IEF 8th Annual Conference

Submitted by admin on 24. August 2010 - 16:54
2004 October 15-17
Thessaloniki, Greece


The 8th Conference of the International Environment Forum

Cultivating Sustainable Lifestyles
- An event in anticipation of the
United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)

at Directorate of Secondary Education of West Thessaloniki and Aristotle University
Thessaloniki, Greece
15-17 October 2004

Under the auspices of
UNESCO Center for Women and Peace in the Balkan Countries
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Directorate of Secondary Education of West Thessaloniki
Environmental Education Center Eleftherio-Kordelio
International Environment Forum




The 1992 Earth Summit marked the beginning of an unprecedented effort to understand and work toward achieving 'sustainable development' -- addressing human needs holistically by integrating environmental, economic and social goals. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, held in Johannesburg in 2002) re-emphasized the vital role of education -- not only in building awareness of the need for sustainable development, but in fostering the necessary changes to bring it about at all levels. Toward that end, beginning in 2005, the UN will launch the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). The UN has appointed UNESCO as its Lead Agency for planning the Decade. Their goal is to build a broad ownership at all levels, global, regional, national and local/community, for the goals of the Decade and to engage all possible partners (including governments, NGOs, civil society, private sector) in the effort.

This conference explored how education, particulary within the framework of the DESD can encourage the cultivation of sustainable lifestyles, the concept which embodies so many of the behavioural changes which individuals and communities need to embrace in order to realise sustainable development. The themes explored in keynote lectures, panels and workshops were:

The United Nations Policy on Sustainable Development
Leading the Transition to Sustainability: Global Challenges and Individual Action
The environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable lifestyles
Integrating environmental, economic and social goals
Case studies on:
The local-global lifestyle links ­ the example of sustainable eating
Schools and Agenda 21: participatory approach to creating a better school environment
Sustainable Agriculture
Making Thessaloniki a sustainable city
Teaching Responsibility
Measuring Sustainable Lifestyles and Sustainability
Engaging in the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in Greece, Europe and the World


The 8th annual conference of the International Environment Forum (IEF) took place in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 15-17 October 2004, hosted by two of the co-sponsors. The opening session was held in the conference room of the Directorate of Secondary Education of the Greek Ministry of Education in Thessaloniki, and the conference continued over the weekend in a lecture hall of the Chemistry Building at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, with about 50 participants in all.

Welcoming remarks by co-sponsors

On Friday 15 October, the Conference opened at the Directorate of Secondary Education with welcoming remarks from senior representatives of the co-sponsors. The representative of DR. G. KARATASIOS, Regional Director of Education for Central Macedonia, thanked everyone for the interest in sustainable development. He apologized for the limited participation of high school teachers due another event on environmental education at the same time. He noted that even a small number of entities can cooperate and change the world. People dealing with the environment have precisely this power. He thanked all those who participated in organising the conference and especially those who came from abroad to share their knowledge to improve the sustainability of our planet.

MR. N. PHILIPPOU, President & Managing Director of Philippou S.A. and active in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, representing the private sector, made the following remarks. I always incorporate the human, social, and environmental dimension in my work. In the Rio Summit of 1992 and in Johannesburg 2002, the basic principles for sustainability were established. The idea of sustainability may seem as a moral ideal rather than something that can be implemented. The management of resources is the main thing, but what priorities and balances should be sustained should be determined by the community at the local level. Think globally, act locally. I will try to contribute from the broader viewpoint of the business community that produces products and services as well as working places and the means to live. Human dignity is one priority to be treated as such locally and globally. The political conclusions from Johannesburg emphasized the need to devise practical steps in the near future to reduce poverty and improve development and to reduce environmental degradation. One of the things in Agenda 21 was that wishful thinking should not prevail. The basic question that came out of Rio and Johannesburg is where the money should be found to protect the environment, etc. It was clear it did not exist and no one was prepared to pay for it. During the last decade investments in the world tripled, but two thirds went to developed countries. On the local level where I represent business, I have been engaged in getting support for the plan for the sustainable development of Thessaloniki. The goals are concrete and measurable and produce a symbiosis of society and development together. The city should keep its local and global role. The local way should be the development of the local GNP. A city has to have citizens with enough money. There is no place in the world where development is only based on geographical parameters. We have suggested having a local measurement of GNP while protecting the global environment. We tried this strategic plan proposal to avoid all the conflict and talking between areas. Thessaloniki is the 2nd industrial city of Greece, with 60% of the working population in the industrial sector. In concluding I will try to cultivate a sustainable development lifestyle and consider both local and global decisions. On the one hand we have to look at what decisions would be implemented, and on the other hand look at the role of the education sector.

