How Grenoble, France, Is Leading the Fight Against Climate Change

AD spoke to the city’s mayor about important steps taken to win the European Union’s lauded Green Capital award

“The greening of the city is everyone’s business,” says Éric Piolle, mayor of Grenoble, France, the unofficial capital of the French Alps. As one of the first Europe Ecology (Green Party) members to lead a city in France, he’s made it so. In 2022, the European Union named Grenoble the EU Green Capital, an annual award given to a city that is “leading the way in environmentally friendly urban living.” A series of public-private partnerships and a strong emphasis on participatory democracy has allowed Grenoble—population: 160,000—to become one of the world’s most environmentally friendly.

As mayor, Piolle’s approach to sustainability is rooted in science and driven by citizens. Surrounded by mountains, Grenoble’s topography dictates its need for urban density, and thus the city is the third most concentrated in France. However, it is also dedicated to providing ample public green space through ambitious planning that encourages urban gardens, vertical gardens, and tree planting programs that allow private citizens to plant corporation-donated trees in unused public spaces. Soft mobility efforts like pedestrianized streets in the city center, a thriving carpool network, “bicycle highways,” and a municipal school for bike safety education are other examples. These kinds of citizen-enacted policies create a sense of partnership between the public and its leadership, with a singular goal toward better urban living and climate-conscious action.

aerial view of city and mountainsLocated less than 190 miles north of Marrseille, this mountainous city encourages urban gardens and tree-planting programs that allow private citizens to plant corporation-donated trees. Photo: Getty Images
man speaking to other peopleMayor Éric Piolle speaks to journalists in August 2022. His administration has been instrumental in turning the small French city into a sanctuary of eco-friendly innovation OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/Getty Images

“To enable everyone to not only live with respect for our environment, but also to live better, we must rely on research,” says Piolle, noting that making the latest information about climate change publicly available is key to informed citizen participation in the city’s climate proposal program, which allows submission of proposed municipal actions for bettering the environment and offers support to enact them through public or public-private partnerships with corporations. For example, the public electricity supplier, GEG, “produces the equivalent of green electricity needs of all households in Grenoble,” Piolle explains, enabling all homes to be fully powered by renewable energy. The city is also replacing its asphalt with materials that allow water infiltration, has banned phytosanitary products, and is completing energy renovations of public buildings to improve their performances and reduce environmental effects.

aerial view of buildingsAll homes in Grenoble are able to be fully powered by renewable energy. Photo: Getty Images/Henryk Sadura

“Citizen participation is a propulsive force for ecological and social transitions,” says the mayor, something he notes can be seen in communities across France. Last year’s public climate convention in Grenoble saw 219 ideas submitted to mitigate and act on global warming. The emphasis on participatory climate solutions has also turned Grenoble into a leading European research city. When studies showed that an average of one person per year was dying due to air pollution, Mayor Piolle set up a state-funded program to replace wood-burning appliances with more healthy heating solutions for free in every household. His government supports start-ups who are making strides in environmentally friendly solutions as well, like Waga Energy, which produces biomethane from landfill gas and feeds it directly into the national grid, avoiding an annual 45,000 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions.

From 2005 to 2016, Grenoble’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 25%, and Piolle has pushed those goals even further with the ambition to reduce them by 50% by 2030, 10% higher than the Metropolitan Local Climate Air and Energy Plan 2019’s benchmark. The 2022 EU designation was another motivator for the mayor and residents, and an opportunity to be an example to others across the world. “The Green Capital year allowed the general mobilization of the territory around the climate challenge,” says Piolle. “But we act on its criteria on a daily basis.”

Via Architectural Digest

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