Local Sustainability: Driving Green Urban Economies Through Public Engagement

Part of the Local Sustainability book series (LOCAL, volume 3)


Across the globe we find examples of local initiatives that stimulate green economies either led by communities themselves or through the formal engagement and mobilization of the public by local government and other local institutions. There are a huge range of sustainability projects and green businesses that benefit from local skills, innovation and community support. This chapter seeks to highlight how adopting a publicly ‘embedded’ approach, one that is culturally and socially-tied to local communities, will produce more lasting and equitable outcomes.


Inclusive green economy Community engagement Wellbeing Behavior change 

1 Introduction: Overview – Aims and Context

This chapter reviews public engagement as an embedded part of the move towards a green local economy. The term ‘public engagement’ refers to the involvement of people within a process – whether a commercial enterprise, community venture, the delivery of policy or otherwise. Engagement can occur at three levels:
  • Cognitive – how people thinkabout things

  • Emotional – how people feelabout things

  • Behavioral – how people act(Bobek et al. 2009)

Local government has numerous tools to support community participation in green economies. The rationale for increased public engagement is that it will increase trust, buy-in and, if the process is sufficiently open, can bring new ideas and innovation, improve the equality of impacts, promote longer term outcomes and wider uptake.

Furthermore, public engagement may also help address two challenges faced by local government and other actors in moving towards a ‘green economy’. Firstly, clarifying the direction and focus of green economic policy, and secondly, building local resilience in the face of increasing global connectivity.
  • Dialogue on future economic models: The transition to a sustainable economy will require an open dialogue about economic policy in the context of promoting social and environmental wellbeing. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), a green economy is “an economy that results in improved human well-being and reduced inequalities over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities” (Scrieciu 2010). People’s well-being is a central concern for local government and therefore, public inclusion in the development, delivery and refinement of a green economy is vital.

  • Interconnectedness and resilience: A recent review of the 1972 ‘Limits to growth’ book indicates that the original forecast of correlated population, consumption and pollution growth still hold largely true today (see Fig. 1) (Hall and Day 2009). These interrelated trends imply a green economy must address human interactions across a broad range of goods and services. Furthermore, these linkages are interacting on a global stage. As such cities cannot ignore the impacts of global markets to their local communities. For example, global food prices changes resulting in local food insecurity. In the face of such global socio-economic ties, a central element of promoting local green economies must be to build resilience within communities.
    Fig. 1

    ‘Limits to Growth’ model projections relating a growing population, resources and pollution, with an additional timescale between 1900 and 2100 (Hall and Day 2009)

A summary of consultations running up to the Rio+20 Summit in 2012 in Brazil, the Caribbean, India and Mali, concluded that any new approach to economic development would only be meaningful and legitimate if it is built on a set of broad principles: sustainable development, equity, resilience, accountability and citizen empowerment (IIED 2011). In turn, the ‘green’ in green economy should not only be technocratic but tied to social objectives.

According to research in Bangladesh and Indonesia the characteristics of a sustainable and socially inclusive business should comprise of:
  • Provision of products, services or decent work to lower-income communities in ways that stimulate more sustainable production and consumption patterns;

  • If outcompeting locally produced goods and services, then offer superior eco-social qualities to existing options, and provide local employment;

  • A mixed-ownership economy;

  • Provision of new sources of capital to community members;

  • Access to new markets for communities on stable and transparent terms;

  • Transfer of appropriate technology and skills to community members;

  • Generate a Return on Investment as part of a scalable business without future reliance on external subsidies;

  • Support Good Governance and enabling conditions locally and nationally;

  • Involve participatory monitoring, evaluation and learning that address each of the preceding characteristics to inform future strategy and operations (Bendel 2011).

This chapter reviews four broad approaches to developing a more inclusive green local economy with case studies covering:
  1. 1.

    Information sharing

  2. 2.

    Active involvement

  3. 3.

    Policy and financial support

  4. 4.