DR. RODICA MATIES, Executive Manager, UNESCO Center for Women and Peace in the Balkan Countries, noted the role of this conference in planning for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, for which UNESCO was appointed lead agency. Through its high level of competence in education, scientific advancement, human rights and cultural dialogue, UNESCO took on this coordination with agencies and subsidiary bodies to implement the sustainable development agenda. The UNESCO Center for Women and Peace in the Balkan Countries has included sustainable development among its highest priorities for action. She mentioned a few initiatives in this field. There was the 1998 conference on women and environment, which became a focus of action for women's NGOs after the Rio conference. The office also organised a 7-year training project through which 300 women from the Balkan countries were trained in sustainable development. It advanced knowledge on peace building, culture, etc. through a variety of formats such as through summer camps for youth, international conferences, etc. In accordance with the 32nd General Conference of UNESCO in 2003, the UNESCO Center expressed its support for this conference and joined in its organization. She was convinced that it will contribute to advance the work on sustainability, with its participation from Greece and abroad. Another expected result of this dialogue is how education can cultivate sustainable lifestyles and encourage these at individual and community levels. She warmly thanked those who extended their support to this interesting initiative.

PROF. A. VOULGAROPOULOS, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, apologised on behalf of the Chairman of the Chemistry Department who, due to professional reasons, could not be present, and welcomed participants on his behalf. He thanked the organizing committee of the conference. The Chemistry Department was very interested in the issue of sustainability and was pleased to host the following two days of the conference. Education is a field of great interest if we want to improve the environmental problems that have deteriorated the quality of life on the planet. He agreed with the previous speakers, said he would follow the forum to the end, and wished it to be successful.

MR. G. KONSTANTINIDIS, Director of Secondary Education, West Thessaloniki, mentioned that he represented 160 schools, 4500 teachers and 45000 students in this area, and welcomed the participants in this conference hosted in their premises. He presented the activities of today's schools and the way they are organised as follows: The goals of today's Greek schools are various. We are interested in a holistic approach to social and cultural issues. We want to develop a school that is open to all challenges. In our schools we have a lot of students that come from other countries and we try to give them the opportunity to fit in our social and cultural environment. We want to give students the opportunity to develop their interests and talents. The non-formal curriculum of our schools has contributed a lot. The activities that are promoted here are about environmental and health education and many cultural activities that, with the normal curriculum, help children to be more open. Through these activities I believe we can benefit society. They form the most critical contribution of our schools to the social, cultural and economical challenges of our society. They give our teachers the chance to adopt pedagogical approaches like those that have been adopted by UNESCO in 1998. For us, dealing with environmental issues is the response of our school to environmental problems. Sustainable development is the means to an open multicultural school. It is a concrete base for a new global school that contributes to holistic and systemic thinking. All these activities are considered school activities but also with pedagogical goals.

MS. STAVROULA BAIRAKTARI, President, Organization for the Master Plan Implementation and Environmental Protection of Thessaloniki, stated that we need, as citizens, individuals and communities, to take action on the environment. It is a fact that the environment is deteriorating and is in danger in many parts of the world. Human beings realise how crucial it is, but despite their effort to diminish the negative effects and avoid the appearance of other problems, they have not been able to bring back the balance with nature. The Organisation for the Protection of Thessaloniki contributes to this effort by, for example, controlling the activities which have an impact on the city. Environmental education is a very important factor. It is the only way to increase awareness among people. On behalf of her organization she welcomed the present event.

Opening session

DR. ARTHUR L. DAHL, President of the International Environment Forum, opened the conference (see complete paper). He expressed the appreciation of the International Environment Forum to all the local co-sponsors for supporting this conference focusing on the role of the individual in achieving sustainability through changing lifestyles. He explained that the IEF is a small Bahá'í-inspired organization of professionals in 50 countries. As a virtual organization that operates over the internet, and has no budget or funds, the IEF networks among its members through e-mail and its website, and organizes an annual conference in different places around the world, together with a parallel electronic conference so that everyone can participate irrespective of where they are in the world. The IEF was accredited as a scientific organization by the United Nations to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, where it organized four seminars including one in the official Science Forum. It has also participated in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. When the IEF says it is Bahá'í-inspired, this only means that its members try to contribute their professional knowledge in a framework of universal moral, ethical and spiritual principles in accord with science. This is similar to the Orthodox Church with its series of symposia on Religion, Science and Environment. The IEF has focused on the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development because it reflects similar values and addresses the root causes of the problem. He hoped that the networking among the participants and co-sponsors of the conference would continue for a sustainable future.

