Conserving energy and making developments for sustainable progress have become a necessity. Small towns have led the way in lowering its energy usage. One such town is Besançon in France.
Located 325km from Paris, Besançon is known as the environmental and energy-saving “champion” of France. It has made, noteworthy efforts to involve residents in its environmental actions and plans to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 20% by the year 2020, which is also a European Union goal.
“From the beginning, we’ve had a big awareness campaign so that people understand all the steps we’re taking. It’s a participative effort,” said Nicolas Guillemet, Vice President of the Greater Besançon area in charge of sustainable development of the environment and quality of life.
The city provides compost bins to residential buildings and to private homes with space or a garden. It also collects the compost and uses it to fertilise public parks and other green spaces. But this support is only a small part of the environmental efforts being taken by this population of 180,000.
Each year, the town “follows” around hundred families, studying their daily modes of transportation, their home-heating methods, and other habits. The research is aimed at showing individuals how they can change their actions to use less energy, with the findings released to the public, people too can make similar behavioural changes.
The town also adopts tougher measures to motivate residents. Household waste, for instance, is taxed on the basis of its weight, so less waste costs less money. These measures have resulted in a 15% reduction of the waste collected for incineration. Mayor Jean-Louis Fousseret is one of the driving forces behind the many changes in the town; but his policies often attract criticism for over spending. A new tramway in the town, scheduled for completion next year, for instance, cost 250 million euros and has caused residents much inconvenience. The changing of public street lighting system to use LED bulbs, costs one million euros a year. But the estimated savings are five million euros annually. “It’s easy to respond to critics who say we’re spending too much because, a lot of money is invested initially,” said Guillemet, “But sustainable development is about long-term vision; investment today, will reap benefits in future.”
Besançon officials were inspired by Germany and Switzerland, who are pioneers in sustainable energy policies. As the town lies close to their borders, with both German and Swiss help, Besançon has become an example to other French towns. At the end of 2012, the city was awarded the “Gold Prize” of the Cit’ergie European Energy Award for “exemplary” achievements in climate and energy action, the first French town to be so honoured.
Despite Besançon’s progress, some experts fear that the town still faces an uphill battle to reduce energy consumption by 20% over the next seven years. Innovative steps are required if the aim has to be realised. “It’s definitely achievable in the public sector, but things will be more difficult in the private sector,” said Benoit Cypriani, a representative of the green party Groupe Europe-Ecologie Les Verts. He hoped the tramway would have an effect on the two-percent increase in transportation that the town has witnessed, mostly involving cars. At the national level too, the French government has to take steps to reduce electricity use that will have an effect on Besançon.
France is Europe’s leading consumer of electricity for home heating, but Cypriani believes that wood should be promoted more, as it creates less pollution. In Besançon’s manual of priorities, cutting energy consumption is followed by producing energy on a local level. The town is currently investing in photovoltaic panels and assisting residents who want to install photovoltaic or photo-thermal panels on their own property.
Besançon officials have further identified a wind-energy zone and, in four years, an aeolian (wind) energy plan will be implemented. Water is also being explored as an energy source, as the town lies cradled in the loop of the Doubs River.IPS News