The United Nations define sustainable development as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
This overarching concept, described by the 1987 Bruntland Commission Report, is based on four intertwined dimensions – society, environment, culture and economy. Sustainability is, thus, a paradigm for thinking about a future in which environmental, societal and economic considerations are balanced in the pursuit of an improved quality of life.
There are many global frameworks and conventions related to the key areas of sustainable development, however, it is mandatory for countries and destinations to align and define their own goals, objectives and actions accordingly.
When looking at the economy, society and culture within the region of Porto & The North of Portugal, a strong commitment towards sustainable practices becomes evident. The city of Porto is part of the GrowSmarter initiative along with its European counterparts Stockholm, Cologne and Barcelona. The goal is to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% against 2004 levels and to improve the quality of life through Smart Solutions. Improving energy savings in residential areas is part of Porto’s Replication Plan as well as increasing the number of Zero sites in the city, achieving a 70% of green cars within the city fleet and developing new waste management infrastructures to convert more waste into energy.
This kind of institutional support is also key for associations and private initiatives that promote the change towards a more sustainable future and a true circular economy.
One of these movements is the Portuguese Plastics Pact, a collaborative initiative that gathers the Portuguese plastics value chain, with the common vision to create a circular economy for plastics in Portugal, where plastics never become waste. The initiative is part of the global Ellen MacArthur foundation movement and is coordinated by Pedro São Simão
Pedro holds a Master degree (MSc.) in Economics, from the University of Porto (Portugal), and a Postgraduate Value Certificate (Pgt.), from the University of Cambridge (UK). Following the start of his career in Latin America - Venezuela and Brazil - Pedro has been working in a plastic converter company, Ernesto São Simão Lda. (ESS). There, he currently assumes the position of General Manager, being responsible for investment and innovation projects, mainly focused on sustainability and circular economy. He is also a board member of Smart Waste Portugal, a business association with over 120 members that promotes the transition to a circular economy.
Plastic waste is not a national problem, especially when it comes to our oceans where plastic is threatening to outweigh fish by 2050 if no corrective actions are taken. This is why the members of the Portuguese Plastics Pact consider it important to be part of a global movement and commit to the objectives established by the Ellen MacArthur foundation for 2025:
Eliminate problematic and/or plastics that are not needed
Make the plastic packaging that is needed 100% reusable, compostable or recyclable
Reach a 70% recycling rate of plastic packaging (vs. 34% in 2018)
Bring recycled material back into the economy (or never let it leave) and average a 30% of recycled material in new packaging
There are currently 10 Plastics Pacts globally with these goals, and the Portuguese Plastics Pact has added a fifth objective focusing on the consumer: “We want to promote awareness and education of the consumer to use plastics in a sustainable and circular way, as we understand that the consumer is a key part of the circular economy for plastics”, stated Pedro.
Another key element in this transition to a more sustainable lifestyle is a close collaboration with universities and research institutions, very well represented in the North of Portugal. On the one hand, it is crucial to understand the problem in depth, such as the impact plastics have on human health and the animal ecosystem. On the other hand, these organizations are in charge of researching new packaging, new materials that could be used as alternatives to petrochemical plastics and also new ways of using plastics in a better way by making them more recyclable and reusable.
The damages caused by plastics’ presence in our waterways is responsible for $13 billion annually in losses for the shipping, fishing and tourism industries. As a consequence, a big shift can be observed among important players in the tourism industry, such as large hotel chains, as they understand the need to be part of the solution by implementing sustainable practices. In addition, the tourism industry can play a very positive role in educating the tourists, reinforcing the good habits we have at home, so that when we travel, we forget about our work but not to recycle.
The MICE industry can also make a huge difference in terms of avoiding a negative impact on the environment, especially when we think about large events and the amount of waste that can be generated if not planned in a sustainable way.
There are many ways to work towards a neutral footprint, such as the right choice in terms of location, travel options, materials and transportation. Or, as Pedro summarizes, any event planner should at least follow the hierarchy of waste, the 3 R’s:
Reduce as much as you can, eliminate what is avoidable (straws, packaging, souvenirs etc.). And - do not replace it with substitutes. Paper straws also end up as waste, so if they are not needed, just eliminate them!
Reuse as much as you can, not just cups, tableware, but every possible item.