In his lecture on "THE UNITED NATIONS POLICY ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT", Mr. Apostolos Tzitzikosta noted that humanity faces the challenge of eliminating poverty and building a more humane and just society. The opportunity we have is to make sure all the poor and people who are on the dark side of society should be placed at the centre and given attention and allowed to participate in decision-making. It is obvious that in order to have sustainable development economically, socially and environmentally we all need to work together in multiple ways and all around the world. 30 years ago the UN Conference on the Human Environment declared that the environment faces great challenges and solutions have to be developed. However, many years passed and the UN Conference on Environment and Development was held in 1992, deciding that the environment needed protection along with economic and social development. Today there is still a big gap between the poor and rich, even though with globalization some of these problems should have been resolved. Many countries have problems of finance and security. Today there are more than 70,000 new chemicals that have been introduced from the industrial revolution and beyond. Our body contains a lot of chemicals that did not exist before. There is no place on earth that could be said to be clean from such chemical ingredients. As a result we have great environmental problems, changes in weather conditions, etc. The conference on sustainable development concluded that we need to start looking more scientifically on how to promote a dialogue to reach human integrity. Therefore the UN became the most important international organization for such matters. The Commission on Sustainable Development meets on an annual basis to discuss all these matters and the three aspects of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental. There are several parts of the United Nations that deal with sustainable development such as the FAO, the IFAD, the WTO, etc. Education is very important for sustainable development. The part of the UN that is responsible for this is UNESCO which takes the lead on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) from 2005-2014. This Decade is to give all people the ability to understand what sustainable development is and how important it is for us. In closing, today all environmental problems can be very bad for the future of the world. Great changes in the planet, diseases, problems with the lack of water supply, all this can create big problems not only for development but also for human life.

The keynote lecture on "LEADING THE TRANSITION TO SUSTAINABILITY: GLOBAL CHALLENGES AND INDIVIDUAL ACTION" was presented by Dr. A. L. Dahl (Switzerland), President, International Environment Forum (see the outline and powerpoint). Sustainability has become the major challenge of the 21st Century because the rapidly rising human population, combined with the impacts of modern industrial technologies, are straining planetary limits. From the individual perspective, more than 6 billion of us are consuming more and generating more wastes, whether from over-consumption by the rich or environmental degradation by the poor in a desperate struggle to survive. The environmental threats from climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, water shortages, food insecurity and natural disasters, combined with social and economic instabilities, could compromise our future civilization and well-being. Since we are the cause of the problem, we must take some responsibility for the solution through individual and collective action. This will require a convergence in our disparate lifestyles, with those who are well-off reducing their consumption to free resources so that the poor can raise their standard of living. Since sustainable development is fundamentally an ethical concept of justice within and between generations, individual action should address not only the material dimension of lifestyles, but also the moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions. What is our responsibility as individuals, and in our families and communities? Education has a fundamental role in preparing each person for action through both scientific knowledge and ethical perspectives. A transformation of values will provide the motivation to lead to action, driving an organic change in society. Leadership in the transition to sustainability must come from the actions of each one of us.


In the discussion that followed, several questions were raised. One participant asked if it was possible to teach children about sustainability when the world was full of wars and chaos. Arthur Dahl responded with a biological example. Think of an archipelago like the Galapagos Islands that evolved unique species through time, just as nations have evolved in a world of separate peoples. Imagine a fall in sea level so that the islands are all connected. The different species would mix and be in conflict until they developed a new balance. Science and technology have eliminated all barriers that used to keep people apart, so we are in the middle of a transition from separate isolated societies to one planetary community with constant mixing and interaction. The great challenge for the nations is how to strike a balance on a planet which now has become one. Globalization is inevitable as it is driven by new technologies, but this is precisely why we need a transformation of values that will teach us how to live together in peace. Humanity is in the stage of late adolescence, and teenagers sometimes fight. We now have the potential to become adult and to find peaceful ways to solve our problems. The purpose of the Bahá'í Faith is to spread the values common to all religions that apply to this situation. It may seem utopian, but do we have a choice? The violence and suffering of today are signs of the transition in society, but this does not have to go on forever. Trying to build sustainability may sound utopian, but is it not worth trying? Do we have anything to lose? And if we cannot do it, perhaps our children will.

Question: Changes in individuals start with information. In American society today, the greatest enemy of sustainable development is war. The media are controlled to such an extent that American citizens do not have access to truth. We can tell that easily from the rapid changes in the percentage in the polls between the presidential candidates. So the big problem is not how we change in small communities but how we change a big power like the USA.

Arthur Dahl replied: The world has to learn the lesson of collaboration before it comes together. Every time we do not follow that lesson we see the damaging results that follow. The world's most indebted nation today is the USA. It is building up problems for itself in the future. The real challenge is that we know what needs to be done to bring peace in the world, and we can do it either through a consultative process or we create catastrophes that force us do it.

Yasmina Mata added: Think of the world as a human body. Each organ has a different function, just as each country has a special function. When an infant's body is developing, its different parts lack coordination, and it falls easily. If you see a toddler playing you see it gets hurt easily. So just as a human learns to walk, countries have to learn to find their place and work together.

Question: How can science and religion be brought together with such different perspectives?

Arthur Dahl: Religion without science tends to superstition, and science without religion falls into materialism, which is dangerous too. So they are two complementary forms of knowledge. I took part in a World Summit of Religions on conservation in the United Kingdom with leading religious dignitaries. I was sent by the United Nations to present the issues to the leaders, and after four days of discussions they all said they agreed, the principles of religion concerning the environment are the same. All teach that we have a responsibility for this world; we have to take care of it for the future. So despite some minor doctrinal differences the fundamental unity is there.

