The basic idea of Ecoprofit® (ECOlogical PROject For Integrated Environmental Technology) as developed by the ICLEI member city of Graz (Austria) is a mutually beneficial model using integrated environmental technologies to strengthen businesses economically and simultaneously improve the local environment. An important factor for the success of Ecoprofit® is the special way in which local authorities, businesses and consultants work together through common training programmes and networking. This strong co-operation enables an effective flow of information and considerable synergies.
In the framework of the Ecoprofit® Academy, specific technical expertise for specific branches is developed to ensure the highest benefit for the enterprises and the environment. A key element of the process is the implementation of measures in the enterprises and the final evaluation and awarding of the companies. The success of the model has been widely documented and acknowledged by several international awards including the Dubai Award (UN-Habitat and the Municipality of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the Dubai International Award for Improving the Living Environment since 1996). In the meantime the approach is spreading rapidly over Europe and beyond. In Germany more than 40 Cities are currently applying Ecoprofit® . Amongst them, the ICLEI-member city, Hanover, is one of the most successful examples of integrating the local economy into their Local Agenda 21 via Ecoprofit®.
Ecoprofit® expanding to Asia: Pilot city Panzhihua
The Chinese city of Panzhihua, partner of Graz, Hanover and ICLEI's European Secretariat in Ecoprofit co-operation within the European Commission's Asia Urbs Programme, is perfectly suited for being the pilot city for establishing Ecoprofit in China. The city is located alongside the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in Southwest China where the province of Sechuan borders the province of Yunnan. 38 years ago only a few families were dwelling at the river. However, when, in the early sixties, the rich mineral resources of the region were discovered, Mao Tse Dong announced the development of an industrial city in the region to the People's Congress. Thousands of people moved into the area to build mines, railroads, blast furnaces, basic industries, and housing areas. In 1972, the first blast furnace was starting to operate. Today Panzhihua is a prospering and fast-growing city. 1.2 Million people are living in the greater city area that spreads over 50 km alongside the river and its tributaries. The city also explores new technologies. This rapid development was not achieved, however, without damage to the environment. Nevertheless, the problem has been realised by the local authorities and considerable improvements have already been achieved over the last years. Still, there is a lot left to do and considerable efforts will be needed to make the City's development more sustainable.
Setting the path: First partners meeting in Panzhihua
The Ecoprofit® project that seeks to establish the approach in China, aims at making a substantial contribution in that direction. After a two-year development phase, the project was started in January 2004 and at the end of March, the European partners visited Panzhihua. The delegation, led by Vice-Mayor Hans Moenninghoff from Hanover and Karl Niederl, Head of the Environmental Department in Graz, were warmly welcomed by the hosts who showed overwhelming hospitality that made the stay a wonderful experience.
Besides providing the first opportunity for a personal meeting between the European and the Chinese partners, the visit in Panzhihua focused on three main elements: first, a one day seminar including guests from National Ministries in Beijing and representatives from the Provincial Government of Sechuan to introduce Ecoprofit® and the achievements in Graz and Hanover, as well as giving the Europeans some insight into the situation in China and Panzhihua. It also included the ceremonial signing of the Partnership Agreement and the nomination of the members of the Project Advisory Board.
Concluding from the seminar, there is a strong interest in Ecoprofit® going far beyond Panzhihua, however further co-operation will depend on the success of the pilot project. Second, two half days were dedicated to visits in local enterprises that allowed the European delegation to gain insight into the production processes needed to develop concepts for improvements that could be achieved via the application of Ecoprofit®. Specific conclusions however have not been drawn yet, as the selection of enterprises was not yet decided and might well differ from the ones that have been visited.
Finally, there were meetings of the project team to discuss the implementation schedule and to develop a clear understanding of the common goals in different cultural environments. It was reconfirmed that it is the interest of all partners to use the current project to create a solid and sustainable basis for establishing Ecoprofit® in China with a long-term perspective, as it has been done in Europe before. A key factor will be the transfer of knowledge to build the human resources to support the implementation. This will be achieved in several steps. First, a high-level delegation will visit the cities of Graz and Hanover in order to get a direct impression of Ecoprofit® companies and some ideas about the technologies that have been used in order to achieve improvements. Later, a group of about twenty Chinese, comprising selected experts, local government officials, and people from enterprises will receive an intensive training on Ecoprofit® in Graz and Hanover that will be backed up by some distance training. In a next step the trained Ecoprofit® Consultants with the support of selected European experts will support the implementation of Ecoprofit® in the enterprises that will have been chosen to participate in the project.
It will be crucial for the success of the project to get a substantial number of enterprises through the full Ecoprofit® process including the success evaluation and awarding procedure, as only visible success will provide a basis for the wider dissemination in China. It is the common understanding of the partners that consultants who will have been trained and who will have gone through a full implementation period of Ecoprofit®, should form the basis for the development of a Chinese Ecoprofit® Academy that should in turn form the core for the further dissemination of the approach to other cities and regions in China.
After almost four days of concentrated work, everybody was convinced that the project would become a success and that the co-operation in the project is well established. We have to express our thanks and gratitude to the local project team who made every effort to make us feel at home in Panzhihua and everybody is looking forward to the next visit.