Last month, representatives from the city of Vaasa (Finland) made a 12-hour journey to visit their peers in the Belgian city of Gent for a packed two-day exchange on all things green, clean and engaging!
Friendship between the cities has grown since the first visit took place last year in Vaasa, where Gent learnt of the strong collaboration between Vaasa and its university - the city has teamed up with researchers to develop its smart city strategy, local energy solutions and improve citizen engagement.
Gent and Vaasa are leaders in establishing cross-border seaports through means of efficiency, economy of scale, and preventing overlapping activities, aiming to reduce energy use as well as operational costs.
Greentrack – a network of 54 cultural organisations in Gent – helps cultural organisations understand their environmental performance data, which helps them draft an action plan and even follow up on their implementation. With an initial injection of money from the City of Gent, members of Greentrack can access shared materials and tools to carry out renovations, and even join with other members to use their purchase power to lower the cost of projects.
One energy-efficient lighting programme in museums across Gent is estimated to have saved 365,000 kWh per year – the equivalent of 108 families' lighting use.
Gent aims at doubling its building renovations from the current 1500 per year to 3,500 per year by providing support for tenants, landlords, household owners and businesses in finding and implementing energy-saving renovations.
A city-led energy hub – Energie Centrale – aims to remove as much stress as possible from the renovation process by advising citizens on their building’s energy performance and what they can do. The city offers free advice at your home, a follow-up report of what are the possible options, advice on finding contractors and help in comparing quotes, as well as supporting citizens throughout the actual renovation process.
Energie Centrale additionally supports a ‘sustainable neighbourhood’ programme providing advice and financial support to help get citizen-led energy projects up-and-running.
A large potential of energy savings lies in the business sector! Gent is working to harness this potential by advising local businesses – small, medium and large – in the most cost-effective measures they can take to reduce their energy and save money. The “Energie Coaching” programme provides an initial energy audit to understand where savings can be made, helps in the development of an energy action plan, and then provides one-year worth of follow-up through a city-funded helpdesk. While businesses are asked to contribute a small fee to the programme (depending on their size), the majority of funding comes from the municipality. So far more than 250 businesses have collectively reduced 6,280 tons CO2/yr, which is the equivalent of the energy used in 2,800 households.