Question: In developing countries there are many people with no education. How can we convince them to help to achieve our goal?

Arthur Dahl: This is a short response to a complex issue. Universal education should be one of the first goals for any society trying to be sustainable because education empowers people. However many people who are illiterate have a deep sense of environment and have practiced sustainability all their lives in their traditional cultures. There are also media like radio that can reach people who cannot read. So there is a lot we can do to spread information even to the uneducated. And as education spreads we can extend general understanding.

The evening concluded with a welcome reception.

Saturday 16 October 2004

Social, Economic and Environmental Dimensions of Sustainable Lifestyles

The morning session started with three presentations on aspects of sustainable lifestyles followed by a panel discussion on their integration.

Ms Yasmina Mata of Spain discussed CULTIVATING ELEMENTS OF SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY (see presentation (pdf)). She compared the family, the nation and all of humanity. All share elements of social sustainability, such as equality of men and women, consultation for problem solving, reward and punishment, and applying virtues. For each she gave examples of practical strategies. Virtues are the qualities of character. While values are culture-specific, virtues are universal values. She described strategies from the Virtues Project ( In conclusion, she gave five elements for change: the rules of the game, technology, education, ethics, and love and solidarity.

The ECONOMIC DIMENSION OF SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLES was given by Dr. Eftichios Sartzetakis of Macedonia University in Thessaloniki (see powerpoint presentation). He noted that the very general definition of sustainable development does not say very much. It is really the topic of sustainable lifestyles that is at the core of it. This is not much talked about in the United Nations or elsewhere, but it is there in the various UN documents from 30 years back. One example of economic impacts is cotton, with subsidies in the North higher than the cost of production. Africa cannot compete, as it does not cover its costs. So developing countries stop producing cotton. The same is true for sugar beets. So the African farmers try producing milk, but the same thing happens. The European cow gets 2 euros per day equivalent in subsidies, or more than what many have to live on per day in developing countries. I have nothing against the market or firms; they just do what they are allowed to do. Looking at another area such as medicines and drugs, the industry is surrounded by a number of agreements which protect their high costs. The structure of the system is weird. Over-consumption in developed countries is a huge problem. For example 35 % of carbon dioxide emissions come from transport. It is very hard to address individual action on CO2 emissions through punishment; it has to be through changed behaviour. Sustainable development requires cooperation among the three dimensions (social, economic, environmental) as well as among government, the private sector and citizens, and among the UN, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

Arthur Dahl of Switzerland then followed with a short presentation on the ENVIRONMENTAL DIMENSIONS OF SUSTAINABILITY (see summary from powerpoint). He considered what individuals can do to live more sustainably. We can re-examine our values, educate ourselves to the issues, change our way of thinking to be more integrated, systemic and long-term, look outward with more solidarity, and live lightly on the earth, being content with little. He reviewed the environmental dimensions described in his keynote talk, and proposed practical applications to be more sustainable in daily life. Water can be economized in washing, bathing, laundry, and gardening, and efforts made to reduce pollution. Energy can be economized or used more efficiently in heating, cooling, cooking, lighting and appliances. The need for transport can be reduced, and motor vehicles replaced by public transport, bicycles, or walking. Food offers many choices of lifestyle: fast food or organic, meat or vegetarian, local or fair trade, nutritional balance, risks of contamination with pesticides/hormones/antibiotics, and the possible presence of genetically-modified organisms. Clothing can be made of natural fibres, with possible agricultural impacts, or synthetic fibres which are persistent and non-renewable. It raises issues of socially-responsible manufacture, changing styles or full use, and brand names and fashions. Housing can be looked at for location, materials, health impacts, energy efficiency, and social effects. There are sustainable dimensions of recreation, tourism and entertainment, such as their impact on the natural environment, effects of transport, and ecotourism. The aesthetic aspects of the environment cannot be ignored, such as beauty, natural versus man-made, and respecting cultural diversity.

Panel Discussion on integrating social, economic and environmental dimensions

A participant asked Dr. E. Sartzetakis what he would do if he were prime minister in Greece today to make Greece a more sustainable country. He replied that this was not a position he was seeking. It is not the prime minister that can do it; the government officials do not work in a vacuum. What they can do in the national government is set by the context. But the prime minister can do a few things. He can do things with the backing of society if he is elected on that mandate. We need active citizenry. We cannot protect the environment, only some specific areas. The environment takes care of itself. If we continue to treat the environment as we did for the last century, it will reject the human species. We were discussing environmental education as love of nature, but there is not so much nature in the urban environment.

Dr. Dahl noted that the environment can protect and regenerate itself, but not on human scales, only on geological time scales. We need to focus on managing people, on changing human behaviour and its impact rather than managing nature. It would be better to say do not harm the environment rather than protect it.

