Sustainable Stuttgart

Stuttgart is the first German city to produce a local voluntary report to steer its development through the lens of the UN’s sustainable development goals. But the city has a long history of sustainability action, says Andrew Beattie.

In October 2019, the German city of Stuttgart published a report titled, Stuttgart a Liveable City: The Global Agenda 2030 at a local level. It was the first UN Voluntary Local Report of a German city; a strategic document to steer decision making in the city using the framework of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). To benchmark, it measures against all 17 SDGs using a set of 77 indicators.


“This is our bible. It shows what developments there have been within the last ten years and refers to the different SDGs – where we stand as a city, where we still need to improve and want to improve. This is our tool for constant monitoring and analysis. Based on that, we are going to draw up plans of action and what we have to further tackle in terms of SDG implementation,” Dr. Bettina Bunk, who works in the Department of International Relations and is the International Sustainability Coordinator of the city of Stuttgart, tells me.


“All sectors of the city are linked to the SDGs in the different areas of sustainability – the SDGs are interconnected, and there are conflicting goals. To us, the Agenda 2030 with the SDGs constitutes the cross-sectoral, overarching framework and guideline. It helps us to highlight, for example, certain conflicts of interest,” she adds.


“There is a strong emphasis by our current mayor on measures to do with climate protection. But in everything, we always try to bring the three pillars of sustainability, social economical and ecological together.”


Sustainability is nothing new to the city of Stuttgart. The city opened the first German fair trade shop in 1973 and in the 1990s implemented UN Agenda 21, a precursor to the 2015 sustainable development goals. In 2011, a district of the city was the first in Germany to get the Fair Trade label.


The city has an even longer history in what Bunk calls, ‘social sustainability.’

“In the ‘50s and ‘60s, and also again during the post-Yugoslavia wars in the ’90s, Stuttgart was a welcoming city with its unique model of welcoming refugees from all over. This is what we call ‘social sustainability’,” she says.


In 2018, the city council signed a declaration of the Association of German Cities on the 2030 Agenda and committed to implementing the SDGs. Part of the broader strategic process of localising the SDGs was the publishing of 2019’s Liveable City report.

“There was always fertile ground here, provided by a very active civil society, but also by very bold city leaders and an administration who made a point in promoting sustainability, in a very comprehensive way,” Bunk tells me.

We always try to bring the three pillars of sustainability, social economical and ecological together.

“State Capital Stuttgart’s vision is to promote an ecologically reasonable, economically value-adding, socially just and culturally varied use of urban spaces.”


The city uses its own market power of public procurement to drive its ecological, economic and social objectives, requiring suppliers to meet a set of sustainable, fair, and ethical standards, which it measures against the SDGs.


The SDGs are also linked to the city applying international labour standards; these form part of the procurement process, with the prohibition of products linked to child labour and waste avoidance monitored. Policies like this are written into general administrative directives on awarding and regulating public procurement, making them legal requirements for the city. The city also has a schedule of SDG training for its civil servants.


In 2017 the city set up its 2030 Alliance, mEin Stuttgart – mEine Welt, or My Stuttgart – My/One World. The ever-expanding multi-stakeholder group ties the SDGs into the workings of the city, and mobilises the broader urban citizenry for SDG implementation, e.g. in the fields of climate protection and fair and ethical trade.


“We have huge companies and we have a small, creative startup scene in Stuttgart,” Bunk tells me.


“A lot of the big companies had already adopted the SDGs. If you think of Bosch or the Federal State Bank of Baden-Württemberg, for example, they are going to align their products with the SDGs. So we have what big and small companies, individually, are doing.


“We have a broad alliance of stakeholders from civil society, business academia and the administration to make a joint effort, to bring the SDGs into the broader society. And so we have this level of action – as well as direct impulses and counselling and resources by the state capital of Stuttgart itself.”


One member of the alliance is Impact Hub Stuttgart, a workspace for impact-focused businesses. With 180 members, it is part of a global network of over Impact Hub spaces, with over 17,000 global members.


“We offer co-working places for purpose-driven businesses and help businesses – existing businesses, which is important – not only start-ups,” Markus Besch, who co-founded Impact Hub Stuttgart in 2015, tells me.


“It is much easier with startups because they’re in the beginning phase. You can adjust them in the direction, or they adjust themselves in the direction, to do things a more sustainable way, or to do it with more of an impact focus.”


Besch and his team connect larger businesses looking to work more sustainably with members in his community, to share ideas and work together.

The city uses its own market power of public procurement to drive its ecological, economic and social objectives, requiring suppliers to meet a set of sustainable, fair, and ethical standard.

“We see a very important part of our work as bringing impact. We talk with existing businesses about how they can change their business without losing any business, whilst adjusting to the sustainable development goals,” he tells me.


Two key industries in the city are fashion and automotive, and both present large opportunities for development within the SDGs. Yet both have inherent challenges, due to their environmental impact.


“Stuttgart is most known for automotive,” Besch tells me. “So we got Mercedes Benz and Daimler with their main headquarters. And if you have these large vendors, for sure all these small companies do their parts for them.


“So this is the biggest industry that we have, here – mobility. At the moment it is around electrical mobility mostly; electric cars, mobility at home.


“But we also have the issue of them giving cheap cars to their employees. You’re talking about at least 100,000 employees in and around Stuttgart and 60,000 to 80,000 cars. So you can imagine how bad our climate is, with all of these cars. If you look on the geological side of Stuttgart, then we are a natural hole, so these CO2 emissions stay in this hole and so we have a very big problem with that.”


The city is also making strides at home and abroad in the fashion industry, with regard to ethical and sustainable practices.


“When it comes to the fair fashion scene, we’ve got a lot of Stuttgart labels that foster ecologically fair and ethically fair value chains. And some of them are also linked to our twin-towns, e.g. Mumbai,” Bunk tells me.


Stuttgart label, [eyd], is working to create more ethical and sustainable supply chains in Mumbai, alongside a workshop partner in Mumbai for most of its manufacturing. The foundation called CHAIIM, supports women who have been freed from human trafficking and forced prostitution and are given therapeutic care and access to education as well as paid employment. The social project’s business plan was facilitated by the city of Stuttgart and developed by Managers without Borders.


Stuttgart is also a member of the SEKEM Foundation which supports fair, ethical, and sustainable production and trade in Egypt and other countries in Africa and the Middle East, and a member of the Future Fashion Initiative of the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg.


In October 2020 the city received a special mention by the EU Secretariat in the EU Cities for Ethical Trade Award for its strategic orientation on the UN Agenda 2030 and their SDG local review – the Liveable City.


The award recognises cities, ‘working to change consumption and production patterns with the aim to create a unique platform for cities to learn, share, and scale-up their sustainability initiatives. All the while contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG12 on more responsible consumption and production.’


But despite the accolade, Besch, feels that this is just the beginning and there is more work to do to embed the SDGs in the city. “Many people still don’t know about it, so there is much more work to do. This is a great start and really great work, and there are a lot of opportunities around it. But now is the time to really publish this, and get it out and explain what it is, and why they do it.”


Images by Pop & Zebra.


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