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Green Deals: Lessons for starting effective partnerships

No government can tackle the challenges facing the labour market alone; working in partnership is essential. In this blog, the co-founder of the Green Deals, Arne Daneels, tells us about an innovative way of starting partnerships. The Green Deals are voluntary partnerships between the Flemish Government and other organisations to tackle a green challenge together. The initiative has been going for four years and there are currently seven Green Deals signed by 1000 partners.

Firstly, can you tell us how the Green Deals work?

The Green Deals are voluntary agreements between the Flemish government and other parties, such as industry, NGOs, local government and universities. These partners work together to tackle an environmental challenge.

For example, one of our first Green Deals aims to increase shared mobility (car-sharing, carpooling and bike-sharing). A group of organisations came together to remove barriers to car ownership and provide alternatives. 100 organisations signed the deal, including local government, car companies, researchers and three ministers. Together, they aim to increase car sharing from 28,000 to 100,000 sharers and carpooling from 1000 to 2000 companies.

I set up the Green Deals four years ago with a colleague. We borrowed the approach from the Netherlands and adapted it for the Flemish region. Now there are seven really high-quality deals in Flanders. We’ve just finished our pilot phase and had a successful evaluation. So we are ready to launch the real thing.

Arne Daneels presenting at a Nesta workshop

Arne Daneels presenting at a Nesta workshop

What role does the government play in the Green Deals?

The Flemish government coordinates the set up of deal and runs a launch event where the Minister for Environment and the partners sign the deal. Some deals are managed by the government, but others are managed and coordinated by private partners.

The Green Deals are all about facilitating and accelerating what’s already happening on the ground. We don’t mandate what the deals should be about as we’ve found it doesn’t work. When different organisations bring their ideas to us and a working group decides whether it works or not - that is the best way. It might be a colleague in another government department or someone from an NGO or a company. For example, the idea for our Green Deal to reduce the amount of water used in brewing came from one small brewery who wanted to do things differently and convinced its peers to join in.

What do the people signing Green Deals get from the initiative?

Firstly, they get positive exposure for their project. When they sign the deal it’s a showcase moment and there’s media coverage. Also they can tap into a big network so they get social capital. For example, when we made the Green Deal on shared mobility it was a relatively new idea, and all these people working on it found each other through the deal. They also get the knowledge and support to reach their green goals through a learning network.

It has a magnetic effect...It’s a dynamic that you can’t get from legislation.

Arne Daneels

What have you learnt along the way?

If we want a Green Deal to succeed, everybody who signs must be on board and agree on the common goal. Otherwise it won’t get off the ground. The Green Deals are voluntary, it’s not a legal contract. So you need a strong commitment from the main parties that are willing to coordinate it. It takes lots of time and effort but it’s a fantastic tool for those who want to be frontrunners in reaching green goals.

What advice would you give to other countries wanting to do a similar thing?

The approach of asking people working on the ground, ‘OK, tell us what you need, we’ll help.’ is very valuable. It has a magnetic effect. It brings together people working on the issue, creates a stage for the challenge and provides a place where people can gather. For example, we have a Green Deal for increasing biodiversity in business parks. When it was signed, we suddenly had 200 companies involved and 6000 acres of land ready to be re-designed for biodiversity. It’s a dynamic that you can’t get from legislation.

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Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Senior Researcher, Future of Work and Skills

Georgie worked on the research needs for the Digital Frontrunners and Futurefit programmes.

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