Freiburg elected its first green mayor in 2002 and with 25% of the overall vote the greens are the largest party. Although the overall region, Baden-Württemberg, is traditionally rather conservative, the Greens more than doubled their vote to 24% in the state elections of March 2011. Although the Christian Democrat Party is still the largest party, the greens came second and are able to form a coalition government with the SDP as the bigger partner. The roots of the green movement in Freiburg can be traced back to the 1970s. The university town mobilised massive ecologically motivated protests in response to the regional government’s decision to build a nuclear power plant 40km away from the city. Faced with a problem - a finite energy supply and a growing population - Freiburg decided to adopt an energy concept which reduced consumption, and turned towards locally generated renewable energy sources. Located in the south west of Germany, at the foot of the Black Forest, Freiburg is naturally blessed as one of Germany’s sunniest cities. The city models itself as Germany’s “Solar Capital”, and solar panels adorn roofs across the city; from the City Hall to the local football stadium. Centres of private and public research investigating renewable energy sources, such as the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, act as beacons for renewables industry; almost 12,000 are employed in green collar jobs in the region, contributing around 650 million euro to the economy. The city generates 50% of its electricity from natural gas powered combined heat and power plants, and now has 10 MW of installed photovoltaic capacity.
Freiburg has been pursing a sustainable mobility policy since the start of the 1970s. The city has invested strongly in public transport and implemented a number of cycle friendly measures. Freiburg now has over 500km of cycle lanes, an extensive area in the city centre which is car-free, and a well developed tramway system. Between 1982 and 1999, the proportion of cycling as part of the city’s traffic has increased from 15 to 28 percent, and the proportion of public transport has increased from 11 to 18 percent. The contribution of motor vehicles has decreased from 38 to 30 percent in this period, and compared with other major cities in Germany today, Freiburg has the lowest motor vehicle density, with 423 motor vehicles per 1,000 people. Nowadays, 70% of journeys in the city are either made on foot, by bike, or on public transport.The city has an ambitious recycling programme with a number of incentives for waste avoidance including discounts for collective waste disposal pooling and for people who compost their own green waste. The city deploys four separate household recycling containers, including a container for bio-waste. As a result, Freiburg reduced its waste disposal between 1988 and 2000 from 140,000 to 50,000 tonnes a year. After having reducing and recycled waste as far as possible, the city incinerates much of its remaining waste at a plant to the south of the city which generates 100,000 megawatt hours per year, sufficient to supply approximately 25,000 households.
Freiburg is very well known for is sustainable urban development. All new buildings are required to comply with the city’s “low consumption” criteria. The best exemplars of urban development policy are the relatively recent city districts of Vauban and Rieselfeld. Rieselfeld began as a city council initiative in 1991 and now has space to accommodate 12,000. Many of the low-energy buildings utilise photovoltaics and solar heating, and benefit from a local district heating facility. Vauban, the more recent development, on the site of a former French military, accommodates around 5,000. This district takes energy efficiency to the next level, with a number of zero-energy houses and even some buildings which produce a surplus of energy. The district also has implemented a number of radical green innovations, including a number of measures which result in the district being largely car free.