#RisingCities: Sustainable Living to underline the importance of community and how the pandemic changed the needs of urban life

Oana Vasiliu 28/06/2021 | 13:59

BR’s Rising Cities. Smart Future | #EUGreenWeek Partner Event was held on June 10, 2021, at the 15th floor Sole Rooftop Terrace in Bucharest. Four hours of insightful talks, distributed over three engaging panels, the event brought together city officials, representatives of the business sector, and involved community leaders. A big thank you goes out to all those involved, the on-site audience, our viewers, speakers, and partners: IULIUS, VASTINT (Gold); FEPRA International, Schneider Electric, Telekom Romania (Silver); Civinet Romania & Asociatia Romana Pentru Smart City, and the European Commission, as a #EUGreenWeek Partner Event.

RISING CITIES. SMART FUTURE 2021 highlights the type of investments and actions that are needed to upgrade Romania’s cities, moving to a clean, circular economy, boosting the efficient use of resources in urban areas in a long term: sustainable green buildings; environment-friendly technologies aiming to achieve zero pollution production and consumption and to become climate neutral; efficient water consumption; initiatives of organizations, associations, NGOs to raise awareness.

On Panel 3 | Sustainable Living: Passionate City Changers, Corina Murafa, Global Co-Leader New Now: Planet & Climate, Ashoka Romania Special Advisor; Florin Stoican, President, Parcul Natural Vacaresti Association; Ionut Georgescu, CEO, FEPRA International; Andreia Mitrea, CEO & Founder, Colina Learning Center and Razvan Popa, Co-Owner, Boiler Milk&Coffee talked about how do we create urban spaces for people to flourish. The panel emphasized the importance of community and how the pandemics changed the needs of urban life.

Passionate City Changers

“I think in the last year if we look at what has happened in our lives, since the coronavirus pandemic, the community has a different meaning. At the beginning of the pandemic, with friends and their children, we were about 30 people, we wondered how we would live with the virus. And so a community of 30 people appeared, who met often because we all knew that we respected our values ​​and the rules of the pandemic. We created a community that one year, from planting vegetables in the yard, playing with the children, watching a movie together, we created such a community. Now, we look at other types of communities: we have started to reintegrate our professional life at work, we at the company have given up the building and offices, we meet in a co-working in such a way as to combine the benefits of working at home with the professional socialization we all need”, started Ionut Georgescu, CEO FEPRA International.

“After all, we create our communities according to the way we see the world ourselves and want to live in this world. Community is something that each of us lives,” Ionut Georgescu, CEO FEPRA International.

Andreia Mitrea, CEO & Founder, Colina Learning Center, explained how the community is the first student of the school. “We, at Colina Learning Center, we call it simply school. The reason we no longer want to use the word “school” is that we believe that the goal is learning and we are a learning institution, not a school – most likely a community center.”

“I consider that the school is the last truly community institution that exists, the school is the place that brings us together – parents, children, teachers. I feel a great responsibility as being the founder of a school and a new model of education to find the center of the community – I mean all of us in the school, the whole team. And that first and foremost our student is the community. The community is the first student of the school.”

For the small coffee shop Boiler who created a micro-community in one of Bucharest’s neighborhoods, community means “mainly people who have some values in common with you – we’re not identical, we’re not alike maybe not at all, it’s not school, we don’t have an age, but we have some values in common that bring us there. There are people who simply came to have a coffee because it is nearby and they realize that they came alone and go with friends,” explained Razvan Popa, co-founder of Boiler.

For Florin Stoican, President, Parcul Natural Vacaresti Association, community means more than people. “We include animals and plants in the community because we deal with biodiversity and geodiversity. Our community means a group of factors trying to live together. We try to take the human being from the top of the pyramid as it is drawn in the biology book and put it in the middle of the other species and teach it to survive with them, to return to nature.”

“I also believe that the social system and the economic system, which have suffered greatly from this pandemic, are fragile precisely because we have managed to weaken the natural system, the third element without which we have no chance of surviving. This is what we are trying to do, we are starting from the model of Vacaresti and we are trying to expand currently in 10 other big cities of the country and to set up other natural urban areas. We believe this means a healthy community: a community in which people observe, understand, and empathize with the rest of the creatures around them”, explains Florin Stoican, Parcul Natural Vacaresti Association.

