The GRETA initiative, a bridge on greening between the EU and neighbouring countries

Interview to Ms. Susanne M. Nielsen (ETF): The GRETA initiative, a bridge on greening between the EU and neighbouring countries.

First of all: thank you very much Susanne for accepting this interview and sharing your work. Can you tell our readers about GRETA rationale and main activities?

The green initiative – GRETA – Greening Responses to Excellence through Thematic Actions – supports greening of VET and is implemented in the global frame of ENE. The ETF Network for Excellence – ENE – was launched in 2020 and is supporting CoVEs towards excellence in relevant and quality skills delivery through strategic development partnerships.

Green skills, also known as skills for the green transition, encompass a comprehensive array of knowledge, capabilities, values, and attitudes necessary to excel in and support a society that is sustainable and efficient in its resource usage. These skills encompass both technical expertise and cross-cutting abilities, along with the understanding, values, and attitudes essential for professionals to proficiently leverage eco-friendly technologies and processes. This proficiency extends to making environmentally conscious choices both in their professional capacities and personal lives. A key aspect involves ensuring that VET programmes and credentials furnish learners with the essential knowledge, skills, and values required to facilitate the transition towards a greener society. This process of transitioning is gradual and influenced by digital progress and innovations. Its scope spans all dimensions of an educational institution’s training and educational endeavours.

In essence, the GRETA initiative seeks to address the challenges linked to imparting green skills as a response to the twin challenges of green and digital transformations, achieved through the incorporation of ecological principles into VET. By adopting a collaborative peer-learning approach, participants can explore and experiment with fresh training schemes, technologies, and environmentally sustainable methods. The resulting solutions are then disseminated within the broader VET community in ENE.

GRETA employs a whole institutional approach to embed environmental sustainability into VET, wherein ecological responsibility is not limited to a topic within educational programs, but rather becomes an underlying principle interwoven into the policies, practices, and ethos of VET institutions. It acknowledges that environmental sustainability is a multifaceted concern that necessitates a holistic and unified approach, involving various stakeholders in the VET sector. This method also aids VET establishments in identifying and rectifying systemic obstacles to sustainability, while enlisting all stakeholders in the journey toward a greener and more sustainable future. The whole institutional approach provides a framework to continuously evaluate and improve sustainability practices, and to measure the impact of efforts to become more sustainable over time.

Why did ETF decide to focus on this challenge in this moment and in this way? Can you clarify the framework of your strategy?  

The greening of VET represents an important step towards a more sustainable future. It is no longer a question asking why to engage in the greening of VET, but how to embed greening into the entire VET system. This requires a significant mobilization of resources and capacity in VET and to succeed in this endeavour, an unwavering commitment to achieving VET excellence is essential.

Currently, the world of production is going through two big changes at the same time: the move towards eco-friendly practices (known as the green transition) and the increasing use of digital technologies (the digital transition). These shifts, often called the twin transition, aim to change the way things are made and used in a sustainable way. They also want to use digital tools to make energy and production better.

The European Union (EU) is serious about making the future greener, even beyond its own borders. It’s doing this through a package of policies that aim to appeal to countries using Green Deal diplomacy and the Green Diplomacy Network. The idea is to work together with other places to fight climate change and protect the environment all over the world. The EU wants to make sure that everyone benefits from these changes by sharing good ways of doing things and cooperating with others.

If we don’t focus on learning new skills while changing how we make and use things (moving towards a circular economy), it is estimated that the world could lose up to 71 million jobs. But if we plan smartly and invest in helping people learn new things, we might actually gain 18 million jobs, especially in the energy sector. To make this change successful, we need to address that, according to the World Economic Forum’s calculations, nearly 1.50 billion jobs worldwide need a stable climate. And as technology gets better, there will be new jobs that need people to have green skills (skills that help the environment).

Which are the countries involved and why are those countries/VET centres active?

GRETA was established as ENE’s green initiative in October 2021 when 14 CoVEs from EU neighbouring countries (Armenia, Georgia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine) together with 4 CoVEs from EU members states (Latvia, Slovenia and Spain) joined the initiative. These CoVEs are referred to as the GRETA core group.

During the initial phase of GRETA (October – December 2021), the core group conducted self-evaluations to gauge their progress towards the greening of VET. This provided the basis for engaging in peer learning activities, which involved a structured peer review process and thematic peer learning sessions co-designed by the core group.

In the second phase (January – April 2022), the core group was divided into four sub-groups based on interests, experience, and learning requirements, each undertaking thorough peer reviews, including online peer visits. Some of the core members developed green action plans following these activities, which generally have supported participants in critically reflecting on their own practices, while also helping them to identify their strengths and challenges regarding the greening of VET.

The third phase (May 2022 and onwards) involve collaboratively designing peer learning sessions centered around specific themes. The purpose of these sessions are to exchange knowledge and experiences with a larger group of peers and projects regarding the challenges faced and potential strategies to advance the greening of VET. The sessions are open to all ENE members, they focused on the exchange of knowledge and best practices within five greening dimensions of the whole institutional approach applied in GRETA. The sessions provided a global peer learning platform for greening of VET. We have on average 130 participants for each online session – and still growing !

