Interview with Cologne’s Mayor Henriette Reker: What about CSR in Cologne?

Since 2015, Henriette Reker has been the first woman to hold the office of Mayor of the City of Cologne. In this function, she is a member of numerous committees, associations and socie-ties in the region.

At the “8th International Conference on Sustainability & Responsibility” she welcomed conference participants from all over the world to Cologne and stated that the commitment to the United Nations’ SDGs is an important goal for the Rhine metropolis. In an interview, we asked her about the importance of sustainable urban development in Cologne, as well as concrete goals and measures.

1) What does sustainable urban development mean for you personally?
For cities, and even more a growing metropolis like Cologne, sustainability and responsible leadership are important success factors, just as they are for companies. Only if we plan, work and do business sustainably we will be able to master the challenges of a shared future.

2) In your opinion, does the city of Cologne take a leading role regarding “sustainable urban development” in North Rhine-Westphalia? What do you link that to?
When it comes to sustainability the same holds for cities as it does for businesses: The future and a good communal life can only be designed through dialogue and cooperation of all societal players. Therefore, the city of Cologne was the first in Germany to introduce guiding principles for civic involvement and participation.
Voluntary civic participation processes are rarely bound to legal requirements or standards of quality. For these new forms of participation to work as an enrichment and supplement to the democratically legitimized processes of discussion and decision-making, they need to be subjected to well-recognized and accepted “rules of the game”. Cologne’s “guiding principles of civic participation“ were developed by representatives of political bodies, the city administration and civil society. Starting in 2019, they will now be tested in a one-year pilot phase.

3) Which concrete goals for a sustainable urban development does the city of Cologne follow momentarily?
As a metropolis with over one million inhabitants, Cologne bears a significant responsibility to tackle the challenges of the 21st century – Be it regarding climate change, fair trade or the strengthening of human rights. In big cities, not only the major issues like greenhouse gas emissions emerge. Within them also lies the key for finding solutions by planning and regulating consumption of resources.

4)Which measures are taken to reach these goals?
With its resolution to support the millennial development goals of the United Nations, the Cologne City Council accepted the mission to design a sustainable urban development. It most recently accepted the resolution of the Association of German Cities for a “Sustainable Development of Municipalities” in 2017. It therewith committed itself to the Agenda 2030 of the United Nations, which especially needs to be brought to life through municipal participation and responsibility. This also means that the city of Cologne will need to evaluate any of its future measures regarding their ecological, economic and societal consequences and side effects: Which consequences does a measure have for the citizens of Cologne, for people in other parts of the earth, for the planet and for future generations?

5) The 8th International Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility brought the international CSR and sustainability community to Cologne this November. How important are meetings like this for the region and what impressions from Cologne do you hope the participants will take back to their home countries?
I am sure that the participants will have noticed: Cologne is in motion, in transformation, with the aim of preserving what is good and meeting new challenges with long-term effective measures.
For me, sustainability is also of central importance at the higher levels; it is the linchpin of city strategy, administrative management and dialogue with citizens. I am delighted that 8th ICSR – the leading conference for sustainable management in Europe – brought together so many international experts from science, business, politics and civil society in Cologne.

6) Looking to the future: How sustainable do you think Cologne will look in 40 years’ time?
The challenges of the coming years will undoubtedly be demographic change, the transformation of energy systems and immigration. In order to guarantee economic growth, environmental and climate protection and a fair social system in the long term, the city of Cologne needs a stable budget. If we succeed in continuously investing in the education sector, the integration of refugees and in infrastructure, I am confident that Cologne is well positioned for future developments. And that many more people in Cologne will be content and happy to live in our city.

7) Urban spaces will probably be home to 2/3 of the world’s population in the next 30 years. Where do you see the greatest challenges for the cities of the future?
The city of Cologne is facing many changes in the coming years: Strong population growth and changes in the age structure, climate change and climate protection, changing mobility needs, digitization and economic change are just some of the challenges facing urban development.

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