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Climalp/“Alliance in the Alps”: Infected with good ideas

Strikingly aesthetic: the day nursery centre in Saint Martin de Belleville uses a minimum of heating energy.

Strikingly aesthetic: the day nursery centre in Saint Martin de Belleville uses a minimum of heating energy. © Saint Martin de Belleville

Ideas spread like viruses. They infect someone, who in turn infects someone else, and if they are good and strong, they spread like an epidemic. Energy-efficient construction is one such viral idea. On 14 September 2009 one could observe how it leapt from Vorarlberg to the French department of Savoie. Austria’s westernmost federal province is widely regarded as a centre for innovative timber construction. Concentrated here are a strikingly large number of architects, sawmills and carpenters who use wood as a traditional building material but in an ecologically advanced way – a large-scale workshop for creating a forest-sourced living environment.
Anyone interested in knowing how to build in both an aesthetic and an energy-saving way should go there. Which is precisely what CIPRA did, together with the Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities, which it co-initiated. They invited 30 municipal representatives from the French Alps to see for themselves the benefits of timber houses that consume almost no energy. And there are plenty of them in the region. In Austria only one house in twenty is built of wood; in Vorarlberg it is one house in five.
Some of the participants on the excursion were from Saint Martin de Belleville, considered one of the wealthiest municipalities in France due mainly to tourism. Four million overnight stays, mostly in winter, for a resident population of only 3,000 inhabitants. The weather there can be cold, bitterly cold, at altitudes ranging between 650 m and 3500 m above sea level. So would it be possible to build there, too, in a way that lightens the burden on both the environment and the household budget? The French local politicians were sceptical. Indeed, up until then, there was not a single energy-efficiency building in the town.
Then came the excursion and, with it, the infection. It consisted of a mix of knowledge, gathered as part of CIPRA’s climalp project, and the enthusiasm of the Austrian timber builders. Back in Savoie again, the delegation members’ infectious enthusiasm spread to their colleagues. The municipal council of Saint Martin de Belleville resolved that its new day nursery should be a “beacon” for energy-efficient architecture. It was officially opened at the end of 2010. It complies with the Minergie standard, i.e. the most rational possible use of renewable energies. With the ball now well and truly rolling, the tourist information building was also upgraded to the state of the art in energy efficiency. All this in keeping with the guiding principle of the municipality, which in 2007 signed the national charter for the sustainable development of tourist resorts in the mountains and joined the Alliance in the Alps network in 2009.
There’s no stopping the spread of good ideas. Saint Martin de Belleville is planning to pass on the concept of energy efficiency to other municipalities as it is still little known in France. That is why last year local Savoie politicians invited 70 of their colleagues to the mountain village to show how energy can be saved in construction. The chain of transmission continues, entirely in keeping with climalp and CIPRA’s intentions. Indeed, their aim is to be as contagious as possible.

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Climate joint ventures: The French municipality of Saint Martin de Belleville is a member of the Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities. It supports communities and regions with a sustainable approach to climate change. Since 2000 CIPRA International has provided the network’s secretariat and managed its implementation projects.
Through the climalp project CIPRA demonstrates that energy-efficient houses built using regionally sourced timber help to mitigate climate change. Joint field trips to showcases with the Alliance in the Alps network promote the transfer of know-how. climalp is subsidised by Liechtenstein with funding of CHF 75,000 a year. Further Information: www.alpenallianz.org and www.cipra.org/climalp (de/fr/it/sl)
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Source: Annual Report 2010 CIPRA International
www.cipra.org/en/CIPRA/cipra-international