Greening the youth sector

In this episode, we are talking with Pegah MOULANA and Neringa TUMĖNAITĖ about how to make the youth sector greener, more environmentally conscious. We are discussing the sustainability checklist developed by the EU-CoE youth partnership, in cooperation with the Task Force on greening the youth sector, and in consultation with youth organisations. This checklist will serve as guidelines for youth initiatives across Europe.

Greening the youth sector

[00:00:00] Dariusz: Welcome to Under 30, the podcast series by the youth partnership that brings the research results, explores trends in young people's lives and themes relevant for youth policy and practice.

[00:00:21] The issue of climate change and its impact on all of us has been discussed in many activities, implemented both by the European Union and the Council of Europe.

[00:00:32] It also appears in many policy papers issued by both institutions. It is also present in many initiatives undertaken by youth organizations and youth movements across Europe. How can we in the youth sector be more environmentally conscious? How can we mainstream environmentally responsible practices? How can we make the youth sector greener?

[00:00:58] Recently the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership in cooperation with the task force on greening the youth sector, and in consultation with youth organizations has developed a sustainability checklist, which will serve as guidelines for youth initiatives across Europe. My name is Dariusz Grzemny and together with Lana Pasic we are talking to two people this time, Pegah MOULANA and Neringa TUMĖNAITĖ. Pegah is a human rights activist based in Europe, mostly focusing on mainstreaming and a recognition of the impact that climate change will, and already plays on young people. She's the current chairperson on the climate change task force at the Youth Department of the Council of Europe. And Neringa is a Lithuanian human rights and environmental activist, researcher, and academic interested in development justice, youth empowerment and civic society corporation. She is a member of the Pool of European Youth Researchers at the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership. She is also the author of the sustainability checklist. Enjoy this episode!

[00:02:14] Lana: Climate change has been recognized as an important issue, where young people are taking action and leading the way in raising awareness about the effects of the changing environment and changing climate on our planet and on our lives.

[00:02:28] So today with us, we have Pegah and Neringa who have been working on climate action and climate justice on behalf of young people, but also on behalf of European institutions. Institutions, such as the European Union and Council of Europe, have been recognizing the importance of climate action, but it is still the youth organizations and young people that are really leading the fight for climate awareness and climate justice around Europe.

[00:02:59] So Pegah, what is it that the Council of Europe has been doing when it comes to the topic of youth activism and climate change? And why is this such an important issue for young people?

[00:03:11] Pegah: Thank you, Lana and also thank you Darek for inviting me today, to this wonderful podcast, and hello to our listeners. I think it's really important for us to discuss why, why climate crisis is an important topic for young people.

[00:03:26] And, and one answer that I can clearly give to you is the idea of intergenerational equity. What would mean by intergenerational equity is the fact that young people who are currently youth at the present moment will be bearing a hundred percent of the consequences of climate change. If not they are already.

[00:03:47] And as a result, Council of Europe has decided that instead of waiting until our young people are the future decision makers, we should empower them to take lead on it already. And that's presently evident in the work that we're doing in the Council of Europe. At the moment, we have a task force who is working on a potential of a recommendation paper, which brings together all member states of Council of Europe around the decision-making table, where they will decide concretely where they should aim towards protecting young people when it comes to climate change. It's my opinion, I would say it's young people's access to a healthy environment and how they are entitled to a healthy environment from now until the future. But we'll see what this is your makers decide. I'm very excited to keep you in tune about that. And if I'm honest, I'm very proud to say that using co-management as a way of ensuring climate governance is inspiring me already.

[00:04:54] And I hope to see that occurring, not only from Council of Europe, but other institutions and governments using the co-management structure to bring young people around the decision-making table when it comes to climate crisis.

[00:05:09] Lana: Thank you Pegah. And at the youth partnership, we have been working closely with the Youth Department, and also the task force on greening the youth sector in order to try to find some ways in which we can integrate what the youth organizations are already doing, and what practices that they have been following in their daily work and their activities in order to try to compile the list of best practices in different areas. And Neringa has been working very hard this year on consulting the youth organizations and also preparing the summary of these practices. So, can you tell us about the checklist and the consultation process that you worked on?

[00:05:54] Neringa: Thank you for the floor, Lana.

[00:05:57] Yes, we held quite extensive consultations besides those discussions with the task force. We mainly took two steps. So, first I reviewed existing literature, guidelines and policy documents of the European Union and Council of Europe, as well as the recommendation and existing checklists from various youth organizations across Europe..

[00:06:22] And the second stage was holding personal exchanges with representatives of youth organizations and organizing a focus group together with the partnership to discuss with representatives from 15 youth organizations, which are all recipients of the European Youth Foundation grants. So we had a chance to hear what the organizations think of the checklist and to receive their input.

