Recycling and greening

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That the green agenda needs to rise up the priority list is obvious, but words and action remain kilometres apart. Statements of policy too rarely translate into imaginative incentives and innovative regulations to drive the green economy. Stringent guidelines for waste recycling, energy efficiency and green transport have been a start, but would create more impact if linked to incentives, such as central government giving a city a massive financial bonus for matching a green target.

There are endless products waiting to be invented, with several markets still open; these are so diverse that most places will be able to play to their strengths, so aligning with traditional skills and talents as well as new research-based activities. These include applications as varied as pollution-monitoring devices, waste pelletization techniques, the development of new insulation materials and new environmentally targeted software, component manufacture or sub-assembly for wind and wave energy, as well as maintenance work on large renewable structures or plants.

Cities should signal enthusiastically that they are in the green field - too few do at the moment. For example, the public sector owns thousands of vehicles. Think of the impact of hordes of green electric cars and perhaps even green taxis suitably moving around. The subliminal message would be strong. Many cities already have environmental initiatives and incentives. How about pulling them together into a designated area identified as an environmental zone, where clustering would make their impact stronger than spreading them out? One might even consider innovative branding devices such as clustering different subsidies, for recycling, say, or the use of renewable energy, into sub-areas - by street, for example - and marketing them as 'recycling street' or 'zero energy road'. Alternatively, what about more green industrial parks, modelled on Hamm, in Emscher Park in the Ruhr, where eco-business, retailing and conferencing facilities intermesh?

In spite of the energetic attempts to get green issues more widely accepted, a survey of innovative eco-communities around the world revealed very disappointing results, though not for lack of trying.13 There are an alarmingly small number of projects of real scale that have been completed. The small number of successes is a sad reflection of where we are. One survey, for example, studied hundreds of eco-village or neighbourhood projects worldwide - often with impressive websites and high reputations in their networks - but discovered that most were purely at the conceptual stage. Barton and Kleiner's survey analysed 55 projects showing a rich vein of different kinds and forms of innovative communities that bill themselves as eco-neighbourhoods and with great diversity in their scale, locations, focus and means of implementing. These included rural eco-villages, like Crystal Waters in Queensland, Australia; tele-villages, such as Little River near Christchurch in New Zealand; urban demonstration projects, such as Kolding in Denmark, a high density block with courtyards of 150 dwellings; urban eco-commu-nities, such as Ithaca Eco-Village in New York State; New Urbanism developments, such as Poundbury, initiated by Prince Charles in the UK, or Waitakere in Auckland, New Zealand; and ecological townships, such as Auroville in South India or Davis in California. But over 50 per cent of these 55 projects had fewer than 300 people. A tiny proportion were really comprehensively innovative projects at the neighbourhood level. Many had a number of impressive buildings and high environmental standards within these, but very few also combined this with new sustainable economic activity or new political or social arrangements.14 And in spite of the public pro-sustainability stance of national and local government, sustainable development is in its infancy; sustainabil-ity is a term more talked about than practised. 'It is often used with casual abandon as if mere repetition delivers green probity.'15

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