A look back at the EPALE Conference 2020: The role of adult education in fostering environmental awareness and sustainability

Due to current circumstances, this year’s EPALE conference, “The role of adult education in fostering environmental awareness and sustainability”, was held online on 17 and 18 June 2020. In a virtual discussion from 9:30 am–1:00 pm on both days, the virtual conference’s interactive framework offered participants the opportunity to explore new, future-oriented approaches to promoting environmental awareness and sustainability in the spirit of the #GreenDeal.

Due to current circumstances, this year’s EPALE conference, “The role of adult education in fostering environmental awareness and sustainability”, was held online on 17 and 18 June 2020. In a virtual discussion from 9:30 am–1:00 pm on both days, the virtual conference’s interactive framework offered participants the opportunity to explore new, future-oriented approaches to promoting environmental awareness and sustainability in the spirit of the #GreenDeal. Environmental education is also one of the two main topics of the new Erasmus Programme 2021–2027, which will focus on “Green Erasmus” and “Inclusive Mobility”. European mobility and collaboration will once again be promoted in the field of adult education in the course of Erasmus+ projects. 

Green skills and the green transformation

Keynote speaker Shinyoung Jeon, Policy Analyst, Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Adult Learning, OECD Centre for Skills, outlined the background of the conference in terms of education policy in her presentation “Adult education and training for green transitions”. 

The COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on the labour market. And although the economic shutdown had a positive effect on the climate, it will be impossible to stop the climate crisis without profound structural changes.

The ILO’s Skills for Green Jobs Report (Strietska-Ilina et al., 2011) already emphasised the important role of VET and adult education systems in the reskilling and upskilling of adults. More than a decade later, the threat posed by climate change is even more urgent because hardly any progress has been made and carbon emissions continue to rise. “Green growth” – growth that is both economically and ecologically sustainable – is more important than ever.

As a result of the European Green Deal announced by the European Commission in 2019, which is aimed at supporting all EU countries to achieve a climate-neutral European Union by 2050, adult education and VET will take on a decisive role with regard to reskilling and upskilling. This applies to all sectors of the labour market, because every job has the potential to become a “green job” through the greening of the economy and the deployment of “green skills”. >More info >View the presentation slides

Promoting environmental awareness with the “leseumwelt” project

Adult education is also charged with the important task of promoting awareness for the topic of environmental protection. In the keynote presentation on the second day of the conference, Margit Helene Meister, who is responsible for environmental education and education for sustainable development in Lower Austria within the Office of the Government of Lower Austria, provided insight into a successful approach for collaborating with libraries: the “leseumwelt” (reading environment) project as a tool for adult education. Starting in 2015, many interested libraries in Lower Austria were provided with a specially developed “book tower” – a unique shelf offering media about the environment. The project was particularly successful in reaching adults in cases where the selection of media for young readers and adults was linked with readings by the authors or other events such as climate breakfasts, swap shops, repair cafés, and more. >View the presentation slides

Innovative ideas and networking pools

During the conference, participants were able to take part in idea and networking pools, giving them the opportunity to gather inspiration for their own practical application and learn about innovative approaches for the future-oriented promotion of environmental awareness and sustainability in line with the #GreenDeal.

Skills for educating about climate change

In her idea and networking pool, Ana Maria Paladus from Asociatia Reper 21 presented the Erasmus+ project “Compétences pour l'éducation au changement climatique dans les communautés vulnérables” (Skills for educating about climate change in vulnerable communities). The project is based on the assumption that a Europe-wide transition to a green economy will only be possible if innovative education policies and training programmes help young people, citizens, social actors, employees, and political representatives acquire the necessary skills. Thus, the goal of the project was to identify and develop the teaching skills a trainer needs for educating about climate change. Three main pillars were identified: knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The 40 participants used the open educational resources developed during the project for their education interventions, especially in underprivileged communities: Some highly technical interventions explained climate change on a scientific level, while other, more practically oriented interventions led to the introduction of permaculture approaches.  >More info >View the presentation slides 

