Ghent (Belgium)

Ghent is a port city located in Belgium, 50km north of Brussels. It has 260,000 inhabitants and an additional 75,000 students. Ghent is a young and vibrant city with a medieval-looking city centre.

The city has an implemented sustainable urban mobility plan, which has doubled the size of the pedestrian area in the city centre. And, in 2020, Ghent put in place a Low Emission Zone that covers the whole city centre. Ghent is also a pioneer in the fields of sustainable fashion, liveable streets, food policy, cycling policy and citizen participation.

Ghent’s sustainability work occurs alongside ongoing challenges. Sustainable housing, for example, poses quite a challenge in the city, which has a beautiful historic centre, with heritage buildings that present unique challenges for refurbishment. The city is made up of a many individual houses, which makes group retrofitting nearly impossible. Plus, half of these are rented homes; this poses an extra challenge, as homeowners do not always see the direct benefit of investing in energy retrofits.

Ghent was one of the first signatories of the Covenant of Mayors and is active on the European policy level.

Sustainability focus: Sustainable food policy

Over the past six years, Ghent has launched a number of small- and large-scale projects to help make the food system in the city more sustainable. These have been taken on with close involvement of citizens and other stakeholder groups. The sustainable food policy “Ghent en Garde” has brought significant change to the local food system. Through participative governance models, including a food policy council, Ghent’s food system has moved from launching small-scale initiatives to bringing broad structural change. It is decreasing food waste, making food procurement more sustainable, scaling up short food supply chains and improving access to food.

Among the city’s successes in this field is Foodsavers (pictured), a programme that supports organisations and social enterprises who make use of food surpluses to attain social goals. The programme has so far taken more than 1,000 tonnes of food that would otherwise have been thrown away by wholesale markets and supermarkets, and shared it among social restaurants and organisations working with those living in poverty. What’s more, 70 percent of all food redistributed by Foodsavers is fresh fruit and vegetables.

A new logistics platform called Vanier connects local farmers with restaurants, caterers and retailers in the city through a multi-stakeholder cooperative model using sustainable logistics. Ghent is also piloting new ways of leveraging city-owned agricultural land for city-oriented sustainable food production.

For 10 years, Thursday has been “Veggie Day” in the city, which encourages citizens to give up eating meat and fish for at least one day each week. Every Thursday, 4,500 pupils are served vegetarian food at school. A municipal survey showed that four out of five citizens are aware of the campaign, with one in three actively taking part. The initiative has spread to cities across the world, including New York (the United States).

The need to knows

  • 7 percent of citizens are vegetarian (higher than the 3 percent average in the Flanders region overall)
  • 57,000 people received products or food baskets through Foodsavers
  • 170 restaurants in Ghent use the so-called ‘Restorestje’ doggy-bag, so that clients can bring leftover food home with them, thereby reducing food waste
  • 42 school gardens and 24 community gardens have received coaching on food production
  • Sustainable procurement of 775,883 meals annually, including for one Veggie Day per week, as well as the provision of vegetarian options in cafeterias on other days; meals are also 20 percent organic, and meet many more sustainability criteria, such as holding labels for sustainable fish, animal welfare, and seasonal food


  • Covenant of Mayors signatory since 2009
  • Milan Urban Food Policy Pact member since 2015
  • Basque Declaration signatory since 2016
  • Finalist European Green Capital in 2017 and 2018
  • EU Fair and Ethical Trade Award 2018
  • Milan Pact Award in 2018
  • UN SDG Action Award in 2018
  • Winner of Transformative Action Award in 2018
  • UN Global Climate Action Award in 2019

What the city has to say

“Since the launch of Ghent en Garde in 2013, Ghent has been recognised as a European trendsetter in sustainable city food policy. The big challenge now is to keep living up to our pioneering role. We can absolutely make that happen through exceptional cooperation with the many partners who are involved in the Ghent food strategy.”

Tine Heyse, Deputy Mayor of the Environment, Climate, Housing and North-South

ICLEI and Ghent

Ghent has been an ICLEI Member since 2014 and is active in the Procura + and the GLCN (Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement) subnetworks. Ghent won the Procura+ Award in 2019 and the Transformative Action Award in 2018.

Other relevant links:

Banner image by Bas Bogaerts, © Stad Gent-Dienst Toerisme. All body images provided by the City of Ghent.