For Ashoka, Corina Murafa explained how a global vision of everyone is a changemaker, in the sense that each person, regardless of its social or economic status and position, has the necessary skills and competencies to produce positive social change, can sustain a global community. “In order to create this world, it is clear that we as an organization, and we do this all over the world, including in Romania, must keep a space. From my point of view, the community is not a result, but a continuous process of creating connections and trust. If we want to create a space for change, we need public authorities, social entrepreneurs, corporates, teachers, to feel this space constantly, to maintain it. I think the journey is fundamental, and we need some community aggregators to keep this space. In the pandemic, my colleagues from Ashoka Romania dealt with the creation of thematic virtual communities, poverty eradication, in the climate action area, about 3-4 dimensions and we practically kept this space of collaboration and trust. It is not easy to be the binder of such a community, but you also need this structure, to have someone hold the process”.

Initiatives of organizations, associations, NGOs to raise awareness and to involve citizens

When it comes to recycling and waste, the general public is still misinformed. “Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, we thought about what we can contribute. Now is a time when we need to see what we can be present with citizens who want a move in this direction of circular economy, consumption, and recycling. That’s how the idea of ​​ The Recycling Movement came out, and we are proud of over 50,000 people who are members of this online community and with whom we share the same values, the same goals, and desires. And in this community, we try to move from discussing only to concrete steps. For example, we made a manifesto that we launched online for a petition to support selective collection at home. We are basically the messengers to the local authorities through which we show that the Romanians want a change and they want cleaner cities, a correct selective collection, the Romanians are interested to contribute with their time, they are willing to have some slightly higher costs for selective collection and last but not least, to purchase products that are based on reusable packaging and with a high content of raw materials resulting from recycling”, mentioned Ionut Georgescu.

Moreover, FEPRA will launch a pilot project, a circular economy center together with a retail partner in Pantelimon, in which every person can manage its entire package of products and waste in such a way that you know for sure that it reaches reuse and recycling. “You will also receive an email when your quantity reaches the recycler, with information regarding the date. We have a full digital traceability software, even in the blockchain, and we can transmit this traceability information to the initial waste generator. In order to increase the degree of involvement, we must first of all increase the degree of transparency, at least among local and national authorities”, added Ionut Georgescu.

When it comes to sustainability, Corina from Ashoka mentioned that “somehow this mentality about the planet, the climate and sustainability means that we have to make sacrifices. In fact, good solutions to the problem of climate change solve many other problems at the same time and we often talk about the idea of ​​multi-benefit and multi-soving. Another trend we see among all social innovators in our network is people are nature – we are nature, we are part of this network of life and we are part of nature. I think this feeling will become more and more prevalent among urban communities and we already see it, this attempt to rebuild nature in your urban area, without having to flee the city to go to the forest, for example”.

In terms of the future of education, Andreia Mitrea explained how at Colina Learning Center, sustainability means also the perfect place to raise your children, which is the perfect place for everyone and everything that exists there. “We create a way of evaluation in education, we call it the triple bottom line – taken from business principles, in which the idea is to measure not only profit but also people and planet. You should have tools that for everything you do, while you do it, you measure your impact on the planet and on people. The children will feel that it is their job and they will not feel that they need someone else to come and do something extra that they could do anyway”.

“We educate this principle with a way of evaluation with personal mastery of subject and skills. It remains the fundamental objective of the school to obtain information but also we will keep asking what is the impact we bring to the people, to the community and to the planet. We are basically doing some expeditionary learning and the first question we start from is what we can do for people, planet and the subject we are investigating,” Andreia Mitrea, CEO & Founder, Colina Learning Center.

Up at this point, Colina Learing Center has a scalable vision, which will open in the fall with pre-school and primary classes, by American standards, with a vision up to 18 years.

“We said that as a community school, there are all students, including parents and teachers. Everyone who comes to our school signs a commitment to learn and grow together and understands that this community grows together”, added Andreia Mitrea.

