Protecting the environment while empowering Greek communities to lead sustainable development

As Greece struggles to revive its economy, a key insight often is overlooked: tourism and agriculture, the two biggest engines of the country’s economy, depend on having a healthy environment. Fortunately, Greek citizens can play a role in protecting the local environment, and can find ways to connect their livelihoods with natural resources and biodiverse ecosystems in new, sustainable ways.

The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation is offering an award for projects that are responding to this opportunity to strengthen local Greek communities with environmental solutions as part of the Destination: Change. New Solutions for Greece online competition, launched in collaboration with Ashoka, The Hellenic Initiative, Boehringer Ingelheim Ellas, and SAP Hellas.

These competition partners are offering a total of four monetary prizes to competition participants, plus free business management software and training for one of the winning projects. They are looking for solutions that go beyond traditional approaches, and empower local communities to create models for sustainable development in Greece.

The condition of the environment affects food security and diversity, health and wellbeing, local and regional economic conditions, energy capabilities, water access and quality, population patterns, and even international political relations and stability. The world’s soaring population – it has risen from 3 billion during the 1960s to almost 7 billion today, and is projected to exceed 11 billion by 2050 – has vast implications for the environment, creating uncertainty about global resource demands.  

Sustainable communities respect the interdependence of the economy, environment, and social issues by finding ways to grow and prosper without degrading the land, water, air, natural, and cultural resources on which they depend.

Ashoka Fellows are  leading social innovators around the world who are demonstrating how solutions for sustainable development start by engaging local communities, providing empowering, supporting models, and building alliances around them. They highlight the importance of understanding the connections between resources management, community development, economic security and the need to build sustainable solutions around environmental challenges.

For example, Ashoka Fellow Grégory Gendre creates recycling communities in France to encourage environmentally and economically rational waste management. Gendre has been developing a dynamic system in his region of France since 2007, where he collects cooking oil, filters it, transforms it into a biofuel, and promotes its local use for the scenic railway and motorized fishing boats.

Gendre uses his system to reduce the environmental impact of cooking oil through recycling, and to raise awareness and deeply influence behaviors concerning recycling. He has successfully gathered various actors along a local cooking oil recycling chain, including public institutions, restaurants, camping institutions, oil suppliers, and the general public.

Gendre demonstrates the benefits and common interests of participating in the local recycling system to each of these stakeholders, such as avoiding the costs connected to treating wastes, advancing corporate social responsibility, and sending messages that appeal to tourists. All community stakeholders are involved, they share the same values, and they are collectively building a virtuous circle from which they all gain various economic and communication advantages.

In Brazil, Thaise Guzzatti is supporting sustainable rural development through an agrotourism model that is designed to complement and sustain the livelihoods and cultures of family farmers in Brazil. Founded in 1999, Associação Acolhida na Colônia (Association Refuge in the Colony) allows more than 30 municipalities in the state of Santa Catarina to access to the tourism market. Guzzatti is continuing to expand her “chain of land-based tourism” through a “Solidarity Tourism” network and government partnerships.

Kirsten Forsberg, an Ashoka Fellow in Peru, has developed a comprehensive community-based strategy to conserve, protect, and make better use of the marine and coastal environment of Pacific Ocean for the benefit of all. She seeks to sensitize and mobilize the community to become agents of change in their local marine and coastal environments.

Through Planeta Océano (Planet Ocean), she nurtures a sense of belonging and ownership of marine resources, including the actual and potential resources that the ocean offers. Forsberg teaches the community to study and produce the materials they need to create their own mechanisms for dealing with their environment, helping enable the citizens to be their own guardians of the marine habitat, and to benefit from a less polluted and more productive ocean.

Kirsten is now piloting Ocean Planet in Tumbes, a small coastal municipality in northern Peru that is located in one of the five major oceanic biodiversity hotspots of the world. Through her association of local, private, government, and citizen sector organizations that work on commonly-identified problems, and build from one small success toward bigger successes, she is helping local communities create unique methods to sustainably manage marine resources.

These Ashoka Fellows are helping communities reduce their environmental impact while empowering them to leverage natural resources in a sustainable manner for long-term, healthy economic growth. They are developing and advancing models that prove that environmental protection and economic development are not necessarily opposed, and can be integrated in ways that support healthy societies.

By giving power and incentives to individuals with innovative solutions, Greece can create a sustainable pathway to long-term environmental sustainability that will strengthen both the economy and also citizen participation.

Author: Evita Kolokouri, Ashoka Greece