Sustainable community projects 

Sissy Hein from the Erasmus+ project “Community Learning Incubator” talked about sustainable living. CLIPS draws upon the experiences of ecovillages and communities from all over Europe that have been globally connected via the GEN Network (Global Ecovillage Network) since all the way back in 1995 and maintain a closely-knit system of mutual exchange through national networks, and also want to share their successful concept with similar initiatives. The goal of the CLIPS project was to provide a framework and assistance for the development of community projects, because 90% of such undertakings fail in the early phase of the first two to three years due to inexperience. This usually occurs because of inadequate group formation processes or for financial and organisational reasons. The CLIPS Manual presents practical tools and methods that have proven effective in ensuring the successful survival of communities over the course of many projects. >More info >View the presentation slides 

Green public events

Maris Mägi and Katariina Kurina from the Tartu Nature House in Estonia provided information about green public events and the Erasmus+ project “F.O.O.D: Finding Ourselves in Obscure Diversity”. All kinds of events use resources, produce emissions, and generate different types of waste. From 2017 to 2018, Tartu Nature House was a lead partner in the Green Public Events project funded by the Estonian-Latvian Interreg cooperation programme. The objective of this project was to raise awareness among active adults and youngsters who attend public events by organising interactive activities at those events, involving the organisers and service providers, and showing that there is also another way to organise public events. The key questions to consider are basically the same for different types of events. >More Info >View the presentation slides

SDG Workshop
Sigrid Koloo and Angela Drosg-Plöckinger from Forum Tomorrow presented the SDG Workshop: an innovative approach for incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals into one’s organisational strategy and also taking action right away – in line with the motto “actions speak louder than words”. Participants in the SDG Workshop learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goals in detail, understand the global interrelationships, and identify action areas for both their own organisation and their personal implementation. A light-hearted, fun approach and space for exchanging ideas provide motivation and inspiration to contribute to the sustainability goals. The workshop trains multipliers who can apply the knowledge and ideas they learn to promote sustainable development in their organisations. In addition, it sharpens participants’ awareness that they can make a contribution to the 2030 Agenda as consumers and citizens. As such, the SDG Workshop makes a significant contribution to the achievement of the global goals at the local level. 
Raising awareness for biodiversity

David Marchetti from the Global Nature Fund and Eva Gänsdorfer from Global 2000 presented the Erasmus+ project “Inspiring for diversity – empowerment of European citizens for action through education on biodiversity”. The goal of the project is to raise awareness for the topic of biodiversity among adults. To this end, the partner organisations examined what tools are used to teach about these topics in their six countries. Pedagogical tools were developed that can be adapted to any country since there are generally very few tools available. 

Sustainable consumption

In this networking pool, Claudia Lo Hufnagel from Die Wiener Volkshochschulen and Michael Schwinghammer from Leila Wien presented the Erasmus+ project “Library of Things”, in which a borrowing centre was established in Vienna. Borrowing centres, or Libraries of Things, are important institutions in adult education. Items such as tools, kitchen appliances, and books can be borrowed and then returned after use. The principle of “borrowing instead of buying” contributes to sustainable consumption – resources and money are saved in line with the “sharing economy”. In addition, there are workshops and cooperative events for people who use Libraries of Things as well as other interested people. As part of the “Library of Things” Erasmus+ project, there were also plans to hold workshops in the spring of 2020 to develop a framework curriculum aimed at providing Libraries of Things with knowledge, tools, and techniques, but this had to be delayed due to the pandemic.

The conference was rounded off with small group discussions and concluded with the question “Which aspects discussed during the conference are most important to you or intrigued you the most?” The participants were able to submit their answers via Mentimeter one last time. 



Carin Dániel-Ramírez-Schiller (OeAD, National Agency Erasmus+ Education) bid the participants farewell and encouraged them to raise awareness for environmental protection within their organisations and to network and provide one another with support across borders on platforms like EPALE. 

This conference was made possible with the technical support of David Röthler and his team and the assistance of Bettina Kerschbaumer-Schramek, who served as the mistress of ceremonies. All results of the conference can be found in a Community of Practice on EPALE that was set up specifically for the event.

This post will be updated with resources from the conference on an ongoing basis.

Other information that may interest you:  


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