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  • Writer's pictureAgne Raubaite

Does environmental protection "pays off"? - We brought together young sustainability leaders, enthusiasts, educators, entrepreneurs and youth workers for a Green Round-table discussion


"We are the generation that sees climate change and the generation that can still make a difference, our peers are definitely more focused on ecology and sustainability, we know a lot more about recycling than our parents or grandparents, and we have a responsibility to help them learn. We are very familiar with the plastic recycling process, we participated in an Erasmus+ project in Sweden, where we observed up close how plastic has to be recycled in order to be reused" - say the pupils of Šiauliai Romuvos Gymnasium, who took part in the first roundtable discussion of the ECO4ECO project organised by the Social Hub Association and their friends from OPEN - Open Youth Space.


Listening to these young people, we and our partners realised that we are moving in the right direction and that ECO-leaders already live among us.





THE WORLD'S BIGGEST PROBLEMS


The #ClimateOfChange campaign, funded by the European Commission, aims to engage young Europeans in the climate change response. As part of the www.climateofchange.info campaign, "Ipsos" conducted a survey of young people (aged 15-35) in 23 European countries.

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Young Europeans ranked climate change and environmental degradation as the most important issues in 2020. Almost half (46%) of young Europeans considered climate change to be one of the world's most serious problems, which is why it ranked as the number one issue, even in the COVID-19 pandemic. The second most important issue was "environmental degradation, including, for example, air pollution, deforestation and loss of animal species" (44%).


The same question was asked of the panellists in their discussion. War and armed conflict was ranked as the biggest problem by many respondents, followed by poverty and hunger, while climate change was ranked as the world's third most important issue.





CLIMATE CHANGE ANXIETY - A NEW PANDEMIC?


Together with the panellists, we discussed the extent to which young people feel anxious about climate change, and the extent to which each participant experiences fear about the future of the world. An interactive survey asked how important and relevant climate change issues are for everyone. It was encouraging to see that the majority of those who took part in the discussion are indeed thinking about climate change, and more than half are worried about a changing climate.





Our project "Eco-Leaders for Eco-Communities (ECO4ECO)" aims to turn this concern into an incentive for action and to encourage lifestyle and mindset changes in others and in their own community. Our task is to provide tools for enterprising young people and the professionals who work with them to be agents of change in their communities.


SUCCESS STORIES ARE THE BEST SOURCE OF INSPIRATION


We have no doubt that the best place to get ideas and inspiration is from successful enthusiasts in the field of sustainability. The social enterprises that took part in the discussion, VšĮ Dirbinyčia and VšĮ Buk su manimi, told us about their activities - recycling textiles, their successful drop-off shop in Mažeikiai, the growing popularity of buying used and recycled items, and the "zero waste" (living waste-free) movement. Miglė Plukienė, the manager and owner of the flower house "Plukė", shared best practices on how a business can be friendly to nature and the environment, the principles of circular economy applied in her flower shop, in cooperation with the Šiauliai region-based newspaper "Etaplius" and local flower growers. Miglė invited young people to take part in the education sessions, to join in the promotion of sustainability in the city by bringing gift bags and boxes to be reused.





CIRCULAR ECONOMY PRINCIPLES ARE PASSED ON FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION


The participants in the discussion debunked the myth that older people in Šiauliai are not interested in ecology and know nothing about sustainable lifestyles. Ieva Rodė, a representative of VšĮ EDUKACINIAI PROJEKTAI, presented last year's successful initiative - the project "I am ECO, too" - and her own experience as a young person in sharing sustainability ideas with seniors. Together with the students of Šiauliai University of the Third Age, Ieva visited various institutions working in the field of environmental protection - waste sorting, recycling, water management centres, organised educational sessions for seniors on recycling and reuse of paper, candles, and she says that she can confidently assure them that seniors are really interested in ecology, they sort waste, they want to live in a more sustainable way, and they are concerned about the kind of a world that will be lived in by their children and grandchildren. Representatives of social rehabilitation for people with disabilities in the community from VšĮ ŽISPB presented the activities of eco-workshops, where people with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities find a connection with the community, acquire work skills, and improve their emotional well-being.





SHARING INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE


The project partners - Incubator Srece from Croatia, Volunteer Hub from Sakartvelo, Valo Valmennus from Finland and i4ea from Greece - also actively participated in the discussion. The partners not only talked about their activities, but also shared best practices from their countries, detailing the role of sustainability experts in organisations and the influence of influencers on communities.


This discussion was part of the first meeting of ECO4ECO partners in Lithuania, which successfully summarised the project's objectives, the results to be achieved and the role of young people in the project. Such discussions will take place in all partner countries during the partner meetings, and we are looking forward to hear how sustainability leadership is developed in other countries, to share our best practices and, through newspaper theatre, to encourage more young people to see the importance of sustainable lifestyles in the modern world.


The Social Hub team would like to thank everyone who contributed to this debate, the participants who gave their time and, most importantly, the young leaders of our community, without whom this debate would not have been such a success.


The project ECO-leaders for ECO-friendly communities (Project No.: 2023-1-LT02-KA220-YOU-000159430) is funded by the Erasmus+ programme.





The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication (work) does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission and National Agency cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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