14 February 2008


Committee on Sustainable Development

Local and regional authorities committed to sustainable consumption

Valery Kadokhov, Russian Federation, (R, SOC)

Explanatory Memorandum
Committee on Sustainable Development


Human activities are having an increasingly adverse impact on ecosystems and health. One of the main reasons behind the growing risks facing current and future populations is the unrestrained growth in the consumption of goods and services, resulting in a growing scarcity of certain natural resources and irreversible damage to the environment. These trends will gain in strength over the next few years as demand increases in the emerging and developing countries and as the needs and expectations of industrial countries evolve.

Changing collective and individual behaviour towards responsible and ethical consumption is one of the more effective means of reducing the risks. Local and regional authorities can make a very considerable contribution towards promoting changes to modes of consumption. They can act upon territorial management and offer examples of ecologically sound practices. They can also interact directly with citizens and with intermediaries such as associations, businesses and educational bodies by offering resolute support for their activities.

The success of their efforts is closely linked to the capacity of territorial authorities to mobilise and implement, in close consultation with all stakeholders, practices for responsible and environmentally virtuous consumption.

R: Chamber of Regions / L: Chamber of Local Authorities
ILDG: Independent and Liberal Democrat Group of the Congress
EPP/CD: Group European People’s Party – Christian Democrats of the Congress
SOC: Socialist Group of the Congress
NR: Member not belonging to a Political Group of the Congress



Introduction................................................................................................................................... 3

1.         Household consumption – a key ecological issue................................................................ 3

2.         Goals and stakeholders..................................................................................................... 4

3.         Commitment of the local and regional authorities to promoting responsible consumption
by citizens......................................................................................................................... 5

Exemplary internal management......................................................................................... 6

Implementing ambitious and efficient public policies........................................................... 7

Action aimed at citizens..................................................................................................... 8

Working with businesses.................................................................................................... 8

Supporting associations.................................................................................................... 8

Establishing co-operation with teaching and research bodies............................................... 9

4.         Promoting the involvement of citizens and consumers in public life...................................... 9

Informing, communicating and explaining............................................................................ 9

Encouraging consumer citizens to express themselves...................................................... 10

Evaluating projects and activities...................................................................................... 10

Conclusion.................................................................................................................................. 11

The Secretariat of the Congress would like to thank Mr Francis RIBEYRE, Professor at the EGID Institute (Environment, Geo-engineering and Development), Bordeaux (France), for the preparation of this report.


Despite considerable advances in various fields, such as health, technology and education – advances which have helped to improve the living conditions of a very large number of people and increased life expectancies – the world’s social and environmental problems are spreading and intensifying. They are having a major impact on us and it is becoming increasingly urgent to identify remedies.

To varying extents, all the world’s peoples are being subjected to major disruptions. All have to contend, more or less directly and intensively, with climate change, air, soil and water pollution and the growth of certain diseases. Environmental disasters are becoming more and more frequent and humankind’s potential for self-destruction has never been greater than at present. Disparities are increasing between rich and poor countries but also in many cases between people in the same country. Conflicts go on and on and living conditions are declining for millions of people. Economic, political and religious interests have become so powerful that it is difficult to set up regulatory systems which make it possible to significantly improve the living conditions or indeed the chances of survival of the most disadvantaged people. Where will things stand in ten or fifty years?

As a growing number of people become aware of current dramas and new threats to humankind, the reaction is spreading and converging around attempts to set up and foster activities to reduce the adverse effects of certain types of human behaviour. These activities require a detailed reconsideration of relations between people but also an effort to reposition humankind more reasonably in relation to other species and, more broadly, in relation to the entire biosphere and the manifold interactions which sustain it. Is the human race on the threshold of a new ecological transition? Are human societies set for a far-reaching process of transformation?

Trying to reduce the adverse impact of human activity on ecosystems and hence on health will inevitably require a rethink of all the processes in the consumer chain, processes which are organised differently according to the people, the places, the societies and the periods involved. This is where local and regional authorities can play a major role, encouraging, or even compelling, consumer citizens to adopt more and more responsible forms of conduct. These aims can be achieved through their public-policy-making powers and through the support they can offer to associations, businesses and, of course, to the public as a whole. They have a duty to set an example and clearly assert their wish to contribute to attempts to change.

