Grenoble – Public services in the age of sufficiency

How can a city rethink its public services to live withing planet boundaries



Selma Guyon

Publication date

December 18, 2023

From sectoral sufficiency to generalized sufficiency

Across Europe, the energy crisis has made sufficiency the order of the day. In Grenoble, a French city that has embodied citizen ecology since 2014, the crisis has been an opportunity to move from sectoral sufficiency to generalized sufficiency. According to Grenoble’s Finance and Ecological Accounting and Energy Transition Deputy Mayor Vincent Fristot:

“The [energy] crisis has triggered generalized sufficiency”.  

We talked with Mr. Fristot to find out more about the measures that Grenoble is implementing and get inspired.

Until now, sufficiency measures have mainly concerned energy, and street lighting in particular. The various measures implemented by the municipality (lower indoor temperatures, on-demand air-conditioning, etc.) have resulted in savings of 1 million euros. Vincent Fristot points out that the implementation of these measures required very little investment. 

But economic constraints were not the only motivation. In fact, the energy crisis has proved to be a real opportunity to deploy new structural sufficiency policies. The obvious scarcity of certain resources (water, energy, etc.) has encouraged the acceptance and commitment of all stakeholders, including citizens.

Governing sufficiency

Putting sufficiency on the agenda has changed the way Grenoble works internally. Cross-functionality has become the watchword. The city has created new cross-functional positions to implement and evaluate sufficiency policies, encourage innovation in this field, and support associations. Municipal employees have also been heavily involved. A commission “Coordination, Anticipation and Response to the Energy Crisis” (CARE) has been set up with the Director General of Services and the deputies in charge of human resources and finance. The monitoring and evaluation of sufficiency policies is therefore carried out at the highest level of the commune.  

 “Grenoble 2040″, an initiative for an “ecological redirection”

The city of Grenoble wanted to learn from past emergencies (COVID-19, energy crisis…) to anticipate future threats and strengthen its resilience. Since 2021 the city has been engaged in a process called “Grenoble 2040” to define what a desirable and sufficient city of tomorrow might look like. This collaborative approach is leading the city to discuss with citizens the changes to be made in public services. It is based in particular on the Doughnut model, theorized by Kate Raworth, which leads to the definition of a safe and just space for humanity, respecting an environmental ceiling, planetary boundaries, and a social floor. To redefine the trajectories to be taken, the city has set up “ecological redirection workshops” in collaboration with randomly selected citizens. The result of these workshops is a roadmap that defines for each area (transport, green spaces, consumption…) what to abandon, what to keep and what to modify or start. Today, this roadmap serves as a guideline for Grenoble’s ecological reorientation.

“We need to develop resilient public services with scarce resources, which means making choices and perhaps giving up on certain things. Giving up means redefining priority missions together, sometimes with other ways of doing things.” – Vincent Fristot

Inventing sufficient public services

In concrete terms, what does ecological redirection mean for the city of Grenoble? 

This ecological redirection has led Grenoble to modify its trade-offs. The municipality has decided to merge two neighbouring projects: a new school and a community center. The city has built the school while providing rooms and spaces dedicated to the activities of the community center. This is an example of the city’s careful use of land. Today, the commission responsible for allocating premises to associations must always seek to maximize use.

A second example, that of swimming pools, illustrates how ecological redirection also rhymes with planning and anticipating the scarcity of resources. Indeed, the city is considering the future of its municipal swimming pools, infrastructures that consume a lot of water and energy but play a crucial role in enabling every citizen to learn to swim. Following the roadmap drawn up by the redirection workshops, Grenoble is now looking for solutions to facilitate access to a bathing area with a project for a lake or on the region’s rivers.

Grenoble’s example shows how a city can put sufficiency at the top of its political agenda. Far from advocating a step backwards, the ecological redirection towards a sufficient city implies working closely with all stakeholders, from municipal officials to citizens, and redefining priorities.   

 You would like to better understand sufficiency, what distinguishes it from efficiency and discover the Doughnut model? Read our glossary!

Want to find out more about what European cities are doing in terms of sufficiency, and how the European Union can support them? Read our latest paper “Sufficiency: the missing pillar for a resource-wise Europe“.

This article was made possible thanks to the financial support of ADEME.