The Greenest City: from environmental progress to green branding
The Greenest City
In 2015 Paris hosted the COP 21 global summit that gave birth a few months later to the Paris Climate Agreement signed by the European Union and 174 other countries. Host city of a global environmental meeting, at the centre of media spotlight, driving hope for young generations all around the world, Greater Paris marked through this summit its pioneer and leading role in global environmental progress. But looking beyond political leadership, what example did the French capital manage to set on the global environmental scene? How can cities reconcile urban logics and carbon-free targets? To what extent do local companies take part in making Greater Paris a global reference for environmental progress? Where to mark the border between green branding and green washing?
The Global Cities Makers Forum brought together four experts, all engaged in the ecological transition in cities: Marc Lhermitte, partner and EMEA lead at EY, Marie-Claude Dupuis, Strategy innovation & development director at RATP Group, Catherine Lescure, Ile-de-France regional director at EDF group, and Ralf Ploenes, VP of Raritan Europe and VP of Legrand Datacenter Solutions Germany.
Greater Paris’ companies, ecological driving forces and models
Environmental ambition has become a requirement that companies have to take into account in their domestic activity as well as in choosing a place to settle or relocate. They are ureged by consumers, investors and partners to commit to an increasing number and level of environmental and ethical principles. Since a company’s business is necessarily rooted in a territory, firms tend to settle in ecofriendly environments that are committed to similar principles and that encourage them in meeting their ecological goals.
For a place to be eco-attractive from a company’s view, it must match the following criteria:
- a multimodal, high quality and dense transports network
- a safe, efficient and clean energy system
- an attractive working and living setting.
Such requirements are a strong motivation for cities to try and initiate environmental efforts since meeting them means enabling new economic opportunities and investments.
“Greater Paris has a major environmental approach, but few people actually know about it”
Partner, EMEA Lead, EY
For multinational companies to invest in Greater Paris, the city must engage local public and private operators, mainly transport and energy sectors. According to Marc Lhermitte, “in Europe, the difference between highly attractive cities and the others lies in the number of cars owned per capita”. A way for local authorities to reinforce Greater Paris accessibility and reduce its carbon emissions is to encourage alternative modes of transport. The city must therefore provide people with efficient, dense, diverse and carbon-free modes of transport. As part of this strategy, RATP group has put innovation at the heart of its projects. For instance, it has been transforming 25 bus depots into pleasant multifunctional and ecological areas. The Lagny depot, located in the 20th district of Paris, will soon welcome offices, studios and a kindergarten school, all powered by a 100% electrical energy.
The energy sector is indeed an extra mirror for a city’s environmental ambitions. Catherine Lescure asserts that “cities have become deeply aware of these issues. As they have targeted a 2050 carbon-free activity, climate and energy plans are massively being integrated to their overall policies.” In keeping with the 2015 ecological transition law, Ile-de-France region aims to develop solar energy and multiply its capacity by 60 from now until 2030. To reach this ambitious goal, EDF Group who takes an active part in the region’s green strategy, collaborates with other urban operators such as real estate constructors and developers.
“We must lead by example: RATP Group is a pioneer in the electrical transition of bus services.”
Strategy, Innovation and Development Director of RATP Group
Green innovation and pioneer development also depend on smart and connected services. Initially dedicated to banks and insurances, data centers now collect data from all urban players and facilities which ensure increasingly efficient products and services such as transport systems, signage, connected units… But some cities have recently decided to ban data centers from inside the city centers claiming they required too much space and energy supply. Ralf Ploenes explains that cooperating more closely with data centers would allow them to be less invasive, more efficient and useful to cities. Data centers could thus become a precious and driving asset for cities that are willing to lead environmental progress. In fact, urban services and facilities that are perfectly adapted to a city’s needs, waist fewer time, energy, and use less space.
According to Marie-Claude Dupuis, cities’ main challenge is to “lead by example”. That is also true when it comes to companies: they also must commit to internal obligations (cutting by 40% carbon emissions – EDF Group), export expertise abroad (leading the electrical transition of bus services – RATP Group), and help enhancing the city’s green brand image.
Enhancing Greater Paris environmental attractiveness
Although France and Greater Paris decision makers and company leaders have fostered ambitious projects, they both lack global recognition. Medium cities such as Oslo, Stockholm or Helsinki are the most quoted by global investors with regards to environmental criteria. Nevertheless, compared to bigger cities, Paris and its region rank third, behind London and Frankfurt. “Greater Paris has a major environmental approach, but few people actually know about it” as Marc Lhermitte asserts. How can it spread a greener image and change the way it is perceived?
“We must consider the Games as an opportunity to showcase our improvements and communicate upon them to the general public.”
Ile-de-France regional director of EDF Group
A city’s image is made of both showing and telling.
As stated earlier, an attractive working and living setting is a decisive asset for a firm when it comes to choosing a place to settle. This criteria lies mostly on workers’ perceptions and often matches the number of pedestrian ways, green spaces, or recycling waste disposals. As cities aim to meet the investors’ demands, many – like Paris La Défense business district – have launched new urban planning projects that commit to preserving or creating green spaces dedicated to leisure activities, to including connected facilities and furniture, and to improving coexistence between pedestrians and cyclists. A city’s image widely depends on its urban landscape. In fact, it is an early picture given to future investors and inhabitants about the city. And being a visual asset, it can thus be promoted and shared on social media.
“Data centres can be improved and turned into a driving asset for cities that are willing to lead environmental progress.”
VP of Raritan Europe, VP of Legrand Datacenter Solutions Germany
Considering the fact that marketing is based on selling a special and unique identity, urban branding can also build an identity based on the cities’ environmental resources. Catherine Lescure claims that each region, each city is provided with natural and local potentials: Occitanie region is drenched in sunlight, whereas Ile-de-France (Paris Region) benefits from considerable heat power. These assets can be enhanced and maximised in order to improve concrete energy solutions, but they can also and mostly become the core subject of the city’s communication and branding strategy. In other words, promoting a greener Greater Paris would mean promoting an innovative geothermal Greater Paris brand.
Last but not least, competing to host global events is also part of the global cities’ competition for attractiveness. But why is it such a key asset? The 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games are a unique chance for Greater Paris to double its efforts regarding environmental transition, to run innovative projects, but above all to exhibit its assets. In fact, Greater Paris brims with green solutions that must be brought to light: it is modernising and expanding its public transport network, securing its connected services and facilities, and developing a new source of energy supply based on hydrogen. Catherine Lescure insists: “we must consider the Games as an opportunity to showcase our improvements, and to communicate upon them to the general public”.