All authorities are concerned, whether in urban or rural areas or rich or poor regions, and, in their own particular way and according to the means at their disposal, they can all take part in the huge change in society which is taking place.

1.         Household consumption – a key ecological issue

A combination of population growth, technical and scientific progress and a desire for the improved well-being of all human beings has resulted in recent decades in a sharp upsurge in the consumption of goods and services in the industrialised countries and, more recently, in the emerging countries. In the short-term future, a large portion of practically all the countries in the world will have access first to mass consumption goods then to luxury goods.

Satisfying human needs, from the most vital to the least essential, through consumer goods and services has ecological impacts throughout their life cycle, from their production or dissemination to the waste products that they may ultimately produce. Increasing world trade complicates all these cycles and causes major imbalances between the world’s regions or even between groups of people in the same country. For example, some common consumer goods will require the involvement of partners in several different countries whose concern for the environment will vary considerably, journeys of thousands of kilometres and the use of large amounts of energy for their production and conservation, before they are purchased and used by the world’s wealthiest consumers.

In this way, the industrialised countries’ consumer practices and the fact that these are spreading throughout the world are resulting in:

- increasing removal of natural mineral, plant and animal resources;

- damage to land, air and water environments;

- adverse effects on human health that are not yet fully understood.

The latter point, which covers biological, psychological and social aspects, although difficult to quantify or sometimes even to perceive, is the main focus of all purposeful thinking and action to promote eco-citizenship and sustainable development. Often, the speed of innovation and the fact that goods are put on the market immediately mean that it is impossible to assess the serious consequences that they may have (for example, the genotoxic impact of some molecules may only be known several years after their use). To offset this lack of circumspection with regard to the potential risks, we should be encouraging discerning use of the precautionary principle.

It should be emphasised that these problems are not solely connected with consumer attitudes or over-consumption. The under-consumption of millions of the world’s poorest people also causes major environmental damage and human suffering. Using low-cost products, which are often of inferior quality or unfit for purpose, can increase health risks, mean having to replace them more frequently or entail the use of dangerous constituents. It can also create conditions of production, work and distribution which are unacceptable from an ethical viewpoint.

One of the main specific features of household consumption is its cultural, religious, biological, social and economic diversity. This amounts to a kind of biodiversity, which we should not overlook if we wish to avoid introducing unsuitable or unsuccessful policies to promote eco-citizenship. A complicated array of underlying factors, such as financial means, educational levels, family structures and life projects, influences the reasons for consumption and the form it takes. Bearing this in mind, various scales of activity will have to be considered, ranging from campaigns to instil responsible attitudes in whole communities to specific activities aimed at a particular group of people or even just a few households.

2.         Goals and stakeholders

The main aim of any policy to promote eco-citizenship is to preserve the best possible harmony between the development of people and societies, on the one hand, and due regard for all the other organisms living where they do, on the other. This can be achieved by maintaining a high level of natural biodiversity and through closer oversight of the physical and chemical environments on which each species relies. These aims imply adopting a new perspective on the structure and development of ecosystems – including humans – and taking action according to the circumstances based on detailed assessments of the potential risks at various geographical levels, from the local to the global, and on various timescales, from the immediate to the long term.

The desire to reduce the ecological impact of human activities also stems from a desire to reduce the money spent on curbing health risks, preserving pleasant living environments and improving the quality of life; this type of spending is increasing and increasing, affects taxpayers directly and cannot be allowed to grow indefinitely.

There is therefore an urgent need to devise and carry out new activities to curb the adverse impact of household consumption but the main difficulty is finding effective levers for action. The goal can be achieved through processes including reduction in consumption (or the “deconsumption” advocated by some), the purchase of eco-goods, the intelligent use of facilities, repairing or re-using items, making products recyclable and proper management of waste.

