News

30 June 2020

How Lousada used environmental education to transform their city

Lousada is a densely populated municipality located in rural Portugal. However, despite its rural setting, there is in general a low appreciation for the importance of nature among residents.

The city faces numerous environmental challenges, such as water pollution, forest fires, invasive plant species, habitat and landscape degradation, and biodiversity loss. In order to combat these problems, the municipality has, since 2017, used a sustainability strategy structured on several axes: research; environmental education; social engagement; and infrastructure.

Through their work they aim to promote environmental practices, inspire and support alternative ways of creating conservation areas and job opportunities, and reconnect local citizens with the rural landscape. To date, the city has experienced impressive results, including: the planting of 40,000 native trees with the support of over 4,500 volunteers; the restoration of over 20 hectares of degraded land; the creation of more than 20 wildlife ponds; and an increase in waste recycling by over 500 tonnes per year.

In recognition of their work, the city was awarded the 2019 Transformative Action Award – a European urban sustainability award given to cities, regions, or civil society organisations who use the pathways of the Basque Declaration to transform their societies.

Six months after winning the award, we correspond with the Municipality of Lousada, to discuss what winning the award has meant to them, what sustainability plans the city has in store, and how they have sought to use the €10,000 prize fund of the Transformative Action Award to bolster their sustainability work.

What has winning the 2019 Transformative Action Award meant to the City of Lousada? What has the reaction been among citizens and stakeholders to the City winning the award?

“This award was of great importance in building trust around our work and increasing its credibility. Stakeholders were proud to take an active part in the change, and citizens further understood our environmental measures and methods. In general, everyone felt happy, proud and willing to continue to adopt good environmental practices. Some members of the public were not aware that the full set of projects being implemented in Lousada are exceptional and rare, at least in Portugal, when combined in such an integrative way. Thus, the award was also key in raising awareness of the city’s transition to green governance.”

What future sustainability plans does the city have? And how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected them?

“2020 was declared the Municipal Year for Climate Action, and many projects and initiatives were carefully planned to celebrate the year. Some of these were postponed, while others were adapted and are taking place digitally. For instance, BioSenior is our new programme for active ageing through environmental volunteering. Since we can’t physically be elderly members of our society, we produced informative content and ‘active mind’ challenges on the topic of biodiversity, and we sent them by postal mail. Ongoing projects, such as BioSchool, were moved to online platforms such as YouTube.

The Municipal Year also included the opening of new environmental literacy sites, and many active citizenship events, implementation of which is now under analysis.

In parallel, desk work continues. We are working on our sustainable transport and energy systems, on the optimisation of our waste management processes, and are continuing to apply for funding to further our work.”

The Basque Declaration supports cities in their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. How is Lousada working to achieve the SDGs?

“Our initiatives allow us to tackle 14 of the 17 SDGs. The Municipal Year work programme set out our priority SDGs and the full array of goals to be improved within each action. Climate action (SDG 13), wildlife (SDG 15), sustainable communities (SDG 11) and quality education (SDG 4) are the SDGs we are most visibly addressing. However, through our work we are implementing many more, from water quality to public health.

In short, by improving the whole environment and the provision of ecosystem services in a pedagogical and inclusive way, we believe our contribution to the SDGs is already verifiable, but we want to continue doing more, so that we can create a healthy, fair and sound municipality for all its inhabitants and visitors.”

What sustainability challenges does Lousada face and how have you utilized the 10,000 EUR prize fund to overcome them?

“Biodiversity conservation in private areas still remains a challenge. So, too does the establishment and maintenance of more effective green and blue infrastructure. We believe these may be improved through a more efficient communication strategy, which takes into consideration rural landowners and people with poor digital literacy.

The prize fund was used to tackle these issues, namely through the aforementioned BioSenior project, but also through having additional staff members working in the field, mapping ecological features and traditional land uses, and talking directly to people, raising awareness and explaining the relevance of a joint effort in nature conservation. This approach is truly time-consuming and costly, but is proving effective.”

If you were to encourage other cities to apply for this year’s award, what would you say?

“We encourage all cities to apply. Lousada is a small city in Portugal, in a highly inhabited and ecologically damaged region. Before we started to work on environmental issues, which is only about five years ago, there was absolutely no history of environmental action in the area.

If we were able to win, so can you, so why not apply! The award does not target “the greenest city” in Europe, but the city that is doing its best to become more sustainable. The recognition brought to our region from winning the award allowed us to develop more partnerships and initiatives, and brought citizens closer to their representatives, all sharing common values and the willingness to achieve a better quality of life for all.”


The 2020 Transformative Action Award

If you are inspired by Lousada’s Transformative Action Award win, or know a city, region, or civil society organisation who you think deserves to be recognised as a leader of sustainable urban transformation in Europe (as well as €10,000 to kick-start their next sustainability project), then encourage them to apply for the 2020 edition of the award.

In light of the challenges many towns and cities face because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in recognition of the ways in which they have used sustainability measures to adapt and respond to the crisis, this year we have broadened the transformative action award’s eligibility criteria. To learn more about the award and read the full list of eligibility criteria, visit: sustainablecities.eu/transformative-action-award.

The winner of the 2020 Transformative Action Award will be revealed at Mannheim2020 – the 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – which will take place for free online from 30 September-2 October.

For more information about the award and to submit an entry before the 31 July application deadline, visit www.sustainablecities.eu.