5. Getting the New Generation On Board!

Since 2019, InCommOn has been implementing annual student competitions approved by the Ministry of Education. The involvement of young people in general, and students in particular, in our actions for sustainable cities is essential. We believe that the younger generations must be provided with timely and factual education about environmental issues and supported in forming responsible attitudes and behaviors. In order to change behaviors and promote a healthy and happy environment for all, young people must be able to discover, think for themselves, work on the issues in a tangible manner and connect the scientific facts with a feeling of interest, excitement and experience of the natural world (not simply learning by rote).

Our pedagogical experience has led us to conclude that simply telling young people about environmental problems is not sufficient to motivate them to change a habit but rather practice and creativity in, for and about the environment is what fosters strong feelings of connection to engage in personal behaviour change. We therefore feel it is essential that young people are given the opportunity to engage in creative ways to work on innovative ideas to solve environmental issues and as such, these competitions are designed to trigger young people’s natural curiosity and harness their ingenuity to come up with innovative solutions to local, tangible problems.

More specifically, the competition ’Making a circular economy’ (“Γύρω-γύρω όλη…η οικονομία”) invites the students of secondary schools of Greece to describe and create a circular economy plan that could be implemented in their school. Students are given input and materials to provide background about resource constraints (on a global, national and local level) that lead to the need to find environmentally friendly solutions to everyday issues. They are further engaged in discourse about the interdependence of society, the economy and the environment and the need for behaviour change, with an emphasis on the best utilisation, conservation and reuse of resources rather than their exploitation and disposal.

Throughout their planning, students are asked to consider the necessity of all aspects of a circular economy – an equitable economy, social cohesion and environmental sustainability – and to demonstrate how their idea involves the interaction of all three sets of issues. Each idea needs to show that all three principles are practiced and strengthened through their innovative plan.

The students’ plans do not necessarily need to be implemented in the participating school during the competition and, as such, are hypothetical.

The competition ‘Waste Less-Treasure More’ invites primary and secondary school students to think about food waste, ways in which it could be reduced and the potential for its utilisation. The aim is for students to understand the responsibility we all have as consumers when we choose the amount of food we buy, and to become active citizens in using ‘materials’ (food and its residues) in the most environmentally and socially responsible manner. This includes learning and practicing ways to reduce waste and understanding how resources and energy are spent for their production. Information on the topic is provided by their teachers who encourage exploration of the subject, group work and critical thinking, rather than simply learning the facts. In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of the topic allows for cooperation between subjects and teachers.

The deliverables for both competitions are designed to be as broad as possible, to encourage a wide range of ways for the students to express and describe their ideas; they can be in the form of an article, a poster, a presentation, a video, a song, or a game- cultivating creativity, critical thinking and collaborative work.

The individual objectives of the competitions are:

-To provide students with factual information about the environment in a manner that raises awareness and engages students in action and behavior change with regard to the proper utilisation of natural resources.

-To initiate discussion about the interrelation of disciplines and sectors -economic, social, environmental- to encourage young people to cooperate across subject areas and disciplines and emphasise the value of a holistic approach.

-To promoting the idea of ​​responsible consumption and management of natural resources in the school and local community.

-To strengthen social cohesion.

-To support the development of students’ creative abilities and expression of their personality through this process.

-To foster the cultivation of critical thinking.

-To encourage cooperation and collaboration.