By utilizing the organized peer reviews and thematic peer learning activities, implications greening of VET have been identified as well as innovative practices in various economic sectors and occupations have emerged.  All material including detailed meetings reports are open and available to all at the ETF Open Space Page for GRETA.

GRETA received the EU Commission’s VET Excellences Award 2022 with special mentioning on the support provided to Ukraine. This is one of the main achievements you got in the past months. Can you briefly highlights some of the main results or products emerging in GRETA?

GRETA has shown how important it is to consider all five aspects of the whole institutional approach when we talk about making vocational education and training (VET) more environmentally friendly. Figuring out how to make VET greener can be hard, whether we try to do it by looking at the whole system or by focusing on specific parts.

Some VET providers might choose to focus on only certain areas to slowly make progress, instead of looking at the whole picture. This is true for many in the GRETA core group—they’re taking things step by step, concentrating on just a couple of areas at a time. The reviews by peers have proven that you don’t need to have a full-on plan to make everything green right from the start.

A greening process can very well begin by employing a limited number of areas, like teacher training or greening the curriculum. However, to align and assess the institutional approach with national agendas and industry requirements, VET providers need to develop, implement, and monitor more comprehensive greening strategies.

The whole institutional approach, which GRETA has used and explained earlier, acts as a strategic tool for key stakeholders involved in making VET more environmentally friendly. For example, those who provide training can use this approach to make sure their efforts to make things greener are all in sync. In this situation, this approach can also give a structure to keep track of how well individual institutions are doing in making things greener over time.

For policymakers and policy shapers (VET providers, employers’ and workers’ organisations, public authorities) – the whole institution approach is a useful tool for identifying systemic barriers hindering the greening of VET and how these may be addressed. Based on the analyses, peer review and practice experiences from the GRETA initiative the policy recommendations have together with participants been identified to move forward in the greening of VET.

And what did your support to Ukraine consist of?

The ETF has been working closely with Ukraine for decades. Especially after the Russian war of aggression to Ukraine, the ETF has significantly upgraded its work to respond to emergency needs in the country.  Besides leading GRETA I am also the ETF Ukraine country liaison.

A notable issue that has come to light through the efforts of the GRETA core group is the active involvement of a substantial cohort of 8 Ukrainian Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) in the initiative. Despite the war and the challenges that the Ukrainian CoVEs face in this extreme situation, it’s impressive to witness their unwavering dedication and commitment to the cause.

At the last GRETA online session in July we had a special focus on the green rebuilding of Ukraine and had presentations from Ukrainian CoVEs as well as the Director from the Ukrainian VET Directorate.

Which challenges on greening keep going unchallenged? How ETF is thinking to work on it?

There are many – at different levels. We identified challenges in each of the elements covered in the GRETA whole institutional approach. Important is to make system changes in order to move forward.

The exchanges within the GRETA core group as well as with other ENE members during the peer learning sessions have demonstrated that VET providers and other stakeholders around the world have a keen interest in peer learning activities and knowledge sharing on greening VET. Despite the different frameworks in each country and CoVE, the basic issues are similar, and the questions are the same. Therefore, it is important to continue the practice sharing among practitioners as well as to bring recommendations to the policy level.  GRETA intends to broaden the participation of actors involved in greening VET to support this. This expansion will enable the sharing of best practices and knowledge among an even broader range of actors, resulting in the development of more effective policies and initiatives to green VET worldwide. The aim is to promote VET’s role in the transition to a sustainable economy by contributing to the development of innovative and effective training programs, research, and curricula that foster sustainable practices and competencies.

GRETA, through the work we do in vocational excellence, has outlined its plan to prioritize specific economic sectors, including the construction sector, and emphasize energy efficiency and renewable energy in its upcoming operations for the years 2023 and 2024.

ETF will be present at the coming EfVET Conference in Rhodes. In the meanwhile, how can our EfVET members and readers be informed or read some of your products?

One thing that I find relevant to get across also for the readers of EfVET and your members is the GRETA flagship report published in May 2023 ‘Greening of VET. Processes, practices and policies’. Beside that GRETA is a partnership open to VET providers across EU countries, as well as neighbouring and distant nations, which are encountering common questions and challenges in the process of greening their education systems. The dynamic nature of rapidly evolving skills requirements due to the interlinked green and digital transitions adds to the complexity. While contextual factors, framework conditions, and VET structures may differ, the shared pursuit of sustainable education underscores the significance of peer learning and exchanging best practices.

And, along with our presence at the EfVET Conference, there are many other opportunities to meet up: we will take active part to the CoVE Forum in Amsterdam on September 25th and 26th; on October 18th there will be an online session with Danube Strategy on green skills eco systems; finally, the ETF ENE conference in Turin on November 9th and 10th. Four online sessions in greening construction sector and energy efficiency are to be organised in Q1/Q2 2024.

The ETF project GRETA (Greening Responses to Excellence through Thematic Actions), under the global frame of the ETF initiative ENE. The acronym, GRETA, is a tribute to the Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg.

Edited by Paolo Nardi, EfVET Director

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