    Design, monitoring and evaluation


2 Towards Inclusive Green Economies

2.1 Information Sharing – Awareness, Mutual Exchange and Skills Development

Local government can use a range of communicational tools to encourage community involvement in the green economy. One purpose for such information sharing is to promote changes in consumption behaviors and seek more sustainable economic outcomes (e.g. sorting of domestic waste to improve recycling value).

Passive and interactive communication about the potential benefits of greener lifestyles can enable consumers to make more informed decisions. For example, in Munich, Germany, new residents receive an information package on green mobility opportunities, aiming to reduce their travel carbon footprint (UNEP 2011). However, awareness of environmental priorities does not necessarily result in a positive behavioral response. A US study indicated that whilst 82% of Americans have good green intentions, only 16% actually fulfill these aims (OgilvyEarth 2011).

Research suggests improved behavioral impact is made when interveners provide information during critical ‘life events’ of major change (e.g. moving house, childbirth and retirement), as well as where there is growing consensus between peers and community groups (Bobek et al. 2009; Christie et al. 2010). Additionally, greater behavioral impact appears to occur when people not only receive information passively but are also directly involved in green initiatives from the outset. A recent review of UK community engagement in the food sector found the greatest sustainability and behavioral impacts when such programs were inclusive at an early stage (CAG Consultants 2011).

Listening to and understanding local producers and consumers are key steps to moving towards green economies.

One of local government’s objectives in promoting green economies should be to empower citizens, giving them the tools and information they need to make sound economic decisions of their own and contribute to larger economic debates. Information about policy decisions on the green economy and corporate decisions and practices should be freely accessible to the public. Legal frameworks also need to be in place to guarantee accountability and transparency, and build public confidence in formal institutions. Along with educational institutions and mainstream media, communication tools such as community radio, local newspapers and youth campaigns can be used to reach a more targeted audience (IIED 2011).

An International Finance Corporation study of water services for poor communities in Manila, Philippines illustrates the value (commercial, behavioral and sustainability impacts) of early involvement by community groups, in terms of access to information and decision-making (Case Study 1).

2.2 Case Study 1 Inclusive Information and Decision-Making in Manila Water

The ‘Tubig Para Sa Barangay’, or ‘Water for Poor Communities’ program, is based on a clear business case: underserved, low-income households are willing to pay for safe, reliable water; connecting them creates new markets and cuts costs arising from inefficiencies and illegal connections. Partnerships between local government, community-based organizations (CBOs) and the private utility, Manila Water, included communities in the design and implementation of new water supply systems.

Communities are central to Manila Water’s inclusive business model. By visibly placing water meters in side-by-side arrangements in public areas, meter monitoring becomes easier and the community can regulate itself as water use and fees become more transparent. In informal settlements or very low-income areas where land ownership is a problem, bulk metering and cost-sharing programs support self-monitoring through collective responsibility. The community also assigns or elects individuals to administer collections, monitoring and maintenance, directly supporting local employment. These methods help build a sense of local ownership and responsibility that enhances the system’s good repair, promotes timely payment, and discourages water pilfering. This results in superior service and water quality for the community and lower costs for Manila Water.

By 2008, revenue generation had increased nearly 24 times, from ₱277 million to ₱6.803 million since the start of the project in 1999. Water services reached 1.6 million people, 99% gained 24-h water availability, as compared to 26% in 1999. Customers pay 20 times less than previously charged by water vendors (per cubic meter rates). New work opportunities from fee collection, monitoring meters and pipe servicing have resulted in jobs benefitting over 850 families.

Source: IFC (2010).

2.3 Active Engagement – Community-Led Eco-Enterprise

Community groups globally are already stepping-up to deliver the green economy by themselves. For example, in the city of Naples, Italy, various social enterprises are working to turn their city’s overflowing waste into community resources (Case Study 2).

Municipal authorities should see such community actors as partners in building the green economy. Councils should work with them to stimulate activities throughout their cities. For example, the London Borough of Lambeth, UK, has embraced the ‘Transition Town Brixton’ movement with financial, information and research support, supporting the creation of a local currency, recycling, and renewable energy generation (Case Study 3).

