A panoramic view of the city of Pilsen

Blog #3: Schools in the challenges of climate neutrality

Pilsen, engaging schools to define climate neutrality challenges

“We want to hear what’s bothering you”. The city of Pilsen, one of the major cities in the Czech Republic, is working on an opinion survey among teenage students to identify the climate city challenges.

Pilsen is the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic with its about 170.000 inhabitants. It is located in western Bohemia. It is an important industrial, commercial, cultural, and administrative centre. Industrialisation took off in the 19th century. At that time, such industrial giants as the engineering complex Skoda and the Pilsen Brewery were established.

Nowadays, the modern industrial zone in Borska Fields represents an extraordinary project in the Czech industrial sphere. Given the numerous woods and rivers that surround Pilsen, recreational possibilities for the citizens and visitors are numerous. Next to being home to the traditionally very advanced engineering, machinery and electrotechnics industry, the city has recently positioned itself as an innovation hub, attracting multiple companies providing solutions in the fields of software development, sustainable mobility, artificial intelligence, UAVs, digital twins, autonomous driving etc.

In this framework, Pilsen is a city right on the forefront of the fight against climate change, and was recently one of the locations in which round table discussions over the adaptation of climate change took place (the others being Prague and Brno).

Led by the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation, the discussions were open to research institutions, think tanks, NGOs, non-profits, city representatives and other professionals and addressed the current issues these cities faced in the face of climate change.

These are some of the reasons that motivated the city to join CLIMABOROUGH as a follower, to keep improving its strategy, understanding the importance to join network of cities in its learning process. The project will represent an occasion to test a brand new innovation process to drive to climate neutrality, also via the use of digital applications.

The City of Pilsen will need to define a challenge in the domain of energy or mobility, but they wish to do something to involve citizens and to drive to behavioural change. Inspired by their colleagues in Athens, Pilsen chose to involve schools.

In a recent opinion survey conducted among teenage students in Pilsen, the city by means of Správa informačních technologií města Plzně (SITMP) sought to understand the concerns and aspirations of Pilsen youth.

In order to persuade as many young people as possible to stay in Pilsen in the future,  the city initiated the Pilsen INnovative Ecosystem (PINE), which is not only supporting education and business opportunities, but also aiming to improve the city environment. In other words, to make Pilsen a pleasant place to live, to bring up the children, to do business and to do everything in the interest of the city’s future prosperity. The more talent and ideas, the more successful companies, the better we will live in Pilsen.

Therefore, the target group involved consisted of young people aged approximately 15 – 18. As the colleagues in Athens once stated – children can be the most effective influencers for their families with a potential to influence their families positively, and are also the ones with a will to change and actually changing their behaviour more easily as compared with the adults. And also, the children do affect us to change our behaviour as well. By reaching one individual, you are reaching many.

To help to identify issues these young adults are facing every day and to improve their condition as much as possible, it was an obvious thing to hear their opinions from the very beginning. Simply, we wanted to learn what we should be focusing on in the CLIMABOROUGH project – to show us the direction we should follow.

There was no need to start from a scratch since there already is a “communication channel” to the teenagers thanks to the “Startupuj” Project. In this project, SIT Port[1] teaches high school students to support business education; and another contact was made within the co-hackathon community event. In order to do this, Pilsen got in touch the SIT Port project managers who kindly offered to help us and suggested spending some time within school lessons and a co-hackathon event that took place on December, 8th.

As a result, the survey took place in 5 school classes in 3 selected Pilsen high schools. First, the session started with a short introduction of the CLIMABOROUGH project and followed with a discussion in which the individual challenges of pilot cities were briefly outlined. Afterwards, the objective was to hear (or to read) from the young people how they feel about their city – what they like, dislike, feel, where they see some “ugly spots” and imperfections – preferably in the field of city mobility, energy savings, circulation & waste that can be ameliorated. A questionnaire and a QR link to the its online form was distributed among the students

Thanks to this, the total participation reached more than 200 teenage students and young people and received over 180 responses.

As the findings show, a need to work on behaviour change of citizens and education emerged. To explain – a responses stated thing like “Under no circumstances would I ride a bike to school” or “Nobody cares about energy savings at school because we don’t pay it directly” showing that our students are not used to ride a bike to school (and this could be perceived in connection with the social status), and do not feel the need to save the energy because they do not feel responsible for the electricity bills.

Second, when it comes to education – teaching in schools that we really have no planet B, explaining climate change, necessity of energy savings, waste sorting, recycling, carbon footprint evaluation would also be appreciated and welcomed from the students. Given that the CLIMABOROUGH city demonstrator is likely to have a very small overall city impact, its effect could be multiplied when the change of behaviour is positively stimulated and raising of citizen awareness promoted as much as possible.

To bring to a conclusion, the responses from young people drew attention to their day-to-day problems and helped to identify some weak points within the city – although some were not directly related to the CLIMABOROUGH project.

Hence, these results are interesting and stimulating for other city departments and have a strong potential for other work to be done as well. The opinions of Pilsen’s teenage students have highlighted numerous opportunities for Pilsen whihc will be elaborated within the upcoming CLIMABOROUGH challenge definition project meetings.

This case in Pilsen shows perfectly the CLIMABOROUGH paradigm, cities can grow fast in climate transition as long as they play the game, getting involved in European networks and daring to closely work with citizens and key target groups.

[1] SIT PORT is a “port open to anyone“ aimed at building a technical community, supporting budding entrepreneurs and providing facilities: www.sitport.cz


Martina Surynkova (SITMP/City of Pilsen)

Matteo Satta (ANCI Toscana)