Going back to who is responsible for getting the prime minister to doing something, Dr. Sartzetakis said civic education is about who you vote for, not how to consult on the issues. Ten years ago he asked teachers if they use the Human Development Report, the State of the World report, and many of them did not use them. They could use them in civic education, as they provide statistics and examples. We have a challenge to discuss how we educate people to become a new type of citizens.

Ms. Mata noted that humans can also be beneficial to the environment. There is an ecosystem in Spain with as high biodiversity as a rainforest and it was created by human intervention. Dr. Dahl added that, since we have already intervened in all the ecosystems on the planet, we are pushed to manage them. As our knowledge of ecology develops, we can imagine that, in the far future, we could engineer complex ecosystems with countless functions. Nature itself cannot maintain all the people on the planet, so we need to increase its productivity in ecologically sound ways.

Dr. Sartzetakis described two scenarios he teaches in environmental economics. The optimistic scenario is based on the assumption that we will be able to develop the technology needed to reduce the consumption of resources.

Dr. Dahl asked what would be the economic impact of everyone adopting sustainable lifestyles and reducing consumption? We can only imagine that many industries would close. What is the alternative economy for this?

Dr. Sartzetakis replied that economics is about how you handle your limited resources and scarcity. There are a number of systems, like the communist system now extinct. The benevolent dictator would be the most effective for social welfare, if such a dictator existed. Today we use resources that do not belong to us, since they come from developing countries. We have no resources ourselves; we have consumed them. We have managed to reduce the prices for all the basic resources from developing countries, like coffee, etc., because we do not care how they are produced. You need a global goal, which is impossible, and then find a system to achieve it. The economic system will not collapse if we go to different consumption patterns. In Canada the green mutual funds perform better than the stock market. The market or any other system will work and not collapse if you tell it to produce something else. We have splendid entrepreneurs. The problem is how to make people demand certain things.

We are surrounded by advertisement about what we should consume, from our early years we are steered in this direction. Psychologically they are well done. Advertising is a science with many solutions. With public advertisements we should use the same approach. In Canada one municipality wanted to promote composting bins. They start distributing flyers. My mailbox was full everyday of flyers on pizza, etc., but nobody read the composting flyers among all those. So they ran advertisements and sold many more. We can use the same advertising techniques but we need ethical limits and not go to extremes. But when talking about education one of the keys is to teach young people about making choices. They need to know what advertisements are saying, but this is not brought up in schools. We can effect change through our choices. We say that companies do what they are allowed to do. The big corporations have so much power now, more than governments. This requires a huge change in governance, but how can we do it when they control democracy, as they do in the USA? We can apply advertising to communicate the elements of change. You need regulation to control it, and technology to take advantage of it.


Case studies

To get down to the practicalities of sustainable lifestyles, three case studies were presented on eating, the school environment and community supported agriculture.

In THE LOCAL-GLOBAL LIFESTYLE LINKS - THE EXAMPLE OF SUSTAINABLE EATING,Dr. Sylvia Karlsson of Sweden discussed the implications for sustainability in the choices that each of us make when we decide what to eat (see full outline). She illustrated this with the example of coffee, showing a number of the local-global links in all three dimensions of sustainability. Environmental sustainability is related to the impact of agricultural practices such as pesticides, of the export of organic material, and of transport. Social dimensions include human health, cost for consumers, educational approaches and employment, while economic issues include trade and how long productivity can be sustained for consumer and producer. There are two possible approaches to the question of how we make our choices of food: enlightened self-interest and expanding loyalty. The former requires a lot of knowledge production and awareness raising among stakeholders; the latter, encompassing humanity at large, accepts other motivations for human action than pure self-interest. To make these decisions we need both the help of certification schemes for organic and fair trade, and government support for those choices in their global and national policies.

