Lousada: Integrated Education for Sustainability
City/Region : Municipality of Lousada , Portugal

Lousada is implementing an innovative way of educating for sustainability. Environmental education is being informally embedded in many different actions across the whole society, so that good environmental practices become natural and needed, without necessarily titling initiatives as ‘green propaganda’.

We are working with schools, private businesses and land owners, cultural groups, sports teams, parishes, the elderly, and many other groups to transform the socio-cultural and economic paradigm in this markedly rural community. We are inspiring and supporting alternative ways of creating conservation areas and job opportunities, engaging the community in doing so while taking care of their natural resources.

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationBiodiversityGreenfield land and natural space
Water resources and air qualityClimate changePublic space
Social inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
  • Implement sustainable procurement principles
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
  • Accelerate sustainability and innovation through public procurement
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Support open data standards
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation
NGO leaders training for the creation of green jobs. Credit: M.Lousada

Lousada is a densely populated municipality (50.000 inhabitants; 500 inhab/km2). The landscape is severely human-altered and degraded by intensive farming, monocultural forests, invasive species and bad land planning. The remaining green areas are mostly privately owned and are being lost for construction at a rate of 7 hectares/year. The majority of current environmental problems (water pollution, forest fires, invasives, habitat and landscape degradation, biodiversity loss, etc.) are the result of a general scientific illiteracy and public disengagement from nature’s importance, despite the region’s rurality.

In 2017, the municipality defined a vast sustainability strategy structured in 5 axis (research; environmental education; social engagement; infrastructure; internal agenda) which in practical terms aims at delivering a transversal and integrated education solution while fixing environmental problems with the participation/involvement/empowerment of all social groups, preparing for lasting sustainability solutions.

In Action
Vilar Forest before and after (4 years) of sustainable forest management. Credit: M.Lousada

RESEARCH: with the help of the University of Aveiro the whole municipality was characterized, priority intervention/restoration areas were defined, conservation areas were declared, inventory of fauna (177 vertebrate species), flora (375 species) and geosites was done, natural habitats were characterized (61 protected species; 27 Iberian endemisms) and mapped. Big trees (+7400) were characterized and mapped for further protection of their ecosystem services. We are creating a network of micro reserves for nature conservation in private farms but also in small remnants (urban ecology).

ENV. EDUCATION: the integrated env. education project BioSchool ( in which all school subjects are taught with complementary classes/exercises/workshops related to nature conservation. This was implemented in all compulsory schools (kindergarten to 12th grade). +16000 students were engaged this year in +500 activities. Also the general public through the BioLousada ( programme has access to many different workshops and nature-related trainings. +1000 participants attend +20 activities/year. We have a unique Municipal Reading Plan aimed at different social/age groups and original theatre plays that informally disclose environmental information and calls to action.

SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT: Virtually all citizens in Lousada are being somehow engaged in this profound transformative strategy. In 3 years we planted +40000 native trees and restored +20 hectares of degraded land with the help of +4500 volunteers. We built +20 wildlife ponds with +600 volunteers. We are restoring rivers with +200 volunteers ( We engage owners of heritage farms/forests in conservation programmes and are aiming at creating micro-reserves for nature conservation in cooperation/cofunding schemes. We promote training opportunities for all, namely empowering NGO leaders to take action and create jobs ( engage disadvantaged groups (e.g. elderly, disabled people,etc) in different tasks in our conservation programmes, and train them for better employment opportunities, green jobs and social/circular economy.

INFRASTRUCTURE: We are improving the conditions for cycling-friendly mobility and electric cars. We changed all public lighting to LED, saving 1300 CO2 tons/year. Public swimming pools and some schools are now heated with solar energy. We recovered a ruined building and converted it into an environmental education center. Two more education centers are currently under construction, recovering old facilities of a water mill, and in a forest.

INTERNAL AGENDA: We are improving the waste management system and rewarding citizens that recycle more with a discount in their municipal taxes. We abolished the use of gliphosate as herbicide, and single-use plastics in all events. We are slowly trying to replace our cars with electric ones.

River restoration work with volunteers. Credit: M.Lousada

Quote from Mayor Pedro Machado: This is a new era for politicians and policies, when the only way is green!

Quote from the Councilor for the Environment, Manuel Nunes: Natural and social capital are the true and only assurance for our common future. We must act together, fight together, educate together and create our future together, for us and the generations to come!

This transformative action is complex and the result of the sustainable strategy implemented in 2017 across the Municipality. It tackles many different aspects, but basically aims at promoting sustainability and environmental education in a transversal way, while fixing environmental problems with the community (also promoting participatory citizenship).

Main results:

-Native trees planted: +40000 (with +4500 volunteers in 3 winters)

-Rivers characterized and monitored for restoration: +52 km

-Degraded land restored: +20 hectares

-Invasive species fully removed: +7 hectares

-Nr of water sites characterized: +600, with public participation

-Nr of wildlife ponds built, as ecological stepping stones: +20, with volunteers

-Nr of big trees characterized: +7400, with volunteers

-Nr of volunteers engaged in environmental action: +5000

-Nr children/youth involved in environmental education: +16000

-Nr informal env. education actions in schools: +1000 in 2 years

-Nr adult participants in environmental actions: +1400/year

-CO2 emissions saved/year: +1300 tons

-Rise in waste recycling rates: +500 tons/year

-Nr environmental books freely distributed/year: +10000, in a total of 6 different books according to target ages. Books are written and illustrated by the Municipality and focus on local resources/values.

-Nr trainings for green jobs creation/year: 5 (~25 trainees/training)


The predicted impacts of our action are both social and environmental.

In a really short period of time (3 years), after the last municipal elections (2017), a profound change was implemented in Lousada. We are trying to demonstrate that change is possible! When all citizens are properly engaged and taught, change happens quite fast, and is not as expensive as one might think. We are establishing a reference for Portugal and achieving sustainability through public/general education is our main goal, drive and motto.

SOCIAL IMPACT. We are engaging thousands of citizens that otherwise would not at all have green concerns. We are educating a whole new generation that is receiving integrated env. education since pre-school. We are working in cooperation with private owners and businesses, as well as with NGOs, in the conservation of remnant natural areas through the creation/co-management of micro reserves. This part of the action is still in the beginning (discussions take time!) but we aim at creating at least 35 direct green jobs with the micro reserves alone, but there is room for plenty more (estimates of at least 350 jobs needed in a greener scenario). 13 direct jobs were already created with all the work done so far. Additionally, elderly people that were isolated are currently participating in environmental projects, such as helping in the plant nursery, removing invasive species, sowing and watering seeds, etc. School communities (including the pupils’ families) are adopting projects such as pieces of river, plantations, science/ecology projects, recycling, etc. As a whole, all this has a huge environmental and social impact in the municipality.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. The change is already visable and Lousada is now greener and less carbonized (see results). The impact will remain and improve, since the real work is on education, that is more powerful and lasting than any field action.

Challenges and lessons learned
Forest education for small children. Credit: M.Lousada

1.Change takes time, but not that much, actually.

2.Audiences that are hard to reach need extra attention, but efforts pay off, as after they are engaged, many times those are the most committed groups.

3.Know the landscape. Everything we did was only possible because we researched and studied the social and field landscape in full detail.

4.Never intervene without an evidence-based working plan. Plan ahead!

5.Partnerships are not only important, but decisive. We can do a million more, when working together with stakeholders and when fully engaging with citizens.



ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
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