[00:06:53] And I'm quite glad to say that there were quite a lot of amendments, and even negotiations at times to try to come up with the joint position, what we feel should be recommended for fellow young people and NGOs.

[00:07:08] Lana: Thank you Neringa. So can you tell us maybe what are some of the main areas that youth organizations and young people should be looking at when organizing activities in order to really green the youth sector and bring sustainability to the heart of their activities.

[00:07:25] Neringa: Well, this is the big question. Once, the listeners see the whole checklist, so it has a 77 points to check, and it covers multiple thematic areas. So perhaps those interesting to highlight are education and teamwork. So making sure everyone is on board, as well as, certain considerations when choosing accommodation and venue, food and consumables, because we know that food and products do have a quite strong impact on the climate and the environment. As well as transport, printing, also using welcome packs and promotional gifts and buying fair trade and quite relevant for the Corona period is the reducing of digital footprint and various tips, how to moderate data and energy use.

[00:08:23] Dariusz: Okay. I would like to rewind a little bit because we are now very much into discussing why it's needed, what we have, that we have the checklist and that is a lot of things happening on the, let's say decision-making level, policy level.

[00:08:40] But, my question is always, maybe the question for both of you do Neringa and to Pegah, because you have been involved in the youth sector for a long time, and we all know that the youth sector is quite a big contributor to the carbon footprint. There's a lot of traveling included a lot, which also includes accommodation, which also includes food.

[00:09:05] Of course, people have to eat, which also includes tones of paper, millions of digital devices connected at the same time. At the same time, we are always saying that it's important for young people to meet, to have a meaningful conversation, to actually come up with ideas, proposals, and also to actually practice in the cultural dialogue, intercultural communication, and intercultural learning.

[00:09:30] So if you can say from your experience, how green is youth sector, in your opinion?

[00:09:37] Pegah: If I am honest Darek, I think it's not only institutions that have massive carbon footprint. I think it's even governments when they are, you know, exercising their daily work, universities, it's everywhere, everywhere we look there is a massive carbon footprint.

[00:09:58] And one thing that, especially we in the Youth Department we have done, is to have this difficult conversation. What is our carbon frontprint? Are we doing anything about it? And frankly, we have started for the past few years specifically using our youth centers in a more environmentally friendly way, which includes using renewable resources through sunlight.

[00:10:25] Through reusing our waters system, and also using, let's say food system in a way that is environmentally friendly. What I mean by that is we have, for instance, we have reduced our intake on meat, during our canteens. And we only, for instance, we have like a meatless Mondays and stuff like that.

[00:10:45] The fact that we don't use plastic during our exercises and we encourage train transport and car sharing, when young people get together, and transport to to our youth centres rather than using flights. Of course that's not, you know, there is no legal punishment if you don't do it.

[00:11:04] But of course the idea is that we should make young people and also organizers environmentally conscious and environmentally aware. So they, for instance, once they are organizing the events, they have taken that into consideration who should avoid a flight who can reduce that intake.

[00:11:24] And should we actually use the canteen food and not use meat as much? These are the discussions that really impact people's framework of thinking. And as much as they are very tiny steps, I think they are necessary steps and we should not undermine that. And if I'm honest with you, we still haven't done enough.

[00:11:44] I don't think so. We can still be very, very much more ambitious. But that's the aim of a checklist like this, right. Is to say that, what are we doing right now? Where are the gaps and where should we push for next? And if I'm honest, there is a lot of potential, not only within the Youth Department.

[00:12:03] And the reason why I'm talking about the Youth Department because I can do something about it. And I hope, that other departments within the Council of Europe and even European Union take that as a source of inspiration and start implementing it. But again, for one step at a time, we don't want to, you know, already commit to crazy things for all organizations and institutions who feel alienated about this topic that we can say, let's start now,

[00:12:32] Lana: I think it's a very interesting question Darek, because it also brings to us the kind of inquiry into how sustainable or how green our lives are now, our living styles and also our working styles, working culture. So it is not only the youth sector, but also living on the planet and whether it is sustainable or not.

[00:12:59] I think for me, one of the main questions for this is of course, we're speaking from the perspective of the youth sector and what we are doing and what we could do differently, but it's also important not to forget that there're some quite big polluters out there, that are actually making the biggest damage to the environment.

[00:13:21] And, although, while we absolutely should and must take action on individual level and organizational level, this is not going to completely counteract what is going on at the global level. So I think when we speak about sustainability, we really need to take into consideration the bigger picture and to say, yes, what we are doing is one small drop in the ocean.