Another UK example of a regional green economy partnership is Sustainability West Midlands, which brings together environmental leaders from local government, voluntary groups, housing associations, private sector and academia. Importantly, the program invests directly in providing guidance and skills to community groups. They have trained and now support 40 community mentors to help convene new community eco-enterprises in councils across the region (Ross 2011).

2.4 Case Study 2 Naples – Community Groups Tackle Naples’ Rubbish Problem

Since the mid-1990s, the southern Italian city of Naples and surrounding provinces have struggled with the proper disposal of trash. Tensions peaked in 2008, after municipal workers refused to pick up any more garbage, partly due to overflowing landfills. Accusations of mafia involvement and government incompetence left citizens appalled over the piles of rubbish on the streets.

Neapolitans are now taking on their city’s trash problems. Ambiente Solidale, a local civil society organization and others, are distributing recycling bins to homes and businesses throughout the region. Marginalized citizens, including local Roma, are employed as sorters to pick through glass, metal, textiles, and plastics. This work has inspired some towns, such as Portici, to achieve higher recycling rates than cities in wealthier Northern Italy.

According to Marco Traversi, Ambiente Solidale director, one trick to reduce municipal waste is to embed recycling as a habit with the young so it becomes second nature in adulthood. When Ambiente Solidale started in 2007, one of its first projects targeted elementary schoolchildren, teaching how to reuse and recycle waste.

Other tactics like flash mobs and guerilla gardening are behind Naples’ grassroots cleanup. CleaNap uses social media tools to gather people quickly and clean up the city’s stunning piazzas, as well as separating heaps of rubbish.

Another group, Friarielli Ribelli (Rebel Broccoli), supports community gardening, as another step towards revitalizing Naples. Their self-financed activities have created flowerbeds throughout the city and taught residents how to convert food waste into compost.

A new collection service, Reteca, is collecting unwanted computers and other electronic gadgets; and another Ambiente Solidale initiative will streamline processing of used printer cartridges. Naples is searching for more ideas. The Euclid Network, a London-based NGO, has organized a competition to help fund social entrepreneurship ventures so Naples will not only clean up, but thrive.

Sources: Kaye (2011) and Halbert (2011).

Links: Ambiente Solidale: http://www.ambientesolidale.it

Friarielli Ribelli: http://friarielliribelli.blogspot.com/p/chi-siamo.html

Euclid Network: http://www.euclidnetwork.eu

2.5 Case Study 3 Transition Brixton

Transition Town Brixton (TTB), following the example of other transition towns across the globe, is seeking to respond to the pressure of Peak Oil and climate change. As a community-led organization it’s activities include: setting up a local currency, the ‘Brixton Pound’; Community renewable energy project ‘Brixton energy’ and a zero waste initiative ‘Remade in Brixton’. The London Borough of Lambeth has supported these initiatives that together are promoting local businesses, employment, low carbon development and community resilience. Lambeth has a population of 270,000 with Brixton its administrative and commercial center.

Brixton Pound’ – In 2009, Brixton launched its own currency. There are now more than 130 business accepting and trading in ‘B£s’. More than B£35,000 is ‘sticking to Brixton’. The currency stimulates an independent local economy and conversations about localization. More of the money spent in Brixton stays there, helping local businesses thrive in the face of recession and increased competition. It also helps reduce Brixton’s carbon footprint by supplying more of its needs locally. Lambeth Council supports the B£ with funding and in-kind support, as well as an online B£e-currency pilot.
Brixton Energy’ – aims to put solar panels on the Loughborough housing Estate. It involves Lambeth Council, the Low Carbon Zone, United Residents Housing and the Loughborough Estate Management Board. Brixton residents can invest in a Community Share Offer. The project aims to:
  • Generate local energy, as ‘Brixton Energy’

  • Develop a community investment vehicle

  • Increase resilience by reducing dependence on big utilities

  • Use profits to educate about energy efficiency, tackle fuel poverty and develop partnerships to provide energy efficiency services

  • Provide training and employment for local people

Remade in Brixton’ – A community-led zero-waste initiative, focusing on waste prevention, repair, reuse and recycling. The TTB team engages with residents, businesses and schools to promote local waste reduction, reuse and recycling. They also develop skills of remaking and repair that are vital to the creation of local green enterprises and sustainable employment.