The basis for this is instilling a responsible attitude in all citizens encouraging them to consume more “reasonably”, in other words telling them more about the consequences of satisfying their needs so that they will adopt consumer behaviour that can be borne by the available resources and is less detrimental to the health of current and future populations. In this context, responsible consumption becomes a social, economic and political priority based on radical individual and collective transformations founded on ethical and environmental values. To achieve this it is vital to make the consumer aware again of the value of a product, a value that includes the service provided, the work of design and realisation that it required, the raw materials that had to be used and any collateral damage caused. The aim is to restore the meaning of, and hence a degree of respect for, the product through clear information and to explain to the consumer that its cost is not just a commercial one but also a social and ecological one. This approach must be based on education in responsible consumption through school curricula and form part of life-long learning programmes for adults.

The stakeholders most highly involved in processes which damage ecosystems are citizens themselves, whether as consumers or, in many cases, as producers, or as the victims of the adverse effects generated throughout the life cycle of goods and services. As a result they are the hub around which all efforts to instil more responsible attitudes must revolve.

Every consumer citizen is in more or less direct contact with numerous partners in the economic and social spheres. Through the services they provide to individuals, these partners all serve, in their own different ways, as potential means of providing information and raising awareness about eco-citizenship. They include craft workers, traders, banks, insurance firms, energy and water distributors and public services. It is vital for these networks of goods and services to be taken into account for citizens to be prompted to think about their own contributions to the life cycles of products and for them to be helped to change their behaviour as consumers.

The most important thing for members of the public, and what they are prepared to change for, are matters that affect them directly and deeply, such as poor living conditions and the threat of illness for themselves or their family. This must be one of the bases for any decision taken with the aim of going beyond egocentric attitudes to achieve higher levels of social integration through a permanent desire for harmony with nature. Actions must match the growing expectations of citizens and their ability to change their ways of thinking so that they can more readily incorporate environmentally-friendly behaviour into their daily lifestyles. These ways of thinking generally amount to a holistic view of personal development, not just to highly compartmentalised thematic approaches (focusing on specific issues such as waste, water or energy).

3.         Commitment of the local and regional authorities to promoting responsible consumption by citizens

Of all the other partners liable to make a highly positive contribution, local and regional authorities are most certainly in a very good position to foster a reduction in the ecological impact of household consumption of goods and services, which occurs partly in the context of domestic activities but also when using the local services that they propose (such as sports grounds, child care facilities and schools), all of which have consequences in areas such as use of space, energy and water, and waste management.

The local and regional authorities’ part in the process of instilling feelings of responsibility and involvement among citizens with regard to current and future environmental issues is a very strong driving force. This stems from their status as public authorities and as intermediaries between the different institutional and private bodies working in their own area or region on a long-term basis. Their power is reflected in the areas for which they are responsible such as spatial planning, the geographical distribution of people and activities, policing and supervisory tasks and support for citizens’ and public interest projects.

Owing to their position at the political, economic and social interface, and their legitimacy, they are increasingly required to play a central part in setting up and overseeing citizen schemes to promote quality of life and to value and preserve resources. This phenomenon is enhanced by a current tendency to broaden local authorities’ powers. Their strength lies in the fact that they are directly accessible to the people and they can take advantage of the benefits that this proximity brings such as ease of exchange and communication, facilitated interpersonal contact, the day-to-day nature of concerns, full knowledge of available networks and potential for rapid reaction.

This positioning of local and regional authorities in efforts to encourage people to take a responsible attitude to sustainable consumption is entirely in keeping with large-scale measures taken at national and international level. Since the Rio Summit in 1992 and the (just as important) Johannesburg Summit in 2002, numerous projects have been devised in different countries of the world. It was as part of this process that the theme of sustainable production and consumption first arose and that it is now taking on major proportions. For example, the Marrakech Process[1], launched in 2003, was followed up on in 2005 by a congress in Costa Rica and more recently by one in Sweden (Stockholm, June 2007). The next congress, which will review progress on the undertakings made and draw up new proposals, is to be held in China in 2009. In the meantime, a very large number of working meetings focusing on the work of the seven task forces appointed will be held in various countries in the North and South.