[00:13:48] Neringa: I will not argue neither Pegah nor Lana. I would just like to add that I feel that being environmentally sustainable is not a zero sum game, so it is important to find balance. And then feel that the activities we organized have such long-term positive impact through education and individual and organizational behavioral change.

[00:14:11] That long-term the carbon footprint, our projects or activities have, would still make us come out on the positive side. And here, I think it's great to have the checklist help us collect those points.

[00:14:26] Dariusz: Yes. I was not trying to say that the youth sector is the biggest contributor. I just noticed being involved in international youth projects, that there is a contribution and, quite a considerable contribution when it comes to carbon footprint. I remember when the meatless Monday was introduced in the European Youth Center in Budapest, and we have been organizing an activity there and there was quite a number of people who resisted, quite a few people who were not very happy with having meatless Monday.

[00:15:00] And I think dealing with this resistance is one of the part when talking about sustainability. And another thing is that I think the ability to explain to people the meaning of it and our ability to make people aware in a way that they really understand they have a role to play. When I look at the checklist, I must say at first sight, it's quite scary. There's a lot of points. There's a lot of things. But as you said, it's not the list that we have to check all the points. And then we are happy.

[00:15:32] Okay. That would be fantastic if we can. It's not maybe the most important to check all of them, but to be aware that these are the points and maybe look for the solutions. Neringa, what would you suggest youth organizations to start with when looking at the checklist that you produced?

[00:15:49] Neringa: Um, it's a very good question and actually touches upon one of the points mentioned in the checklist is having a discussion within the team and then adapting the policies and strategies, the team and their organization uses based on the profile of the participants, sometimes the cultural background and, you know, to see how they can test the limits.

[00:16:15] Perhaps some organizations are already organizing seven day long vegan projects. For others that could be quite a stretch. So I think that is the most important to be on the same page. And then to also come up with different ideas. And we do have suggestions in the checklist, which came from fellow youth organizations, how to introduce this to participants because perhaps some items could seem as creating some discomfort or perhaps there would be questions.

[00:16:46] Why am I not getting the promotional pack? Because I always did, and it's something nice to have. So this component is very important as well. And not to say that, there shouldn't be anything fun. It's just to find ways to make it more sustainable and also focused on locally sourced, both food and souvenirs to give to the participants.

[00:17:09] Dariusz: Coming back to what I said before, it's this question of how to actually pass a message to the participants, for example, of international project so that they understand that what they do has an impact and what they improved in the way they do has an impact as well. Do you have any suggestions how you can actually pass it?

[00:17:31] Because sometimes the problem is that the messages about sustainability are very patronizing, or they can be partonizing. They can be very judgmental or they can be messy and not understandable as well using, for example, certain slang that not everybody understands.

[00:17:49] Do you have any thoughts about it? How do you actually pass this message to the participants?

[00:17:54] Neringa: So from some of the suggestions and current best practices of youth organizations, we recommended to make it fun and inclusive. So the fun part could be organizing a competition on of whose travel is the most sustainable.

[00:18:10] And then you can make your own choice, but then also check perhaps your own carbon footprint. Another idea shared was to invite vegan or vegetarian influencers to the event to have them share why they're making certain choices and perhaps inspiring participants. And then, just to come back to this point of adapting to your audience, different organizations have very various techniques to make sure they're environmentally conscious.

[00:18:40] So some for example, they will have informal agreement and that is known within the team and they do not promote it so much to the participants. Others have it even in their own statutory documents. So you need to know that only certain sustainable food can be reimbursed and other cannot. And others, for example, focus on participants' self-evaluation.

[00:19:01] So at the end of the program, you may be invited as somebody who took part to self evaluate based on certain points. And nobody will be judging you. That will be just something for yourself as the reflection. And I think that's something that should be promoted, definitely not this authoritative tone, but more self evaluation and self reflection for both the organizations and the participants.

[00:19:27] Lana: Just to follow on what Neringa said. I think it's really important to look at the checklist as well as any other prescriptive mechanism like this as a guide because we know that youth organizations and youth activists already have so many different burdens and so many different requirements and demands on their time, and their activities that this should be something that will serve as a guiding mechanism for them rather than it's something that is prescriptive and needs to be followed. Because if it's looked at like that, I think we will not have many organizations really excited about implementing sustainable principles in their daily work. But I really liked the idea of vegetarian influencers and maybe I can see my next career in that area.

[00:20:17] Dariusz: Yeah, I think one of the way to go about it is also to use what I think the youth sector is good at, it's to use different participatory techniques or methods, and maybe do it together with people, you know, not only within the team, but also to communicate and look with the participants of different activities what can we do, what you can do personally and so on. There's a million of different activities that actually we can use to actually get some content and also to decide on certain principles.

