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Environmental education and sustainable development: our Nordic neighbours' experience

1_Group.jpgDuring the study trip to the Nordic countries on July 31-August 9 representatives of North-western Russia's public organizations and municipalities got to learn about the experience in promoting and implementing sustainable solutions that deal with climate, energy, water resources and green consumption. They visited Sweden, Finland and Aaland isles as part of the study visit organized by Friends of the Baltic and their Nordic partners, supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Sustainable development has already become a priority in some countries. Our Nordic neighbours such as Finns and Swedes manage to keep their environment clean while having a hugh level of technological development and high living standards. They constantly think about how to save resources and energy so that their children would benefit of that, too. Environmental education, or education for sustainable development, is thus a necessary tool needed to achieve that goal.

Friends of the Baltic NGO have been working with environmental education and public information for over 13 years now. We are collaborating with a number of St.Petersburg's municipalities in this fielf, and are interested in the implementation of out Nordic neighbours' experience in our city in order to develop sustainably and keep a favourable environment for the city's inhabitants.

In July-August 2010 a study trip to Sweden, Finland and Aaland isles was organized, as initiated by Friends of the Baltic and supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The idea was to learn about the experience in promoting sustainable development ideas. The group participants were NGO leaders and activists as well as municipals from St.Petersburg Sennoy Okrug, Lomonosov town, Karelia and Murmansk region.

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In Sweden the goup was received at Gothenburg's Ecocentrum, Lerum town municipality and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. At Ecocentrum we visited a wonderful exhibition of environmentally friendly solutions, where we saw many examples of energy saving technologies used for construction and building, as well as Ecocentrum's program to promote energy saving devices and organic produce. Ecocentrum sucessfully collaborates with business that has green production. The exhibition thus provides a sort of advertisement directed at Gothenburg inhabitants that would help them make a conscious environmental choice of goods and services. In their turn, business people come to Ecocentrum for corporate trainings and educational seminars. This is a priority in Sweden to educate everyone - producers, authorities of all levels, office workers - on how their activities influence nature and how to minimize the impact. Supported by Ecocentrum, Friends of the Baltic created their own Ecocentrum in St.Petersburg in 2007, which is way smaller in size, but serves the same purpose as the one in Sweden.

We visited the town administration of Lerum (a small town of ca.30 000 inhabitants) that wants to be Sweden's top environmentally friendly municipality. We were told that all municipal procurements (such as for schools, kindergartens, hospitals, municipal offices and transportation services) are performed with environmental requirements in mind. For example, all washing and cleaning liquids and powders should contain zero phosphates or a minimum of such, as the phosphates harm the Baltic Sea environment. Food is normally bought from organic stores/farms, mostly local in order to minimize air pollution from vehicles. Municipal workers are provided with transport passes on a discount to minimize the use of personal cars.

Every municipality in Sweden has a program of greenhouse gases emissions reduction, as GHGs (such as CO2, methane etc.) are mainly responsible for the manmade input into climate change. One of the solutions to this is the reduction of excess transportation and the use of biofuels for municipal transport. Another important solution is to switch to renewable energy sources. Lerum municipality offered an original solution, to set up solar collectors that heat up water (to provide heating and hot water for buildings) and solar panels that produce electricity on noise-reduction shields along motorways. We hope they manage it and that their experience could be taken up by the neighbouring municipalities and even countries.

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We were particularly interested in the local municipal waste management, that includes collection, disposal and recycling of municipal solid waste. We visited the Recycling center where the town people bring their bulk waste and just old but still usable things. Plant waste that is brought there by those who do not want to compost it in their gardens is collected in special places, as well as household appliances, furniture, clothes etc. If a Swede tries to dispose of a piece of bulk waste at a regular nearby container s/he would have to pay a big fine. And it would be a shame to throw away old clothes or dishes if they can still be of use to someone. So at the Center not only can one deliver something one doesn't need, but also get wonderful and really special things at a very cheap price, that were brought here by someone else. The Center is nicely decorated, there are fancy flower beds, a stylish cafe that uses a lot of retro pieces for decoration.

In Stockholm we were received at the central office of Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. Friends of the Baltic have worked with this largest Swedish environmental organization for over 10 years. It unites over 130 000 people. Together FoB and SSNC conducted a project on environmentally friendly consumption (or how to chose goods and services to avoid harming nature and oneself) and took part in an international campaign on phosphate free Baltic Sea. In 2005 we held an information campaign called The Living Baltic on the Gulf of Finalnd coast, which was visited by many inhabitants of the coast. Many Scandinavian solutions in terms of environmental education for public and nature conservation have proved very useful for our environmental NGOs in promoting ideas of sustainability in our country.