Recycle. Buy your materials, even if they are durable, bearing in mind that some day their life will end and make sure they can be recycled.
Future events should aim to even go a step further and become climate positive. This can be achieved by a number of initiatives, such as: planting a tree for each ticket purchased, contracting green energy, cooperation for reuse of materials, sourcing within a positive value chain and making sure to use local, climate friendly suppliers and regional products for your catering.
As an event professional, you have the power of influence and should lead by example. A great way of putting this into practice is to include a visit or a corporate team building activity at Cantinho das Aromáticas when you plan your next event in Porto!
Luís Alves is a 48 years old agronomic engineer who was born in Porto. He started his career as head gardener in Parque de Serralves and founded the urban organic farming project, Cantinho das Aromáticas - a unique project of its kind in Western Europe, in 2002.
For the past 19 years he has been a farmer and nurseryman, producing hundreds of different species of aromatic and medicinal plants organically, from seed to final product.
Organic farming in Portugal has steadily increased in the past years as the population is growing more conscious of health and the environment, however, Cantinho das Aromáticas stands out with a multi-facetted concept that is not easily found anywhere else.
Culinary & Scientific
Luis is not only leading the farm’s production of high quality infusions, herbal teas and condiments that are sold on the national and international market, he is also the co-author of the recipe book “Erva uma Vez” and of numerous scientific research papers on aromatic plants.
Farm to table
The urban farm is located in the heart of Vila Nova de Gaia, within Porto, a city with over 300.000 inhabitants, and open to the public every day. Anyone interested in organic agriculture, the effects of medicinal plants or in meeting a contemporary farmer, Luis welcomes you with open arms. His mission is to bring honesty and transparency to a traditionally “anonymous” profession. And people love buying products directly from the farmer.
Family & Volunteers
Cantinho das Aromáticas is still a small family business and an inclusive concept. Workers like “Aunt Graça” are improving the techniques of plant production and contributing to the project’s success with their dedication and love.
A volunteering program has been open to the community for many years, starting with students and new agricultors interested in herbal tea farming. Now it is open to everybody who wants to experience a day working in the field.
Awards & Certifications
Luis has been distinguished with the title of Horticultural Technician of Honor, by the Portuguese Horticulture Association. And all the products stemming from Cantinho das Aromáticas are Kosher and Organic certified (Ecocert).
Organic farmers are both custodians and users of biodiversity at all levels. Traditional and adapted seeds are more resistant to diseases and more resilient to climatic stress. The maintenance of natural areas within and around the organic fields and the absence of chemical inputs create suitable habitats for wildlife, attracting new or re-colonizing species to the organic area, including wild flora and fauna and organisms beneficial to the organic system such as pollinators and pest predators.
At Cantinho das Aromáticas a number of organic agricultural techniques are applied to keep the ecological balance: living hedges, compost, plants that can be used as biopesticides and biodiversity gardens that attract beneficial insects and hedgehogs.
With our planet’s very existence being threatened by climate change, food scarcity is something that the global IPCC report foresees as a very likely consequence in the not too distant future. Governments may need to rethink their agricultural policies and focus on a sustainable infrastructure to prepare for the upcoming challenges.
Luis is committed to sustainable production and consumption and he supports other local and national producers by providing them the opportunity to sell their organic products (such as olive oil, honey, organic cosmetics) at the Cantinho’s shop.
Operating in a more respectful way with soil, water and avoiding genetically modified organisms at all stages of production, are other ways of preventing soil fertility or pest problems. And whilst there is still limited research available in this field, organic agriculture contributes to mitigating the greenhouse effect and global warming through its ability to sequester carbon in the soil.
The open concept of Cantinho das Aromáticas makes it a must to include in any program of a corporate event. Be it for a visit to Europe’s largest tea plantation, to enjoy nature in its purest form or to learn about medicinal plants and herbs, this is a unique opportunity to meet an authentic organic farmer, taste the products and get inspired with regards to a sustainable lifestyle.
So how does a morning at the urban farm sound, followed by a cooking session guided by one of Porto’s famous chefs - using organic herbs and ingredients only, of course!
In case you can really not manage to squeeze this into your next incentive program, you can still try the seasonings and organic herbal teas at some other great places in town: check out The Yeatman hotel, the WOW museum, restaurant Paparico or Tea house Tavi at Foz do Douro…