[00:20:47] I have one more question. So, what now. We have the checklist. There's been a lot of checklists recently around different topics. So what now, how this checklist will be promoted, how will the youth organizations get it, how the Advisory Council is going to take action on it? And so on, this is my question.

[00:21:09] Lana: Maybe I'll start from the side of the partnership Darek, because I think we be doing quite a lot and we already are on promotion, and with the help of Neringa and then as well, the Advisory Council. So we'll be preparing the series of different materials in different formats. We have an animated video on sustainability checklist coming up.

[00:21:32] We also have additional research on youth activism, and we will be having a video on that as well on how young people and why young people and who are the young people who are actually taking climate action. And, besides for that, we'll also be doing additional research on sustainability and learning mobility, because as you mentioned, this is one area where youth sector is not so good at, when it comes to travel or we've been good at it for the last year and a half, but, now hopefully things will change soon. Still we'll be exploring what can we still do about it and then, hopefully promoting it with youth organizations and with the help of a Advisory Council. So Pegah can maybe mention what will youth Advisory Council do?

[00:22:20] Pegah: Yes, certainly. I think the Advisory Council will have a huge role in showcasing this checklist beyond the youth sector. So we will be introducing that to other departments, and how they can use it. So with the help of the visuals that Lana and the partnership are making through, we will also be promoting it, especially to the children's department, given that they are also working on climate change and climate governance and its impact on children. Secondly, in October, the Joint Council on Youth will be commenting. So, myself and also Lana we'll have the occasion to showcase the finalized checklist.

[00:23:02] And also then we will open a debate with the decision makers on how we can implement it best. This will also include the directors of both youth centers present, and also European Youth Foundation. So we will make sure to harmonize this checklist as much as possible to every single item of the Youth Department, especially the European Youth Foundation, because it hosts so many youth organizations.

[00:23:29] So we will be having internal discussions, especially with Neringa as well, and the European Youth Foundation on how we can best implement the checklist into the application guidelines of the European Youth F oundation. And then afterwards, yeah, it's all about application. So, and I think that's the exciting part and hopefully we'll be able to learn by doing, to see which parts of the checklist is working and which parts might need a bit more information or a bit more detail.

[00:23:58] So, so let's say this is not just a conclusion or summary, I think it's a living instrument and it's very important to treat it like that.

[00:24:08] Dariusz: It's a living instrument, as you said to Pagah and I like it. It's very practical instrument.

[00:24:13] I think that, when it comes to different projects that are being organized, I always think about using different practical tools and to have an outreach is to also think about translating it, maybe to make it available in other languages.

[00:24:26] Because I think that sometimes there are a lot of nice tools, but a lot of young people cannot use them because they understand them.

[00:24:34] Lana: Yes, I agree Darek. Reaching out to young people across Europe, when it comes to the checklist, is also one of our priorities and we will be also translating the checklist to French, Russian and Serbian at the moment. As you know, the partnership, we work not only within the EU, but also particularly focusing on the two regions within the Council of Europe, which is Southeastern Europe and Eastern Europe. So for now, we decided to start with these two languages.

[00:25:05] And then of course French, but we will be also looking at expanding it and then eventually as well, subtitling the videos so that we can reach out to more audiences, more young people and youth organizations across Europe.

[00:25:20] Neringa: Maybe just the final note that I find the checklist important, especially for the human rights activists too. And, one of the parts of the background paper includes the link between climate change and environmental burdens and inequalities. So we see that both in Europe and worldwide.

[00:25:44] So we know that most vulnerable and marginalized communities, they face the harshest environmental burdens in Europe, and globally due to the unequal economic systems and exploitation, we see that Europe is offshoring a lot of its environmental damage abroad. And it is something to take into consideration when we speak of our own consumer habits and what can we do as citizens and as voters, while we are pushing our governments to hold those who are polluting the most accountable.

[00:26:21] Dariusz: Thank you Neringa for this comment and reminding us about the interdependence of human rights, which I think it's important. Climate change is a big human rights issue and should be always seen within the big picture with other human rights issues because they are inter-connected.

[00:26:37] Thanks a lot Neringa. Thank you Pegah for being our guests today in the podcast. I hope in some time we can meet again and we can say that, yes, now we see that the youth sector is becoming greener and greener. But I think it's our responsibility. Everybody's responsibility to make sure that it's actually happening.

[00:26:59] But I think, when it comes to the decision-making bodies, like the Joint Council in the Council of Europe, I think their role is even more important because the standard settings come from there and the pressure also can come from there, when it comes to the functioning of, for example, European Youth Centres, which I think it's, it's an important starting point.

[00:27:21] Thanks a lot for your time and being here with us. And yeah, this is all for today. Thank you.

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