Sustainability in a micro-community that tends to grow means for Boiler that “every time we pay attention to the requirements of the community, we listen to the community, we do things to meet the demand. These communities that we grow now end up supporting businesses, people, and ideas. But there are people behind any business, and what really happens is that people come for people, even if the product is very good”, added Razvan Popa.

“I would like to see good and quality things nearby. Proximity is very important and in a city of the future you should find the values you need and the good things nearby, you don’t have to travel too far to have access to quality things, whether we are talking about the food and drinks, art or absolutely everything that matters”,Razvan Popa, Co-Owner, Boiler Milk&Coffee.

Corina Murafa explains that we see more and more in this area of ​​social innovation to deconstruct the current business models and make them different. “For example, we have an Ashoka Fellow, John Christensen, who seems to be able to introduce an innovation in international accounting standards, namely the obligation to put on the balance sheet provisions for the obligation that you will have as a company to achieve climate neutrality. (…) If I am a shareholder in any multinational, I am interested to see what is the risk for my savings that in X years the fact that that company must go towards climate neutrality. How can I see this risk? When it is included in the international accounting standards and when it is seen on the balance sheet of the respective company. John, through the Tax Justice Network, has managed some fantastic things in the area of ​​tax evasion, his new innovation is the corporate accountability network, and tries to change the current economic model by which the negative externalities we do on the environment are included on the balance sheet of the company”.

“In fact, social entrepreneureurs are looking to change the current economic model. Some of them introduce incentives in the current economic model, for example, trying to align profit with the well-being of the planet or energy cooperatives, a renewable energy model, started in the 70s in Germany, founded by an Ashoka Fellow, which is now beginning to gain global notoriety, and the trend is to have communities that produce, supply and consume”, Global Co-Leader New Now: Planet & Climate, Ashoka Romania Special Advisor.

Talking about innovation,  the circular economy is still a new term, even in the EU. “We have always looked at what we do, and we don’t just do the recycling part, we also get involved in reusing and reducing the amount of waste that is generated, we look around for innovation, and because innovation especially in an organization that has entered its ninth year of existence”, explained Ionut Georgescu.

FEPRA has two start-ups for innovation, one is R-Create and the other is EcoTree, both from the SeedBlink area. “We have entered these two projects, in which we try to bring the idea of ​​circular economy closer to consumers and companies. Through R-Create, we bring together the e-commerce market and couriers to use reusable transport packaging”, added Georgescu.

R-Create came up with a product and a platform through which promotes tertiary transport packaging can be reused. It is either a bag that you can reuse, whether you give it back to the courier.

“There is another very important dimension that R-Create impacts, the contamination of waste. At this time, unfortunately, the packaging that reaches the municipal flow is generally contaminated, which means that it can no longer be reused, and R-Create practically helps this flow through the packaging that can be reused”, underlined Ionut Georgescu.

Through EcoTree, a B2B platform, waste generators, companies or citizens, will be able to get in direct contact with collectors on separate flows, and a big plus is that they solved all the administrative bureaucracy and managed to digitize the administrative part. “We believe that this part of digitalization through which the generator, the collector, and even the recycler come into direct contact will be able to change in the future the way in which we manage the waste we make,” explained Ionut Georgescu.

Urban visionaries inspiring leaders of the future

When we talk about biodiversity and its benefits to humanity, we are talking about indirect benefits and it is difficult to explain to ordinary people what advantages it has if a lizard in the Amazon or a butterfly survives. “Nowadays it is easier because public policies push us in this direction and because society demands it. More and more people are realizing that they can no longer live the way we have lived so far, especially those in the urban area, because we live between concrete, in blocks of flats, and they start to feel on their skin that it is hard to breathe, it’s hard to find a green corner and so on”, underlined Florin Stoican.

We live in a world of inequality, including the world of biodiversity, at least in terms of perception. In rural areas, people are confused with biodiversity, the forest is part of their landscape, in urban areas, they no longer have it and are looking for it. “We must somehow fill this gap in order to teach the people from the countryside to appreciate the forest and to look at it, not only as a wood resource, and the people of the city to understand that they must help the people from rural areas if we want to solve problems”, concluded Florin.

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