Cleaner investor in Leicester

Britain's first Environment City is building partnerships with business to fulfil promises it made six years ago
EUROPE'S 300 medium-sized cities have a working model for environmental improvement, thanks to a European Commission-funded report on Leicester. When Leicester was made Britain's first Environment City six years ago the title was awarded for what was promised, rather than for what had been achieved. Since then it has been heavy going, with few easy solutions.

The Local Sustainability review of progress in Leicester focuses on the difficulties in achieving change but it is also a collection of 50 of the most effective case studies from around the world. These include a waste-using scheme from Geissen in Germany that has provided jobs and training, as well as nearly achieving break-even. Waste minimisation projects from around Britain are profiled.

The experience of Leicester, and of Seattle in the United States, one of the cities most committed to environmental improvement, suggests that local authorities should not take the dominant role in promoting environmental improvements, but instead build partnerships of charities, community groups, councils and, most importantly, businesses. Existing prejudices and past conflicts can disrupt meetings if they are convened by local authorities.

As industry is the biggest polluter it is the partner that most needs to be persuaded to become environmentally-friendly. When approaching commerce, a business case has to be made, showing that waste reduction is good for the balance sheet. Asking managers to act for the benefit of the environment is unlikely to be effective. Larger businesses, which employ specialists who are open to persuasion based on what is best for the company, are easier to persuade than small firms, which may not have the financial or staff resources to implement proposed changes.

A number of local businesses were given detailed advice on how to reduce wastes. One Leicester company, Fisher Rosemount, ended use of ozone-depleting CFCs five years ago, in advance of legislation, moving to cleaner processes, and saved pounds 17,000 a year. By installing a pounds 30,000 water-cooling system it also reduced its use of clean water, cutting pounds 10,000 off the annual water bill. A local brewery, Everards, carried out a waste minimisation review, and calculated it could halve its pounds 150,000 waste bill.

Leicester City Council is committed to a partnership approach and has sponsored a local charity, Environ, to take the lead role in the Environment City project. "Getting our cities into good working order requires co- operation between sectors, between local government, businesses, and Leicester's community," says Peter Soulsby, the leader of Leicester council. "It requires genuine partnerships."

The EC is another partner, not just as funder but also in helping to direct Leicester's environmental programme. For the programme to have support from all the local community, including the unemployed and low wage earners, it has been necessary to extend the definition of the environment to include social and economic improvements. Leicester's partners argue that moving towards sustainability, a style of life that allows future generations to enjoy the world, involves a common process, wherever it is undertaken. "There are five basic steps," advises Ian Roberts, a director of Environ. "One is to define the issues in clear language, creating a manifesto for local action. The second is to work in partnership where appropriate. Then a city must develop its own action plan for sustainability. Fourth is to find ways of monitoring what happens. The old saying is true, that if you can't monitor it you can't manage it. Five, involve as many people in the community as possible."

But the sooner change is begun, the better. Davis in California is regarded as America's cleanest city but it began its green action programme in the 1950s at a time of enormous population growth.

Decades of environmental awareness in Davis have led to green activists being elected on to the council and a programme of environmental commitments. Buildings must meet tough energy efficiency standards and are subject to maximum height rules; solar energy is promoted; tree planting is designed to assist natural air conditioning; local food production is aided; and 70 per cent of the population sort their own rubbish to assist with street collections. Bicycles also outnumber cars by more than four to one.

Davis may be the city of the future. To avoid perpetual smog and permanent climate change its example may have to be copied, except that we can no longer afford to spend half a century doing it.

q 'Local Sustainability', published by Environ and sponsored by the European Commission's Life fund, can be obtained for pounds 28 from Environ at Western Park, Hinckley Road, Leicester.