Dr. Konstantina Tamoutseli, Advisor on Environmental Education to Thessaloniki schools, in a beautifully-illustrated presentation on SCHOOLS AND AGENDA 21: PARTICIPATORY APPROACH TO CREATING A BETTER SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT (see large powerpoint 40,000 k) showed how barren school yards could be turned into delightfully-landscaped gardens with the help of the students, reducing vandalism and increasing the use of the space available. She stated that the Local Agenda 21, that addresses local communities so that they are actively involved in the formation and implementation of local plans that will ensure a sustainable future for the planet, relies a lot on citizens' proper education. Environmental Education has been considered the most proper field for the implementation of education for sustainability and during the decade of 90’s has developed into Education For Sustainable Development (ESD). In countries where local authorities are actively involved in the development of a Local Agenda 21 through mobilization for voluntary involvement of their citizens, a lot of effort is put on children’s participation as well, through properly designed school activities in surveying, planning, managing; and controlling the local environment. In Greek schools, environmental education was changed to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in 1998, but this has not yet become an integral part of Greek schools. Most schools are still working on nature conservation education and environmental education. Sustainability issues are not addressed to the degree that they should. A whole-school approach to environmental education should include the formal and informal curriculum and a sustainable school environment, involving the organization and operation of the school and the environmental design of school grounds and buildings. Many school subjects can be linked to an environmental re-development. The school and community should be closely integrated. A programme for school grounds redevelopment meets student needs for a better environment, incorporates various learning styles, opens the school to the local community, raises sustainable development issues, directly affects students, teachers and educators, and relates directly to the formal/informal and hidden curriculum, The aims and outcomes of the project were to activate whole school community and local authorities in a common action and collaboration for locating, exploring and formulating a working plan for school grounds improvement. The project involves students’ participation by giving them the opportunity to lead the developments. It permits the development of the school grounds for curricular and extra-curricular use. The project seeks to develop students’ skills and competences in communication, negotiation, team-work, commitment, citizenship, democracy and community involvement. It develops a genuine sense of ownership and a positive reinforcement of the child’s self-image. It shows benefits in terms of behaviour, attitude, and performance. The drivers of the project are the principal, teachers, students, parents council and adviser on ESD internally and the local authority externally. The current situation of most school grounds is a biologically sterile environment covered by asphalt, hostile and dangerous to students, conveying a message of lack of interest, totally lacking in vegetation and any other educational or play facility, and revealing an ethos of a school that does not respect children and nature. It cannot inspire a love of and respect for nature, and cannot develop a sense of ownership, leading to vandalism. The project methodology involved action research, field surveys, questionnaires, and an invitation to experts in landscape design. The methodological tools were a survey with photographs, sketches and written descriptions, questionnaires and interviews addressed to students, parents and teachers, and a behavioural survey and behavioural mapping with photographs, sketches and written descriptions. Numerous examples of participating schools, from secondary to nursery schools, were shown with before and after photographs. In one school, three thematic gardens were established: flowers and mythology, herbs and pharmacy, and vegetables and culinary herbs.

To illustrate the environmental, social and economic potential of sustainable agriculture, Dr. Christos Vasilikiotis of USA showed some examples of COMMUNITY-SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (see large powerpoint 14,000 k). A comparison of the industrial and ecological models of agriculture shows the Industrial model as energy intensive in a linear process, treating the farm as a factory and single enterprise, with monocultures of low-value products using single-use equipment and sold through passive marketing, while the Ecological model is information intensive with cyclical processes, treats farms as ecosystems involving many enterprises, using a diversity of plants and animals to produce higher-value products with multiple-use equipment and active marketing. Sustainable agriculture is ecologically sound and respectful of the environment, economically viable, and socially just, providing social benefits to the farmer, the farmworkers and the community. Organic farming is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, promotes biological cycles and soil biological activity, minimizes use of off-farm inputs, and employs management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. The organic and in-conversion land area in the European Union is steadily increasing but with great differences between countries, from Austria, Switzerland, Finland and Italy all over 7% while Greece and Ireland are last with 0.7%. Community supported agriculture (CSA) or box scheme brings benefits to the community such as connecting with the farmer (knowing who grows your produce and where), learning about new vegetables and how to use seasonal ingredients, eliminating packaging and transportation costs (both direct costs and environmental costs), and reducing waste since produce does not need to meet market cosmetic standards. CSAs create a sense of social responsibility and stewardship of local land. They support the biodiversity of a given area and the diversity of agriculture through the preservation of small farms producing a wide variety of crops. They also keep food currency in the local community and contribute to the maintenance and establishment of regional food production. Farmers benefit because they can tailor their crops to their market, and plan ahead of time which crops they need to avoid the crop waste that is so common with conventional farms. With a "guaranteed market" for their produce, farmers can concentrate in growing healthy food for their customers. The system eliminates the middlemen, resulting in a good income for the farmer and reasonable prices for the consumer. It allows farmers to farm in a sustainable way, in diversified farms. CSA does present special challenges. It requires farms that are diversified and grow a large variety of crops. It is necessary to educate consumers about the delights of eating in-season produce. CSA farms can become management nightmares if done on too large a scale, and CSA farming requires good people skills. Dr. Vasilikiotis described two CSA farms in California, where the climate allows farm production every month of the year. The Full Belly Farm is a CSA with 650 members, 15 wholesale and 15 retail accounts, selling at three farmers markets, employing 35 full-time workers year-round, providing the owners’ entire income, and producing 120 crops on its 200 acres. A sample October box contained sweet peppers, green beans, carrots, salad mix, butternut squash, apples, garlic, pomegranate, broccoli, onions and potatoes. Fairview Gardens is now a 12-1/4 acre island surrounded by tract homes and shopping centers. It produces more than 100 different fruits and vegetables, feeds 500 families, and employs more than 20 people. Organic farming is only beginning in Greece. While 18% of the population is involved in agriculture, the average plot size is only 4.3 hectares. Organic farming in Greece represents only 0.7% of total agricultural land.To encourage its development and cover conversion costs, organic farmers get 600-900 Euros/ha for 5 years. Any approach to circumvent the limits of modern farming must break the monoculture and thus the underlying causes of unsustainability.

