by Hans Pul
Energiestadt Flawil, Energiestadt Bern, Energiestadt Zürich: Greenwashing or is there substance behind these claims? This blogpost introduces the Energiestadt label (“energy city”), a Swiss label certificated by an organisation with the same name. The organisation is occupied with the certification and support of municipality energy policies. After fulfilling certain criteria, a city is allowed to communicate itself as Energiestadt (i.e. “Energiestadt Flawil”). This makes visible the efforts and successes of a municipality’s energy policy.
Why an energy policy award for municipalities? The incentives for municipalities are manifold: to improve quality of life, to save money, to profit from existing know-how and to achieve image improvement. This is also put forward on the Energiestadt website:
“Clever energy management pays of financially. Not to mention image improvement and the possibilities in place marketing: an Energiestadt shows that it is future-oriented.”
Energiestadt is a project of EnergieSchweiz, the Swiss portal on energy and sustainability. As an independent actor, it reviews the energy-related efforts of municipalities. The certification process takes the form of a three-yearly audit that examines municipality energy measures. Based on this audit, municipalities achieve a score between 0 and 100%. Depending on the score, the municipality can either gain the Energiestadt label (>50%) or the more prestigious European Energy Award Gold (>75%).
Currently 244 municipalities are certified as Energiestadt in Switzerland. In total 3.3 million inhabitants live in an Energiestadt, which represents 42% of the Swiss population. Communities that achieved the criteria are then allowed to use the Energiestadt logo. In multi-lingual Switzerland, the logos can be either in German, French or Italian. Also, municipalities are allowed to include energy policy related slogans to the logo, as well as their city name (see picture).
Once communities achieved the Energiestadt label, they are stimulated to further improve their energy policy efforts in order to earn the European Energy Award Gold. Currently, there are 18 cities with the European Energy Award Gold in Switzerland. On the basis of the standardized assessment, the scores of the municipalities are benchmarked on the Energiestadt website:
EnergieSchweiz stimulates participating municipalities to actively communicate their energy and sustainability efforts. In their communication toolbox for municipalities (in German) they state: „You’re doing the right thing – speak about it!”. Public administrators are stimulated to communicate their efforts, both internally and externally. It entails the communication to other cities, people or companies about the community’s sustainability efforts. The Energiestadt and European Energy Award Gold labels can fulfill internal branding purposes as well. The labels can help communicate the municipality’s efforts and successes to the public. It stimulates resident awareness about sustainability in their city. Moreover, it can trigger the active involvement of residents and civil society organisations in sustainable projects. The communication toolkit informs about best practices of communicating the Energiestadt and European Energy Award Gold labels. For example, they provide municipalities with ideas for organising events for relevant target groups, such as construction companies.
Energiestadt also forms a platform to share best practices between municipalities. It is a central place for materials on sustainability relevant to public administrators. The website presents projects from different communities and stimulates the exchange of know-how on themes such as spatial energy planning, energy efficiency, mobility and sustainable building. For example about smart LED street light systems.
In 2003 Energiestadt teamed up with municipal energy policy programs in Germany and Austria. Together they introduced the European Energy Award (EEA) to benchmark municipalities in different European countries. The European Energy Award aims to stimulate the exchange of know-how on municipal sustainable energy solutions between European cities. Within the Swiss context, the “Energiestadt” label is equivalent to the European Energy Award in other European countries.
Although the competitive element and the use of benchmarks might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think the discussed program of EnergieSchweiz in stimulating and supporting communities’ sustainability efforts is valuable. It is valuable because of the exchange of know-how between communities, because it makes visible municipality efforts and because it stimulates the development of sustainability in cities.