Over the last decade, Europe has emerged as a leader in the development of innovative environmental initiatives that encourage public awareness and engagement when it comes to sustainable living. However, due to the ongoing economic crisis, many European countries are mercilessly slashing budgets wherever possible. And, as we all know by now, environmental awareness programs are commonly among the first to be placed on the chopping block when it comes to governmental funding. Fortunately, the European Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI) works to recognize the effort and dedication of those who diligently work to create and implement sustainable energy initiatives despite economic hurdles, awarding them for their exceptional work in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and clean transportation systems. This year Barcelona’s Euronet 50/50 Project truly stood out amongst hundreds of programs, winning accolades for its forward-thinking approach of educating students on how to be champions for the environment both today and in the future.
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The European Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI) agency operates in correlation with the ambitious Europe 2020 strategy, which promotes a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20% improvement in energy efficiency and a 20% increase in renewable energy consumption by the year 2020. Europe 2020 pushes an aggressive growth strategy that includes sustainability as well as “high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion.”
In 2006, EACI launched the Sustainable Energy Europe (SEE) Awards in order to recognize and reward exceptional work in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and clean transportation systems. The awards focus on five pillars of sustainability: (1) Awareness Raising Projects (communication); (2) Educational Programs (learning); (3) Buildings (living); (4) Energy Savings (consumption); and (5) Clean Mobility Schemes (transport). Recently, six European countries out of 224 entries were awarded for their roles in the creation and implementation of programs that best achieved the high standards set for these five categories.
One of the most notable initiatives in the competition, Barcelona’s Euronet 50/50 program, took home the award for ‘Best Educational Program’. The principle focus of the three-year program (2009-2012) is to introduce a sustainable methodology in schools, teaching energy efficiency methods at a young age. Students as young as eight years old are taught specific energy saving techniques in order to reduce CO2 emissions in their schools. In addition to raising awareness of their personal environmental impact, the program teaches children specific analysis procedures to measure the results of their energy conservation efforts.
Initially, the program began with 58 schools in nine European countries, with a total of 6,900 students, teachers, caretakers and 43 city councils. Each participating school was challenged to reduce its own CO2 emission by 2.5% each year. However, thanks to over 100 distinct energy saving practices designed by the students, the schools managed to surpass the initial goal and reduced GHG emissions by an impressive 10.4% within the first two years. The results:
40 (70%) schools achieved energy savings
339 tonnes less of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere
More than 1,100 MWh not used = 2.100 € saved per school
More than 85,000 Euros were saved over the course of 2011
Although the students are the key players in the program, the driving force behind the collaborative 50/50 initiative is the monetary incentive relationship between local schools and government officials. Promoted as a “win-win” situation for both parties, the savings from the student’s efforts are shared with the local government. Specifically, 50% of the energy savings are returned back to the school to fund educational activities and resources while the remaining 50% goes to the local government to pay for energy costs. Indeed, it is a “win-win” situation all around as everyone involved receives a corresponding financial payout and the entire community enjoys the added benefit of reduced CO2 emissions.
Typically, in most developed cities, local schools and public recreational centers make up a large percentage of municipal energy costs. The Euronet 50/50 program leads the way for students, families, community leaders and government officials to actualize energy saving techniques in these centers that not only promote awareness of energy conservation, but also result in long-term improvements in health, community spirit, private and public energy costs, etc.
With continual grassroots programs like Euronet 50/50, which currently has almost 200 participating schools, it seems that teaching energy efficiency and CO2 reduction at a young age may be the new educational and financial scheme needed to push local government into actively promoting community participation and insisting on tangible results when it comes to cost-effective sustainable living.