Consumerism and the increased use of fossil fuels are some of the biggest drivers of climate change that threatens the future of our planet. As countries struggle for solutions, some have progressed more than others. Greece is one of them.
BloombergNEF in its last analysis on Greece’s capability to transform its power system, concluded that the country could become a leader in renewable energy. Specifically, it predicted that by 2030, Greece would lead Europe by moving away from using fossil fuels to sourcing power from new onshore wind or utility-scale solar.
To motivate more countries to work towards Europe’s 2050 goal to become a climate-neutral continent, the European Delegation is looking to recognize the first 100 climate-neutral cities that will lead the way.
Giorgios Sisamakis, the Deputy Mayor of Heraklion, Crete, has made it his goal to make Heraklion one of 100 cities to earn that title and he’s been transforming the city ever since. Sisamakis explains that while switching to renewable energies in cities is important, we also have to control energy consumption. According to the National Academy of Science, energy consumption is divided into four economic sectors: residential, commercial, transportation, and industrial. Among these, transportation and residential consume the most energy in Heraklion.
To combat excessive energy use, the Heraklion municipality prioritizes lowering transportation emissions by improving public transportation and using electric buses. They are also working on building bike paths that will run through the city.
Sisamakis noted that the municipality has invested in digital transformation to decrease the number of people who will need to drive to places for governmental services. “Everyone will have access to platforms online and through those platforms, they will also be able to organize environmental activities,” he said.
In the future, the municipality of Heraklion is also planning to develop smart parking spaces that will inform people of available parking spots to minimize the time people search for available spaces.
“We are also trying to limit parking spots in the center of the city so that people park further away and use public transportation or walk,” said Sisamakis.
He also spoke about the energy-driven renovations on public buildings as well as the addition of sensors that measure the environmental impact on the microclimate of the region. “We have developed an energy committee with the goal of producing energy with renewable energy resources and educating the people on their benefits,” said Sisamakis.
Finally, he touched on one of Greece’s biggest sources of income, tourism.
“When it comes to tourism, we have reduced the amount of waste by placing taxes on local restaurants and bars based on how much trash they produce,” said Sisamakis.
Meanwhile, the General Secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food, Christiana Kalogirou, spoke about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that every European country has adopted to build a relationship between agriculture and society. She explained that in collaboration with other ministries, they’re planning to make drastic changes to different areas. For example, in agriculture, together with the Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and Climate Change, they are preparing a mutual political agreement that will force farmers to collect all empty plastic packages from pesticides that are left behind.
“We are also working towards decreasing the number of pesticides by providing farms with the latest technology that will help them determine which areas need pesticides so that they don’t pollute all the crops,” said Kalogirou.
In the long run, there is also a plan to promote crops that have a positive environmental footprint.
The Ministry of Rural Development and Food is also collaborating with the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy as well as with the Laskaridis Foundation to organize efforts to decrease sea pollution and plastic waste.
But it’s not just a government effort.
Young leaders around the world are also taking action to secure theirs and the next generations’ future. The National Hellenic Student Association (NHSA) of North America, Inc., a non-profit organization representing students and young professionals of Hellenic heritage in the United States and Canada, while promoting Hellenism and mentorship, has also placed sustainability high on its action list.
Personal responsibility and an opportunity to lead by example led Alexander Thomopulos, NHSA’s former president, and his board members at the time, to partner with Kostapanos Miliaresis’ nonprofit volunteering organization, Ethelon, to be a force for social change. They created a diaspora initiative to clean a beach in Greece annually and promote sustainable practices and products such as bamboo toothbrushes and cloth/straw bags.
“After Kostapanos’ workshop at NHSA’s Atlanta Convention on volunteerism as a grassroots force for change, it got us thinking about how NHSA can play a part. So, we got together to create a multi-organizational initiative to clean a beach in Greece every year,” said Thomopulos.
The first beach clean-up in 2018 was a success with the removal of over 360 kilos of trash from Saronida beach.
This year, the NHSA plans to host the beach clean-up in Heraklion bringing together both government and young leaders’ efforts to promote sustainable practices and motivating both locals and the Greek diaspora to play their part.
Elena Kefalogianni is a freelance writer focusing on gastronomy and the environment.