The Smart Initiative is a bottom-up effort of European island authorities and communities. It builds on years of collaboration between European islands and seeks to convey the significant potential of islands to function as laboratories for technological, social, environmental, economic and political innovation.
The Network of Sustainable Greek Islands – DAFNI, with 44 island local and regional authorities from Greece as members, currently coordinates the Smart Islands Initiative.
Islands worldwide step up action to fight climate change, since they are amongst the first to experience the devastating impacts this has on local ecosystems and livelihoods. Meanwhile, insularity implies energy dependency on fossil fuels, high transportation costs, limited economic diversification and access to markets, collectively labelled as island handicaps; yet , there is growing evidence that with the use of cutting-edge technologies complemented by an enabling regulatory and financial framewrok, islands can reverse this trend, address the challenges they are facing and tap their largely unexploited sustainable development potential.
Islands host locally most of the infrastructures for the management of their resources, while the often-intense seasonal demand for services takes a heavy toll on both infrastructures and resources. In response, the Smart Islands Initiative calls for an integrated approach to the management of natural resources and infrastructures. Drawing inspiration by the Smart Cities concept, the Initiative goes one step further by extending the synergies beyond energy, transport and ICT to also include water and waste, directly addressing circularity in the economy. This new approach suggests that through the deployment of smart, integrated solutions with the use of cutting-edge technologies, islands can transform into smart territories offering higher quality of life to local communities, while helping Europe become a sustainable and inclusive economy.
The Smart Islands Initiative portrays islands as ideal test-beds that can host pilot projects and produce knowledge on smart and efficient resource and infrastructure management. This knowledge may be then transferred to mountainous, rural and generally geographically isolated areas but also scaled-up in cities. Adding to this the unique ecosystems, significant social capital and entrepreneurial mindset, islands can embark on local development pathways that optimally combine environmental, social, economic and technological solutions and inspire other insular and mainland areas.
To unlock islands’ potential, it is crucial to recognize the role and strengthen the capacities of island authorities. If empowered, these will be in a position to ensure the optimal use of infrastructures and resources, laying the foundation for islands’ sustainable growth. Moreover, island authorities should look to join forces with the business community, research and civil society actors to come up with a development agenda that’s place-based and help island communities thrive!