European projects are great movers of people, ideas and good practices but the environmental cost of mobility is worrying. We need better built-in incentives for environmentally sustainable projects.
What is the sound of a European project? It is the roaring of jet engines, the clatter of tracks, the sound of a baggage trolley’s tiny wheels on a Brussels cobblestone pavement.
Let me elaborate.
The Erasmus+ programme, combining all previous EU mobility programmes, is a massive mover of people. In 2016 alone it set some 725,000 people in motion around the continent, studying, training or volunteering. The programme proclaims to be on track in meeting its target of 4 million to study, teach and train abroad by the year 2020.
Mobility is implicit also in Key Action 2 of Erasmus+, under which many adult education projects are funded. A typical multi-year partnership project in the adult education field includes at least a couple of partner meetings abroad topped by a multiplier event somewhere in Europe.
European projects, hence, mean networking, sharing of practices, forging a common professional identity through personal contact. They also mean planes, trains and (in some instances) cars – a lot of them. This means that the carbon footprint of the whole project universe is considerable. What to make of this?
Are the benefits of mobility so significant that they simply outweigh the climate costs? Just make sure to ‘think of the environment’ while you print out the conference materials? Hardly anyone would follow this train of thought in the era of an impending climate crisis. On the other hand, mobility underpins the idea of the continent as a shared space.
Perhaps the environmental dimension should somehow be better built in to the structures of the projects, into the Erasmus+ programme itself?
What if, in project applications, an environmental sustainability plan would be a mandatory part of the application? What if the application was awarded extra points for each physical meeting substituted with a virtual meeting? Could the mobility periods be longer, with fewer people moving? How about a transparent, public carbon footprint calculator for every project, and funding incentives for keeping the footprint as small as possible?
These are just tentative thoughts and ideas but perhaps worth a closer examination. We need a systemic way of thinking about climate change in projects.
|Check out this list of top tips on how to reduce the environmental impact of international projects|
Acknowledgement: Many of the ideas fleshed out in this post were first discussed among colleagues in my former workplace the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation. Care for the environment through adult education is one of the strategic goals of the Foundation. The idea of a carbon calculator for projects in particular was the brainchild of economic and development manager Jarmo Pykälä.
Markus Palmen is a journalist, writer and audiovisual producer, and a freelancer. Since August 2017 he has been EPALE's Thematic Coordinator for Policy. For eight years Markus was the Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief for the European Lifelong Learning Magazine.