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The visit to Aalands was especially anticipated by the group members coming from the town of Lomonosov, since the Aalands' capital Mariehamn is Lomonosov's twin city. We were received by the local NGO called Aaland Agenda 21. This NGO works with local development plans, environmental education and works closely with municipalities - totally 16 of them. In 12 of those Aalands Agenda 21 helped develop sustainable development plans to develop the territories sustainably with consideration to both industrial development and social protection as well as nature conservation. On Aalands public transportation is free and it works as a great incentive for some to leave their cars at home and thus cut down exhaust gases emissions. Between the 20 isles go free municipal ferries. Cars can go there on a reduced fare if the passengers do not leave the island immediately to take the next ferry but stay there for the night - this helps local tourist business grow.

In Mariehamn we saw an amazing green solution, initiated by NGOs and supported by the municipality. An abandoned yard previously used as a parking lot was turned into a wonderful blooming little park. The park is taken care of by NGos and local inhabitants themselves.

Next to it one may find the headquarters of a really interesting organization, Emmaus. Such bodies were created after World War II in various countries to support the homeless ex-POWswho came back home and had nowhere to live. There they got shelter, food and clothes. Nowadays Emmaus organizes a lot of cultural programs, arranges exhibitions and festivals. But one of the main acitivites is still collecting old useless things from local people and the recycling. Worn-out things are then sent for recycling to local municipal waste centers. Things that can still be of use are sold at Emmaus store at very modest prices. And many are sent to other countries where there is need for them. Emmaus is interested in cooperation with Lomonosov NGOs in this very area. Besides, every year in August Emmaus holds an international camp that hosts participants from all over Europe. At the camp everybody help sorting the stuff, repair the building, and there's also a cultural program arranged for the guests. They would be happy to see participants from Lomonosov, too!

7_in Helsinki infocenter with Lotta.JPGOur last stop was the Environmental Information Center in Helsinki. We were welcomed by Lotta Nummelin, Chair of Coalition Clean Baltic, who has a big experience working at Natur Och Miljo NGO and now works at helsinki city administration. We learnt about The Baltic Sea Challenge - a programme to protect the Baltic Sea, initiated by mayors of Helsinki and Turku. We were told about what is being done by administrations and NGOs of these cities to reduce the environmental impact on the Baltic Sea and how they conduct education for business and municipal structures on nature protection and sustainable development. One of Finland's priorities is complete sewage treatment. This is an acute problem for Russia's coastal cities and towns as well. For example, waste waters from kaliningrad, Lomonosov and many others flow into the sea with no treatment at all. According to Russian national program in the framework of the international Baltic Sea Action Plan, waste water treatment plants are to be constructed in Lomonosov and other coastal towns of the Gulf of Finland by 2012.

Helsnki, as many other Nordic cities, has high ambitions - they strive to achieve the best environmental indicators in Europe. They want to reduce CO2 emissions by 98% by 2030. This means high level of energy efficiency, almost zero energy losses and almost zero fossils used. At the same time, it would be great if the energy that Finland buys from Russia would also come from renewable sources.

Not only Helsinki and Turku take part in The Baltic Sea Challenge. The partners network includes universities, commercial enterprises, public organizations, Finnish municipalities and even some municipalities from neighbouring countries, who value the importance of their own actions to protect the Baltic sea. Kronstadt municipality, for instance, became part of the partner network by its own initiative. In order to take upon The Baltic Sea Challenge one has to create one's own Action Plan to protect the Baltic Sea. Environmental education and public information has to form a substantial part of such a plan.

Learning from Nordic experience has shown to us, that there are tested solutions already in use and that bring good results that ensure both economic development and environmental protection which is the inevitable resource for future development. Clean yards, green areas in cities, protection of coastal nature and marine territories along with business development is quite possible. This largely depend on both citizens' attitude and state policies, along with support from local authorities. Environmental education is part of every person's cultural "backpack". It is necessary both for a conscious lifestyle - in terms of chosing safe products, energy efficient solutions for one's home, nature friendly and healthy ways of travel and leisure. Environmental awareness is necessary for decision-making at work places too - to serve the technical progress without compromising the clean environment. The choice is ours!

For more information please contact:

Olga Senova, +7 921 9117986

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