The role of education

In the afternoon, Ass. Professor Victoria Thoresen of University College of Hedmark, Norway, and Project Manager, Consumer Citizenship Network, presented a detailed paper on TEACHING RESPONSIBILITY (see full paper (Word document 713k) and powerpoint summary). She described approaches to responsibility as involving biological determinants, social expectations and moral imperatives. The present labyrinth of choices includes soul sickness, cooperation, complexity, mobility, globalization and commercial influence, new patterns of cognitive understanding and moral development, new forms of citizenship, and alternative visions of the future. Teaching responsibility must address motivation to replace fundamental pessimism with positive responses to scientific and spiritual knowledge. It should develop skills including communication skills, decision making skills, problem solving skills, creativity, and change management skills. Teaching methods can include cooperative learning, team learning, service learning, value clarification, active value choice, problem based learning, case studies, experimental learning, role playing, simulations, project work, action-research, campaigns, debates, biographies, and story telling. The goal is to help students discover the underlying principles and values connected to issues and dilemmas, reflect on their own experiences, personalize as well as theorize issues, and identify specific ways of posing a problem. It is necessary to help students acquire an understanding of systems and processes, develop their capacity to listen as well as to express their own ideas and map alternative solutions, and challenge their prejudices. The teacher can use social commentary as learning material, as well as Information and Communication Technology (ICT). She suggested some content for education for sustainable development, including lifestyles in the past and present, making choices, managing resources, solving problems, and contributing to the future. In conclusion, she noted that “nobility becomes the accent of life.” She followed this presentation with some practical exercises among groups of participants.

Sunday 17 October 2004

Putting Principles into Practice

In their joint presentation on MEASURING SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLES AND SUSTAINABILITY, Dr. Sylvia Karlsson of Sweden, General Secretary of the International Environment Forum, and Dr. Arthur Dahl (Switzerland) discussed the usefulness of indicators (see outline and powerpoint). No system can be managed without information, which is why we have dashboards and bank statements. Achieving sustainability also requires information, and there have been major efforts, especially since the Rio Earth Summit adopted Agenda 21, to devise indicators of sustainability. Indicators can provide guidance for adaptive management, which is necessary when we do not fully understand complex systems. Indicators are increasingly used by governments and non-governmental organizations nationally and locally, and include statistics, materials flows, ecological footprints, scientific data and other types of information for decision-making. There are still significant challenges in measuring sustainability and sustainable development with indicators, including the variety of temporal and spatial scales, addressing planetary limits, describing vulnerability, resilience and irreversibility, providing reference values, baselines and targets, and avoiding indicators driven by data availability. One general problem is in defining development to include other dimensions than material, such as cultural diversity, global consciousness, the equality of men and women, and participation in science and knowledge. There are also the challenges of developing indicators through processes that ensure their universal applicability, including comparing countries justly, respecting the diversity of development goals, applying equity, and using democratic processes of participation. There are indicators that individuals, families and communities can use to measure the sustainability of their lifestyles. More should be done to help each person develop and use such indicators to manage their own well-being and sustainability. Such indicators can also contribute substantially to education for sustainable development. Arthur Dahl then gave a variety of examples of indicators individuals can use. He suggested the each person could make up their own sustainability indicator profile and compare their progress yearly. In schools, a class could develop its indicator profile, choosing indicators, measuring them for each student, and analysing the sustainability of their lifestyles.

The next presentation looked at issues of sustainability at the community level. In MAKING THESSALONIKI A SUSTAINABLE CITY, Mr. G. Toskas, a civil engineer specialised in transportation planning and working for the master plan of Thessaloniki, a government activity, showed the public transport problems of the city and the world. The planet has 6 billion people who own more than 700 million private vehicles. The fleet has increased 17% over the last five years. In Europe, 80% live in large urban concentrations where the main economic activities take place. Urban traffic accidents in the European Union cost 2% of GDP, even if human life cannot be given a value. Urban congestion is the main problem. The average life of a vehicle is 13 years, and this causes a problem with a big fleet moving in Greek cities. Thessaloniki has the most rapidly expanding traffic volume among larger cities in the EU, because the town developed a bit later than Athens. There are 80 new cars every day in this city adding to the traffic, and only 7 cars withdrawn. Within 10 years this will lead to chaos. Fuel consumption is another problem. The pollution from traffic costs another 2% of the EU GDP. Public transport should travel in exclusive corridors even in pedestrian areas. We are failing to do this in Greece. We had a big problem even inaugurating a pedestrian area, which was rapidly filled by parked cars. We have fewer accidents with public transport. A bus is equivalent to 60 private cars. We have 11 times lower noise levels from public transport, than private automobiles. What does the citizen of Thessaloniki want and need? He wants his daily movement to be smooth. Each spends 40 minutes a day finding a parking place. We ask for transportation with quality and freedom. In the urban environment, public transport with bicycling, etc. can represent good solutions for sustainable mobility. These modes of new public transport can lower the volumes of private automobiles and create a more liveable city. Mr. Toskas showed the road network of the city. The population has stagnated for 15 years. A subway has been on the agenda for the last 20 years and finally digging will start next year. The demand for parking is 32,000 spaces in the city centre but only 17,000 are available. So 15,000 places are needed urgently. We have only 5 km of bicycle paths in Thessaloniki. We used to have trams a long time ago.

