Back in 2009, I was among the first members of the evaluation team of the European Green Capital Award (EGCA), when it was initiated by the European Commission. While I was happy to see the attention of the European Commission for the urban environment, at a time, when this issue was hardly handled at the European level, I also had some doubts: Does it make sense to add another award? There are many city rankings going on and you hear all over the place: “the best city is …”, “the most livable city is …”. What value will the EGCA provide to cities? Will there at all be enough cities applying for an award for which they do not get any price money but would commit to a year full of communication actions and events?
I have now rejoined the evaluation team after an absence of seven years and the award is still alive! The initiative has even been extended by the European Green Leaf Award for smaller cities with a lighter application procedure. It seems that there must be some value in the competition that some cities even resubmit their applications if not winning!?
I remember that, in the early years, participating cities told me that during the application procedure, it happened that they talked to colleagues in some other environmental departments of the city or municipal organisations for the first time. The broad range of areas covered in the award forced them to do so, brought them new knowledge and ideas. It supported the integration of topics, thus allowing to use synergies and being more efficient. But is that sufficient added value? Couldn’t they do so well without the pressure of an award procedure and the communication burden?
What else is in it?
Leuven in Belgium and the winner of the 2018 Green Leaf Award, raises another interesting aspect. The city as a whole – administration, politicians and citizens feel very honoured that their contribution to create more environmental sustainability is well and directly acknowledged by the European Commission. Their efforts make suddenly sense also at the European level. The city reached European-wide recognition. Colleagues from cities in Belgium and other countries ask and invite Leuven’s representatives to learn from their experience. While sharing their story, Leven, other winners and shortlisted cities of the awards learn different perspectives on their own practice and get new ideas on how to improve them.
Winning the award or being short-listed catapults these cities into the European league. Standing in the spotlight, makes them proud, helps them to consolidate their environmental activities and getting the necessary political support by the mayor and city parliament as well as citizen’s backing for the measures. Very often, these network contacts and the exchange trigger new opportunities for collaboration on different levels and with various stakeholders including business opportunities. In addition, visibility can provide access to EU funds as other stakeholders look out for appropriate partners in bigger EU projects bringing EU funding almost by itself to the cities.
I am keen to see, which interesting and inspiring stories the applicant cities of the new award rounds will deliver and which further benefits the former winners can report on.