Sources: LGID (2011).

Links: Brixton Pound: http://brixtonpound.org

Transition Town Brixton: http://www.transitiontownbrixton.org

2.6 Incentives – Policy and Financial Support

Local government can help to set the context within which to inspire and guide new inclusive green businesses. Funding and supporting such work during a time of economic downturn is tough but, if well designed, can bring savings to service delivery, cut clean-up costs, stimulate income generation, skills development and other environmental benefits.

In the run up to the UN climate negotiations, the city of Durban innovatively addressed the opportunity of the thousands of delegates attending the meeting through a new carbon credit initiative (Case Study 4).

2.6.1 Case Study 4 Innovative Funding for Climate Adaptation Enterprises

In an effort to offset emissions from the UN Climate negotiations the government of Durban set up a carbon credit scheme. The scheme enabled delegates to invest in local reforestation, employing local people to replant native trees. The initiative implicitly ties-in several sustainability strands together – biodiversity rehabilitation, income generation, skills development, and offsetting carbon emissions through a market-based mechanism, the ‘Community Ecosystem Based Adaptation’ (CEBA) initiative.

eThekwini’s deputy head of environmental planning and climate protection, Debra Roberts, said; “The Durban Ceba Initiative is one of the most exciting elements of the city’s broader COP17 greening program. It has been adopted as the official voluntary offset mechanism for COP17. Delegates, corporates and residents of Durban will be able to contribute towards the project by buying ‘Ceba credits’ to play their part in helping offset the environmental impact associated with hosting COP17”.

She explained: “Each Ceba credit will cost about $10 (R80) and the money raised will be used for the official Ceba greening site along the Umbilo River catchment area. Unemployed people from the neighboring communities will then be employed as ‘green collar’ workers to first remove alien plants and trees.

Part of the money will be used to plant indigenous trees along the Umbilo River, with the pilot reforestation site located at Paradise Valley, near Pinetown. The project is a community-centered climate adaptation model. “We want this project to not only benefit the ecological sustainability of the river, but the social sustainability of poor communities along it.

Source: ICLEI news, accessed online 3 Dec 2011 http://www.iclei.org/index.php?id=12500

Link: Durban CEBA http://durbanceba.org

2.6.2 Inclusive Markets for Natural Capital

Building market economies around biodiversity and ecosystems has a strong base. Economists estimate that losses in global biodiversity cost trillions of dollars annually and directly affect people’s quality of life and future well-being.

Policy makers have proposed various market tools to better secure natural capital. One such tool is called ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)’. PES recognizes that local communities are dependent on ecosystems for their livelihoods and cultural traditions. For example, over 90% of the world’s poorest people are estimated to depend on forests. PES can help the better valuation and sustainable management of ecosystems through supporting these communities (Forest Trends 2011a).

However, this type of financial tool has not always been successful in delivering equitable benefits to communities and requires careful implementation. Some risks include:
  • It only recognizes the human value of ecological systems, and does not help protect other services. Bundling of services might go some way to overcoming this problem.

  • Participation can be difficult for poor communities. They may lack land titles or the necessary knowledge to manage administrative tasks required by PES schemes;

  • Further impoverishment of the poor might occur (e.g. if they are required to pay for services that were previously provided for free);

  • There are difficulties in attributing an economic value to environments of high cultural value (Wertz-Kanounnikoff 2006).

PES can exacerbate problems where land tenure is insecure. Case studies show that there is the potential for marginalization, repression, exploitation and the internal division of communities (ELDIS 2011). It’s estimated that indigenous peoples and local communities hold defined land tenure rights in only 2% of forests throughout Africa.Yet conservationists have long pointed out that “the recognition of indigenous rights to forest-resources management leads to successful management practices” (Ecosystem Market Place Community Portal 2011).