In the discussion, it was noted that 2/3 of the space in the streets is covered by parked cars today, leaving little room for traffic to circulate. The highest court in Greece took 3 years to approve plans for underground parking. The question was raised as to why the effort was put on a subway rather than trams which would be cheaper. A subway is very expensive; it was supposed to be constructed under a concession last year but now it will be a public work. It has go 12 meters below the surface as archaeological layers are found down to 7 meters. However, all surface transport runs into the parking problem. The transport problem is so serious that we need to speak about the situation louder. We need to educate people to become more sensitized and then to raise the issue.

For the final talk on ENGAGING IN THE DECADE OF EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN GREECE, EUROPE AND THE WORLD, Dr. Arthur Dahl replaced Dr. Michalis Modinos, President, National Center of Environment and Sustainable Development, who was unable to attend at the last minute. He noted that the Decade was a recommendation of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, that called on the international community to focus its attention on this concept of education for sustainable development. The International Environment Forum (IEF) was already interested in education for sustainable development before Johannesburg, had organized conferences on it, and had held a seminar on the topic in Johannesburg. It is now supporting the Decade through its last conference in Florida, which brainstormed about what could be done at individual and community level, and through stimulating the development of a network in the US to support the decade in North America. There is a web page on the IEF site with information about the decade, which many find is a useful place to start.
At the level of Greece, the Greek delegation to the Commission on Sustainable Development expressed special interest in the Decade, which was part of the reason the IEF chose Greece for this conference. The IEF appreciated the strong support of the UNESCO office here in Thessaloniki. Hopefully the networks and partnerships created through this little conference can help to strengthen action in Greece for the Decade.
At the European level the work is expanding, for example through the EU funded Consumer Citizenship Network with 150 partners coordinated by Victoria Thoresen present at this conference. The EU has a strategy on sustainable development. One thing that has to be done to make EU policy work is to change the vision of a future Europe, making it less materialistic and more sustainable, reflecting unity in its diversity of cultures. There are many exciting things being done around Europe that no one knows about, but through networking the news can spread and we can make a difference. So we hope that the Decade as it moves ahead leads to more citizen support, working together to make a reality of sustainable development.
At the world level, it is for the industrialized countries to take the lead as they have caused most of the problems. We cannot expect countries struggling with basic survival issues to change their priorities. So developed countries can take the lead and then transfer technologies allowing developing countries to leapfrog some of the steps to sustainability. We know that education is a very fundamental change, like glaciers move very slowly. Each age group of students that goes through the system is another layer, and this helps the whole process move ahead. This is real social sustainability. As individuals we shall all die sooner or later, but transmitting our knowledge, culture and values to the next generation is the real aspect of sustainability. It may take a decade to see the result, but it is worth this investment in our future. With the dire problems facing the world, this is a good motivation for us to start acting.

Electronic conference participants

Sylvia Karlsson read out a few questions and comments sent by e-mail from the electronic conference participants who were following over the Internet.

In response to one question on the tragedy of the commons and the possible solution in private property, Arthur Dahl answered that private ownership is one way to increase responsibility for resource management, but it does not always work when the owners, often corporate rather than individual, simply strip the assets for immediate profit. Private ownership also does not work where the public good does not link to private advantage, such as with air quality. There is no reasonable way to privatise the atmosphere. There are also many examples in traditional societies where resource responsibility has been implemented effectively for generations through collective family or village ownership. Each community needs to find an appropriate mix of collective and private ownership relevant to its resources and culture.

Dina Tamoutseli commented on another issue that she had talked to the children in Thessaloniki about the major problems they saw in their city and they painted the traffic problem. Their solution was flying vehicles. They all wanted to live in green single story houses. Sometimes we think technology solves a lot of things. Arthur Dahl added that one reason we are so slow to take up renewable technologies is that they do not lend themselves to give large profits to big corporations. Solar heaters on roofs, microhydro schemes in villages, etc. do not interest multinationals, so there is a bias towards large scale solutions in the way technology is developed.

In closing the conference, the President of the International Environment Forum thanked the co-sponsors, IEF members, speakers and participants for their contributions, and particularly thanked the local organizer, David Willis, for his enormous work.

Full Conference Programme and Papers

Many who could not attend the conference in Thessaloniki participated by e-mail through the electronic conference.


UNESCO Balkans logo  UNESCO Center for Women and Peace in the Balkan Countries

Hellenic Rep logo  HELLENIC REPUBLIC, Ministry of Public Education and Religions
Directorate of Secondary Education / Western Thessaloniki, Office of Environment Education

University logo  Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Kordelio logo  Environmental Education Center Eleftherio-Kordelio

IEF logo  International Environment Forum


Last updated 14 February 2009