previous annual records. This can be in part attributed to the enhanced investment opportunities and productivity conditions emerging from the sustainable infrastructure development which attracts and facilitates the tourism industry very present in Ljubljana. The construction of the first 5 star hotel in the capital is underway,” Tjaša Ficko, Deputy Major of Ljubljana, pointed out.

Sharing best practice is the next necessary step

The steps that are needed to go forward and preserve previous efforts are as necessary as the socio-political efforts that made Ljubljana the green capital of 2016. More financial incentives deriving from the European Union, as well as the sharing of best practice, are the main requirements to give greater impact to the implementation of sustainable projects that could help save billion euro figures.

“More relevance should also be given to the Green Capital title as a linking tool and a more direct bridge with Brussels, to make environmental policies and issues more central to the agenda and to obtain a stronger directive for stakeholders at every level: local authorities, the civil society, businesses and NGOs,” said Michael Pollmann, Hamburg State Secretary for Environment and Energy.

A consolidated network of Green Capital candidates and winners should be developed in order to learn about each other’s best practice in a way that can be mutually beneficial.

Circular Change: engaging Circular Change Pioneers

In order to continue with the success of the Green Capital and sustainable urban development, we must begin to change and open our field of view, thinking more about the positive opportunities that are at hand, waiting to be taken advantage of for the sake of the environment that ultimately affects our well-being. More alternatives and more engagement with stakeholders towards the practice of sustainability is the key to our future.

This is where Circular Change comes in, to build and consolidate a strong stakeholder engagement platform focusing on the Circular Economy. Its fundamental mission is to inform, educate, recognise leaders, interpret best practice and co-create pioneering case studies in the transition from linear to circular business models.

The Circular Change platform was established by Giacomelli media in cooperation with key international partners such as the Circle Economy from the Netherlands and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation from the UK. The goal of Circular Change is to create a competence network to assist in a successful transition to the Circular Economy, embracing its economic, societal and environmental dimensions. By doing so we are co-creating the conditions and concrete opportunities for what we consider to be good business in the near future.

To learn more about our membership programmes please visit http://www.circularchange.com/membership/ and become a Circular Change Pioneer.

(These article was writter by Giorgio Trichilo and Ana Isabel Munguia)

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