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How an Industrial City Reinvented Itself as a Sustainability Hub

The city of Nantes, the fifth largest in France, sits on the estuary where the storied River Loire begins to meet the Atlantic Ocean on that country’s northwestern coast. It is a place of rich history dating back at least as far as the second century, and subsequently including the Dukes of Brittany in the late middle ages and, in the 18th century, the famed novelist and futurist Jules Verne. Economically Nantes was long a port and shipbuilding center of considerable significance.

But the shipping and shipbuilding industry in western Europe began a serious decline in the 1960s and 1970s, and most of what survived – or, in some cases, expanded – on the Loire was established in the port of St-Nazaire some 32 miles to the west of Nantes. The last major shipbuilding facility in Nantes closed in 1986.

The Green Capital designation

The proud city needed a new identity in order to remain relevant. That new identity became, first, culture and then, sustainability. Today the two have come together in some highly innovative ways that have led the European Union to designate Nantes as its “Green Capital” for 2013.

Photo by Kaid Benfield

The EU’s annual green designation was created by the European Commission in the last decade, with Stockholm selected as the first honoree, for 2010. The prestigious competition involves a lengthy application process and is judged on the basis of twelve overlapping environmental criteria:


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