To engage in such activities, local and regional authorities must be carried along by strong motivations including the personal conviction of decision-makers, the need to meet statutory requirements, a desire to move forward and prepare their fellow citizens’ futures and electoral goals. The obstacles to implementation should not be underestimated. They include the need to acquire a sustainable development “culture”, make additional investments, change citizens’ behaviour, restructure services and learn about processes of participatory democracy. The fact that it is so difficult for authorities to assess how likely it is that their projects will fail may sway them towards caution or even hesitancy. Setting up networks of authorities to pool positive experiences is a way of enlightening and reassuring overcautious decision-makers. It is prudent therefore to ensure, prior to and throughout any project, that it is feasible and desirable.

The basis on which commitments are carried out may be Local Agenda 21s[2], urban ecology charters or any other mechanism with a similar purpose. As with any other body with a proactive sustainable development policy, a system of environmental management may be added to this by way of operational support. This means having human resources available for the task, the buildings and the communication tools and having funding available to support partnerships.

The tools available to local and regional authorities to promote eco-citizenship fall into two categories: firstly, providing an example through public management and secondly, addressing citizens directly and indirectly through businesses, associations and professional organisations.

Exemplary internal management

To foster eco-citizenship and to be credible, local and regional authorities must be exemplary in the way that they manage their own administrative and technical bodies. The first types of ecologically sound activity through which authorities can convey a message to their citizens are as follows:

- in buildings that are open to the public (town halls, museums, sports halls, etc.), sustained efforts must be made to ensure that they are built or renovated in accordance with high environmental quality standards but also that they meet the functional requirements and the levels of user-friendliness expected of them by the public;

- in parks and gardens, public spaces, sports grounds and along avenues, all plant species should be endemic, wildlife should be properly managed, ecological maintenance and weeding practices should be adopted and irrigation should be kept to a minimum. All of these practices can be pointed out as examples of sound ecological management to inhabitants and visitors alike;

- staff obliged to travel as part of their professional activities must do so as little as possible (replacing journeys through the use of computers, telephones and videoconferencing) and, where necessary, do so using safe energy-efficient transport with low emissions. Collective transport, cycling and car sharing must be encouraged. Schemes relating to journeys by staff between home and the workplace are another means of reducing the adverse ecological impact of certain types of transport. They may include financial incentives to use public transport, providing employees with bicycles, adjusted working hours and, in a more coercive vein, reducing parking spaces and doing away with bonuses.

In keeping with the political desire for sustainable development and the aim of involving staff more in this approach, various activities to foster responsible consumption can be carried out such as the following:

- sustainable public purchasing: this sends out a strong signal to local government staff and, indirectly, to citizens. Providing examples of thoughtful choices as regards day-to-day consumer products such as recycled paper, biodegradable detergents, low-energy light bulbs and fuel-efficient vehicles enhances the credibility of the message disseminated and encourages everyone to continue to take similar kinds of action;

- energy choices for heating buildings, swimming pools and greenhouses. In the light of our dependence on, and the increasing scarcity of, fossil fuels, and the divided opinions on nuclear energy and large hydroelectric dams, the use of renewable energies needs to be developed.  There is a need to encourage innovation and a sense of collective responsibility;

- reducing wastage and superfluous consumption, for example, copies of documents, lights left on in full daylight, heating on with the windows open, car washing, etc. Staff should be regularly reminded of the ground rule that operations should be as elementary and inexpensive as possible;

- internal communication activities ranging from general awareness campaigns to highly comprehensive training for employees responsible for sustainable development. For authorities to be able to properly assume the choices and undertakings made, it is highly advisable for some of the elected representatives to have recognised expertise in the field of the environment and sustainable development. Internal communication strategies on the public authorities’ environment policy are a means of improving working conditions and fostering more activities that provide good examples but also of promoting eco-citizenship among employees and making them converts who will convey the message to their families and friends and to associations. Setting up systems to encourage and reward staff who gets involved on the basis of evaluations of individual and collective results is a way of acknowledging their efforts and encouraging them to continue.

