A sustainable city economy

Edinburgh’s future lies in developing a sustainable economy, argues Gavin Corbett.

Edinburgh needs a sustainable economy.  That’s because our 21st century way of life currently consumes the equivalent of 3 planets and, given that we only have the one planet, that can’t be kept up for long.

But it is not just that.  The best cities, now and increasingly in the future, are those which offer clean, green, high quality environments. That’s where investors will want to invest, where companies will want to locate and where high-skilled workers will want to settle and stay.

So a sustainable economy for Edinburgh is not just an environmental necessity – it is what we need if our city is to prosper, if we are to provide jobs and security for people living here and if we are to stay ahead of international competition.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone (right) and Green councillor Gavin Corbett (left) visit eco-packaging company Vegware.

So what would that sustainable economy look like?  Some of the main features are sketched out in a report to the council’s Economy Committee this week. Critically, the way the city develops the new economy will not be as an add-on to business as usual; but embedded in delivering the city’s overall economic strategy, Edinburgh’s “Strategy for Jobs” 2012-17.

So, for example, landmark sites like the former brewery land at Fountainbridge can provide cutting-edge solutions to energy, water-use and waste, while creating a “must-see” mixed neighbourhood of homes and thriving businesses on a canalside location.  So much the better if it is local businesses, local entrepeneurs and social enterprises which provide the heartbeat of the new neighbourhood.

Again, a comprehensive programme to revolutionise the energy efficiency of homes and tackle fuel poverty can offer thousands of jobs and training places in a sector which has felt the chill wind of housing market boom and bust. On inward investment, the city can build on Leith’s success in attracting high quality jobs in renewable energy design and manufacture – rather than luring inward investment in retail and services which simply oust home-grown companies.

There are immense possibilities – and jobs – in high value, low carbon technology and innovation, building on our internationally-renowned universities and research reputation.

Of course, there are contradictions to iron out too.  A sustainable city economy may find multi-national fast-food outlets plonked next to the city bypass a bit jarring.  International connectedness may have to have as its barometer more than the crude number of passengers passing through the airport, especially in light of the UK’s £12 billion tourism deficit.

But that may be no more than the way the new economy has to slough off the worn skin of past decisions. In the decades ahead, I passionately believe that Edinburgh can lead the UK in this field and, in doing so, secure our economic future.

This blog was first published by the Edinburgh Evening News on 17 September.  A Green Light event is at 7pm on Wednesday 18 September at Summerhall