Recognizing these challenges, ‘Forest Trends’, a global forest coalition, has set up a ‘Communities & Markets’ program to promote community participation in market-based conservation mechanisms. The program aims to promote awareness about the value of community engagement for effective conservation and seeks to strengthen community capacity to participate in and benefit from PES schemes (Forest Trends 2011b). Projects in Uganda and elsewhere highlight the importance of local government investing in good governance, transparency and community engagement if they are to be trusted by international ecosystem and climate adaptation investors. Local governments need to increase the level of community-owned and administered land to bring wider community benefits from PES and similar mechanisms.

2.6.3 Sustainable Procurement

Sustainable procurement is another important tool to shift businesses towards more inclusive and green outcomes. Local government can encourage business to adopt clear environmental and social objectives through applying clear sustainable procurement criteria (ICLEI 2007). For example, Queensland State Government in Australia has incentivized Biodiversity Conservation enterprises through their competitive tendering-criteria. They invite organizations to develop innovative, semi-permanent and low impact sustainable nature-based tourism accommodation throughout Queensland. Their assessment rating tool at the ‘Expressions of Interest’ stage seeks proposals that demonstrate harmony and integration with the natural and cultural values of a site through: appropriate facility layout and design; construction materials and methodologies; energy, water and waste management; and operational and visitor protocols and activities. Community inclusion and benefits are a central part of their assessment criteria (Queensland State Government 2011).

2.6.4 Local Governance for Inclusive Environmental Mainstreaming

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) reviewed the local governance conditions required for successful environmental mainstreaming. This is important in setting the context for green economies. Conditions that better integrate environmental and social objectives into policy include:
  1. 1.

    Legislative system: Supporting environmental protection and social justice.

  2. 2.

    Institutional mandate: All sectorial and decentralized institutions tackle environment as a cross-cutting issue within their work;

  3. 3.

    Public concern: Public demands to tackle environmental degradation and care for environmental assets are significant and well-expressed;

  4. 4.

    Public and media advocacy: Mass organizations and NGOs are able to raise difficult policy issues in relation to the green economy.

  5. 5.

    Leadership: Government and local leaders prepared to listen, to change policy, to act and to be accountable;

  6. 6.

    Communication and transparency: Offer many ways to access, share and feedback information about environment-society-economy links;

  7. 7.

    Cooperation: Shared initiatives and processes allowing actors to collaborate (adapted from IIED 2010).


With the right policy frameworks in place, local government can create the space for like-minded businesses, entrepreneurs, investors, academics, and community groups to cooperate over the future development of a local green economy (Monaghan 2011). This convening and facilitating role appears to be an important component to mobilizing inclusive green economies.

2.7 Design, Monitoring and Evaluation

Before embarking on any participative approach local government needs to be clear about the design of that process. A group of UK charities undertook a two-and-a-half year research project exploring how and why individuals participate in their communities, producing the ‘Pathways through participation’ report. They made three key findings for those who wish to foster community participation, in this instance, towards building a green economy:
  1. 1.

    Participation is personal – it must be viewed first and foremost from the perspective of the individual/s taking part;

  2. 2.

    Participation can be encouraged and made more attractive – opportunities need to respond to people’s needs, aspirations and expectations;

  3. 3.

    Significant barriers to participation can be entrenched – issues of power and inequality in society are critical to understanding how and why people get involved and stay involved (Involve 2010).


The report recommends being realistic about what participation can and cannot achieve – “policymakers [need] to be clear about the purpose of the participation they want to see happening…It also requires institutions, organizations and groups to recognize that participation is dynamic and that opportunities need to be flexible”.