Implementing ambitious and efficient public policies

Public action to promote eco-citizenship must draw on what is done elsewhere but above all must be geared to local populations, now and in the future (i.e. their culture, lifestyles, desires and economic activities) and to the ecological features of the area or region concerned (resources, vulnerability, changes, etc.).

A broad range of resources is available to local and regional authorities to help citizens to keep up or adopt more responsible consumer behaviour. Their decisions relate to people, the areas where they live and funding. They cover areas which include the following:

- urban policy and decisions on land-use zones, types of housing, networks (roads, water and energy), neighbourhood rehabilitation, architectural standards, parks and woodlands, social housing and plans for eco-villages and eco-neighbourhoods;

- measures to restrict car use and parking and promote collective transport, cycling (through cycle tracks and cycle hire schemes) and pedestrian areas;

- the establishment of industrial firms or, in certain cases, incentives for eco-businesses;

- small local traders encouraging citizens to make less use of their cars, benefit from services with a more human touch, purchase local products and favour shorter distribution networks;

- developing shopping areas that are not too far from residential areas; restricting parking spaces and laying on public transport to get to them;

- public facilities: museums, nature and environment centres and exhibition centres are all very good vehicles for education in eco-citizenship. Social history museums have strong links with regions, traditions and local life and are educational tools reaching a wide audience. Their influence stretches beyond the local population, covering tourists, who are often very amenable to environmental messages during their leisure time;

- legislation: compliance with laws on air, water, noise pollution and penalties for polluters. Authorities also have a duty to propose legal reforms to the higher political authorities to change legislation, bringing case-law more into line with the problems encountered in their regions and the means that might be proposed to remedy them. This alignment could begin with a review of the regulations introduced by local and regional authorities themselves under the powers assigned to them;

- management of natural hazards related to the conduct of citizens: maintenance of waterways, compliance with fire and safety rules, keeping public spaces clean and healthy through street cleaning, disinfecting bins, etc.;

- as bodies responsible for decisions that affect large numbers of people, local authorities have a duty to anticipate future problems as much as possible so that they can deal with them in the best possible way and in good time. Taking anticipatory measures based on regulatory and technological monitoring, indicators of trends and weak signals means that resources are deployed more efficiently and helps the public to accept new decision-making criteria. In line with this anticipatory approach to potential problems, rational innovation in the form of experimentation is a tangible example of the direction that could be taken in a wider setting.

Action aimed at citizens

In view of the highly diverse nature of households referred to above, authorities must consider what are the best methods to use according to the type of population or groups within that population. They might decide to work directly with households to improve their conduct as eco-citizens offering them grants or tax incentives to install energy-efficient heating systems or insulation, providing them with their own compost bins and rainwater butts free of charge or at a reduced price and providing water-saving equipment and low-energy light sources in the case of low-income households.

At neighbourhood level, material arrangements must be in keeping with the environmental aims pursued and the populations concerned. This means, among other things, making waste containers easily accessible, providing clear information about waste-sorting systems, establishing walking bus routes and safe cycle tracks, making it easy to access collective transport hubs and setting up street lighting that properly serves its purpose and is energy efficient.

Authorities must also be in a position to meet public requests for advice or help them with formalities with bodies such as water companies, energy suppliers, town planning offices, consumers organisations and financial advisers. An efficient way of responding rapidly and directly to such requests is to set up information and advice centres in close proximity to residential areas as well as holding regular, well-organised neighbourhood awareness-raising campaigns (examples being information centres on water and energy savings and eco-labelling).

Working with businesses

Businesses are another context in which eco-citizenship can be promoted. Increased co-operation with the authorities can take the form of partnerships focusing on various facets of industrial and trading activities including reducing environmental hazards for local residents, contributing to waste treatment, optimising local water resource consumption, transport strategies and canteens serving healthy food.

Management of industrial estates and commercial areas by the authorities is a major asset when it comes to negotiating agreements with firms and fostering complementary links between companies, an example being a form of industrial ecology which is based on networks to pool materials and energy and complementary activities at industrial-estate level.

