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“The Climalp excursion was a breakthrough”

Half the village turned out to admire the new building. © Alexandre Mignotte/CIPRA France

The local authority in Saint-Jean-d’Arvey decided to use local timber to construct an energy-efficient multipurpose building. In an interview with the Mayor Jean-Claude Monin, we learn how the idea was inspired by a CIPRA visit to Vorarlberg.
Your new community centre is built of local timber and is a particularly energy-efficient design. This has made the French municipality of Saint-Jean-d’Arvey a pioneer in the field of sustainable construction. What does that mean for you?
First of all, such a model and showcase project is a real challenge for all concerned. But it is also a rewarding challenge! Our objective is to promote the regional timber industry and make a contribution to environmental protection. Local politicians are not elected to cover the area with as much concrete and asphalt as possible; it is our duty to think of the environment, the future and the climate. In Saint-Jean-d’Arvey we take these matters very seriously. We have doubtless made a contribution with this pioneering building, but we should not exaggerate our role. At last June’s official opening of the centre, everybody stressed the merits of the project. The important thing now is that others follow suit and decision-makers in other municipalities do their best to address the challenges of the future.

How did members of the council react when you presented the idea for the building?
Before the matter was discussed and a decision taken, we travelled to Vorarlberg in Austria. We wanted to go there with CIPRA. The climalp excursion was a breakthrough. What we saw and learnt there helped us to do a good job of preparing our project and convincing the councillors - with the result that the project was approved unanimously.

The new centre uses less energy than a conventional building, but the construction costs are higher. Were the proposals for the construction method and costs readily accepted by the councillors and the local people?
Of course! A few years ago we doubled our water rates so as to be able to switch to ultrafiltration membrane technology for water treatment, thus eliminating the need to add chlorine. There was a consensus on that proposal, too. What is important is that you provide full information on what you are doing and why. As in the case of the new water purification plant, the local people quickly accepted the proposal for the new building. I think people today are very supportive of ecological measures. Of course not everyone always thinks the same, but criticism and suggestions are helpful, too.

Would you recommend that mayors and local decision-makers take a look at what others are doing before implementing a project of this kind?
Definitely! That is so important. You can often find good ideas somewhere else and then implement them yourself, perhaps with modifications. It’s like invention and recycling. That is today’s approach, especially in the context of globalisation. You can go to Africa, for example, to find models of solidarity that no longer exist in our part of the world. You have to keep an open mind for things that are different; you have to look around – and the Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities provides precisely this opportunity.

Do you have the feeling that people’s thinking and public opinion are gradually moving in the direction of environmental stewardship?
Yes, I do. But you must then be in a position to implement the political decisions at a professional and practical level. Public moods are subject to faster change today than the worlds of business and public administration, however paradoxical that may sound. It is our duty as a local authority to win local people over to a common goal and take the necessary steps together with them to ensure that the goal is achieved.

Alexandre Mignotte
CIPRA France

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Municipalities offering mutual inspiration
Jean-Claude Monin is Mayor of the municipality of Saint-Jean-d’Arvey in the French Alps. In the summer of 2012 they constructed a new multipurpose community centre in the form of a low-energy building using certified timber. The council in Saint-Jean-d’Arvey took its inspiration from the community building in Ludesch, Vorarlberg/A, which they visited on a climalp fact-finding trip.
With its climalp project, CIPRA is showing that energy-efficient buildings made of local timber are attractive, help to mitigate climate change and promote the regional economy. In 2012 climalp received support from the Liechtenstein government, Fondation Assistence and the Karl Mayer Foundation.
Saint-Jean-d’Arvey is a member of the Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities, which now has a membership of over 300 local authorities. They work together to promote sustainability in the Alps. CIPRA played a role in the creation of the network in 1997 and has handled various secretariat functions as well as the project management for the organisation since 2000.

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Source: Annual Report 2012 CIPRA International
www.cipra.org/en/CIPRA/cipra-international