In 2002, Dr. Minu Hemmati undertook a global review of leading participative examples that had produced positive sustainability outcomes and good governance. Based on these findings, Hemmati recommended steps for designing effective participative processes. Whilst the steps refer to multi-stakeholder contexts, they are still relevant for local governments when seeking a participative model to delivering a green economy (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Key steps in participative processes – overview

A variety of participative tools can be used to promote engagement. Table 1lists examples of the types of tools commonly applied. Some participative resources are also available online. For example, ‘Involve’ developed a free tool providing support for planning participative processes, ‘peopleandpariticipation.net’ (Involve and Headshift 2011).
Table 1

Participative tools for an ‘inclusive’ green economy



Information sharing

Community fairs


Conferences and seminars

Open days and drop-in sessions

Discussion packs

Outreach processes

Road shows and exhibitions

Web-based, new media

Marketing campaigns

Advise centers


Observational experiences e.g. site visits, smart metering

Direct involvement

Community ‘lifestyle’ projects

Energy Service Companies (ESCOs)


Housing development associations

Food cooperatives

Green apprenticeships e.g. groundwork UK

Incentives – policy and finance


Tax breaks

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)


Policy guidance

Funding skills development e.g. partnering with local universities and colleges

Design, monitoring, evaluation

Focus groups

Opinion polls

Surveys and questionnaires

Consultation documents


Carbon footprinting

Adapted from: Dialogue by Design (2011), Whitmarsh et al. (2011), and Monaghan (2011)

Assessing the progress towards delivering a green economy, particularly the sustainability impacts and degree of engagement of local communities, depends upon effective design and monitoring throughout the process. A planned participative process and monitoring system helps identify whether the tools being used are successful, and highlights whether policies need changing to improve impacts (Cranidge 2011).

Indicators for assessment can be formed through a participatory process allowing individuals to better use and learn from them. Social, ecological and economic indicators need to be aligned with local government policy areas and accountability frameworks (Berlin and Hunter 2011). For example, the ‘development dividend’ developed by David Disch is a simple set of 15 indicators, assessing local and community benefits of projects which has been applied to assess various bio-energy projects globally (see Table 2) (SEI 2011).
Table 2

‘Development Dividend’ sustainability indicators




Does the project reduce local air pollution?

Does the project create new employment?

How did the project involve local stakeholders?

Does it reduce local water or soil pollution?

Does it source material or inputs from local supplies?

Does it have a clear rural and/or pro-poor focus?

Does it reduce natural re-source degradation?

How does it initiate technology transfer?

Does it contribute to health and safety standards?

Does it improve waste mana-gement?

Does it extend public infrastructure?

Does it share some of the profits?

Does it ‘green’ the energy production?

Does it contribute to the energy security of the country?

Does it provide training and education?

Another free online resource developed by WWF-UK and CAG consultants, called ‘The Community Engagement and Sustainable Development Tool’, specifically measures the impact community engagement has on changing and maintaining behaviors towards sustainable lifestyles (Cranidge 2011)

3 Future Opportunities?

Integrated approaches, such as the One Planet development model developed by WWF and later adopted in the UK (Sutton and Brighton), USA (Sonoma Mountain Village), and Portugal, with others planned in South Africa, China, Australia, and Canada, offers a good model for inclusive green economies (Bioregional 2011). This is because they set combined well-being and environmental objectives as their starting point, rather than focusing on economic growth objectives in isolation.

The discussion and case studies included here highlight that local government need to undertake a package of measures to ensure communities are engaged and able to benefit from green economies. Such measures need to target all three areas of public engagement: cognitive understanding (via information sharing), emotional involvement (information and direct participation) and behavioral engagement (resources, training, information, active involvement). Successful engagement in the future will benefit from an ‘active research’ approach, applying learning (positive and negative) from collaborative initiatives to find effective ways of joint-working. Whilst each local government and community is unique, there are many common experiences to community engagement. Sharing on regional and international scales will also help to identify alternative approaches and solutions.

Many recent examples of the shift to local green economies are coming from communities themselves, as exemplified by the Transition Town movement and others. Such locally grown movements can often hit road blocks created by local government themselves, from legal barriers, bureaucracy in planning or shifting priorities of political parties. Local government needs to be a facilitator and enabler, rather than an obstacle in this area. This will be vital to support resilient, innovative, and progressive local economies in the long term.



Thanks to CAG, Involve, Dr Minu Hemati and Clive Mitchell for their comments and inputs.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sustainability ConsultantLondonUK

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