Incentive measures for the establishment of eco-businesses may also form part of this approach. Various methods, such as financial measures and partnerships, can help to prompt businesses to adopt more socially and environmentally-responsible practices. Another means of promoting systems of production and distribution which show more regard for working conditions and environmental impacts is to set up co‑operatives, or any other body which affords citizens or local authorities substantial decision-making powers. For some activities, work from home and teleworking are good examples of environmentally responsible behaviour, which cut down on journeys and the number of offices required by companies.

In the agricultural sector and, more particularly, the agrifoodstuffs industry, support can be given to organic farmers through grants, market-stall licences enabling them to sell direct to the customer and subsidies to run educational farms aimed at children and adults.

Along similar lines, making allotments available to the public, especially to the poorest categories of the population, is a very effective means of promoting eco-citizenship, offering social interaction, the satisfaction of growing one’s own produce, a sense of achievement, contact with nature and areas in which exemplary activities can be carried out in the heart of towns.

Fair trade and alternative and solidarity-based economic models must be encouraged by authorities to promote the values of equity, cultural exchange, pooling of experience and co-operation.

Supporting associations

Associations make a key contribution, although this is often undervalued and inadequately supported. The enthusiasm of their leaders and members and their contribution to the life of the community make them useful intermediaries between the authorities and the rest of the population. Lessons about eco-citizenship are often found in the values of associations, and many associations other than those whose direct raison d’être is to protect our environment and quality of life may also contribute to this process, such as sports clubs, cultural associations and humanitarian organisations.

These bodies, into which great efforts are put by large numbers of volunteers, play a crucial role in passing information and demands from citizens up to decision-makers. They initiate many activities intended to familiarise people with nature and respect it; they take part in various school projects and provide teaching materials on the environment and sustainable development. They also serve as educational forums, funded in part by businesses who wish to help raise public awareness, especially among schoolchildren, about one environmental aspect or another (such as water or energy saving), while ensuring that the messages being conveyed are relatively objective.

The strength of the vast array of small local associations is that they can join together in networks and create links with certain larger NGOs, which have a considerable reputation and extensive experience in the work of nature conservation, education on sustainable development and eco-citizenship.

Support for associations can be provided in various ways including grants, free use of premises, advice, loans of equipment, assistance in organising events, press material and funding for certain organisational posts.

Establishing co-operation with teaching and research bodies

Schoolchildren are a particularly receptive audience for environmental ideas, which they then pass on to their families. Support from authorities for teachers’ efforts to educate children in this field and nurture critical-mindedness may come in the form of funding for excursions or the purchase of educational games or assistance in the organisation of theme days. Subsidies intended to improve the quality of the services provided by school canteens have obvious human benefits such as healthy food, pleasurable eating, healthy children, positive feedback to parents and, as a result of this, support for networks supplying quality products.

In higher education, co-operation may take the form of partnerships through study projects, placements with local government departments, seminars and scientific activities. In the same general sphere of education and research, universities can suggest certain answers to new questions with which authorities are faced as a result of the desire to promote eco-citizenship by running cross-sectoral or thematic research programmes, devising new teaching material, setting up vocational training courses, participating in scientific and cultural events and joining working groups and scientific boards.

Working with chambers of commerce and industry, authorities can set up vocational training courses centring on new technologies, particularly in the building trades, so that consumers will have the benefit of genuine expertise in the construction of environmentally-friendly buildings.

Support for teaching and research establishments can be enhanced through the implementation of Agenda 21s for schools and green campuses, which are measures that involve everyone, including pupils, teachers, administrative staff and parents, in collective and tangible action as eco-citizens.

4.         Promoting the involvement of citizens and consumers in public life

Informing, communicating and explaining

Authorities must firmly draw attention to the role that they can play with their citizens in guiding them, supporting them and assisting them in the process of developing an individual and collective sense of responsibility. Efforts to increase this sense should be based on explanation and an ability to convince and persuade but also on a strong desire to involve people in decisions that concern them personally and in the implementation of measures.

