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Interview Prof. Joan Fitzgerald: how can cities stimulate a green economy?

Professor Joan Fitzgerald is a Professor and Director of the Law and Public Policy program at Northeastern University in the United States. Her book ´Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development´, is a comprehensive research project that examines how the United States and Western European cities address the interrelated issues of global warming, energy dependence and opportunities for green economic development. EMI asked her about what she would recommend to cities that want to invest in a green economy.


Fitzgerald: in my book I mention the Freiburg case. The city is an innovator in solar technology and illustrates how cities can stimulate demand for sustainable products by policy tools like the feed-in tariff. Feed-in tariffs require grid operators to purchase all renewable power available to them from renewable energy generators at set prices. The idea is to guarantee suppliers of renewable energy a price above production cost to create a stable market that encourages investment in sustainable technologies. The Freiburg case is therefore a good example of how a city applied research and collaborated with the private sector to stimulate the development of a green economy.  The feed-in tariff and other policies implemented  by German cities became federal policy and propelled Germany into a leading exporter of solar and wind technology.

Do you think regional or national governments should take the lead in stimulating green economic development?

Fitzgerald: in the absence of a coherent national policy in the U.S, cities have been moving forward on their own with policies to address climate change and promote clean technologies. Without national policies to promote demand and commercialize new technologies, a country will only be a consumer of renewable energy instead of a producer.

What do you advise cities that are at the starting point of investing in a green economy?

  • Look at small opportunities that can be profitable. It is important that cities start with assessing their current situation to determine what their economic possibilities are.  This assessment may reveal large or small opportunities.  It may not be feasible for a place to become a producer of wind turbines, but many industrial areas could produce parts for the producer—after all, a wind turbine has more than 800 parts.  In my book, I found examples like this and many others. Cities that are investing a lot in energy efficiency may also be able to help building supply companies to become green building supply companies. I present three distinct approaches to creating economic development opportunities from energy efficiency.
  • Invest in job training programs that educate people in occupations that have green applications in construction, manufacturing, and entirely new advanced technology sectors.
  • Stimulate public-private partnerships between private companies, national government, universities and research institutes in research and development and commercialization of new clean technologies.


EMI bridges the gap between research and practice to strengthen the social and economic position of urban areas. In what way can EMI help urban areas creating (more) green economic development?

EMI can stimulate the collaboration and exchange of knowledge among cities. Cities are competing heavily with each other in attracting clean-tech industries in their region, but cities can also learn from each other. Cities tend to focus only on best practices, but  it is important to focus on what has not worked to understand why policies and programs work in one place and not in another. In addition, cities have very different national policies to support their efforts to promote green economic development. This context is important for understanding why policies work in some countries and not in others.