Active public involvement by citizens in the management of their environment, at local level first, then on a broader scale, entails providing them with relevant information on ideas or plans brought to their attention by the local and regional authorities so that they can make these projects their own and participate in them in a full and informed manner.

The potential to influence consumer behaviour increases along with the quality of the contact established with them. This need for quality applies throughout the whole communication process including the choice of target, methods, content and creating a climate of trust. All explanations must be based on sound arguments which the target public will understand.

Clear messages for the public on current issues can be conveyed by the media and the municipal newsletter, focusing on subjects such as global warming and climate strategies and the decline in biodiversity and the creation of green areas, but also on the links between daily lifestyle choices, their impact on local environments and their repercussions in terms of quality of life. The authorities may decide for instance to introduce schemes to provide people with personal information through infra-red thermal imaging or to analyse systems for the individual treatment of waste water or pollution in the home.

Taking full advantage of results obtained at local level through meetings to pool experience with other regions and dissemination through the media enhances the positive image that citizens have of their own actions and encourages them to continue.

Encouraging consumers/citizens to express themselves

Policies and undertakings in the field of responsible consumption must be the subjects of comprehensive consultation between the partners on the ground so that, wherever possible, the consensus that is the key to the success of such activities can be achieved. As one of the aims is to promote eco-citizenship, a genuine effort must be made to make the various participants agree on common aims, priorities, resources and target dates. As environmental policies are based in large part on people’s behaviour and attitudes, it is essential that decisions are taken wherever they can by consensus. These decisions, which will be the culmination of often quite long processes of shaping or reshaping people’s outlooks and a gradual maturing of responsible attitudes, must be permanently enriched by information, discussion and debate. From a governance viewpoint, decision-making processes are a cornerstone of public policy to promote eco-citizenship. To involve citizens in this kind of process at local or regional level and support them in their actions, there has to be bedrock of productive debate rooted in a climate of mutual confidence and respect.

Evaluating projects and activities

Evaluating public policies in the area of eco-citizenship is an essential stage in the process of assessing objectively what impact activities have had and assuming responsibility for the outcome. It must focus both on changes in environmental impact owing to changes in household’s consumption habits and on the internal effect of any exemplary measures that have been adopted. Evaluation procedures should include thematic evaluation tools (measuring flows of material and energy, bio-indicators and carbon levels) and systemic evaluation methods (assessing changes in the relationship between stakeholders and the environment) and be applied at various levels of activity and social impact, i.e. individuals, families, groups and associations and whole communities.

Evaluation should take account of the overall framework of products’ life cycles to pinpoint not only the local impacts of the consumption of goods and services but also their effects upstream and downstream in order to check that the environmental hazard has not simply been moved to another place. Similarly, it should be ensured, for example, that when there is more waste collection in a given area, this does not exacerbate transport-related impacts.

Evaluation procedures must form an integral part of policies to promote eco-citizenship, in other words right from the moment that a project is devised. They must be organised with a view to producing objective results to foster good governance, both at internal level and with citizens and the support of experts. Checks on evaluation methods and tools must be set up at the outset so as to enable any adjustments that may be needed to be made as quickly as possible.

Acquiring certification such as ISO14001 for a local or regional authority’s environmental policy can, in certain cases, lend an added cachet to certain activities and become a driving force for innovative policies in the field. Regular environmental audits allow precise assessments of the current situation to be made at particular times and future decisions to be based on objective criteria.


There is an imperative need for consumer behaviour not just to evolve but to be radically transformed.  Local and regional authorities are the ideal partners with which to develop and promote activities that foster responsible consumption by citizens.  They have a whole array of mechanisms for this which, although already up and running, need to be enhanced through ground-breaking proposals in the legislative, economic and social sphere.  The effectiveness of activities is based on a balance between applying environmental rules and supporting activities run by citizens, businesses and associations.

When the environmentally responsible policies to be pursued by authorities are devised, full account should be taken of the specific characteristics of their inhabitants, the diversity of their households and the particular features of the links between households and their environments.  The success of the methods used will depend to a large extent on the authorities’ ability to rally citizens around individual and collective projects.