Velenje, Slovenia, Moving forward in Environmental Protection

by Jake Hunter on October 7, 2011

in Events,Inspiration

Recently I was able to visitthe Environmental Protection College  in Velenje, Slovenia, as part of the ERASMUS teacher mobility program. The first thing that struck me, not only about the city, but also the country, was its stunning beauty. This is due to the country being located in between the southern tip of the Alps and the northern coast of the Adriatic Sea. This offers amazing mountain top views along with picturesque valleys featuring many small lakes and rivers, complemented by a mild climate that has an abundance of sun in the summer and snow during the winter.

The striking beauty of the country is something that is not lost on the population either. This was evident by the number of outdoor activities and sporting facilities located throughout the country. In the city of Velenje alone, I observed countless basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts, along with the numerous football/soccer pitches that are a pre-requisite of any active European city.

An unexpected sight,  however,  was the number of solar panels set up to take advantage of the sunny climate, along with the public garbage bins that were categorized by the different types  of waste they are meant to hold.  This is another thing not lost on the population, the importance of the environment and its ecological make up that makes all of these outdoor activities possible. This is where the role of the Environmental Protection College comes into play.  Milena Pečovnik, the director of the college, said, “We formed the Environmental Protection College with a vision to become recognized as a high-quality academic institution for environmental protection in Southeast Europe. We apply high academic and research standards and wish to achieve a clearly recognizable importance for both the Slovenian and international economies, as well as for society in general.” This recognition of the three main aspects of sustainability, environmental, economical, and social responsibility, leads to a natural partnership with our Leadership for Sustainability program and our research in sustainability.

The motivation to strive for sustainability can be found in some of the factors that led to the founding of the college and a brief background of the region.

A statement from the dean Dr. Natalija Špeh said the following:

” It is probably no coincidence that the program of Environmental Protection College was set in the environment of Šaleška dolina with wide regional support, because this region has long been known as one of the most polluted and degraded regions in Slovenia. Just like in regions of Zasavje, Celje, Koroška and the wider Jesenice region, the post-war process of rapid and environmentally uncontrollable industrialization and urbanization severely burdened the region and its resources, and left us with a challenge and a necessity to provide long-term sustainable and environmentally friendly plans for handling the impaired environmental balance.”

This balance was something I was able to witness first hand. The city of Velenje is home to the Velenje coal mine, which plays a major role in the success of the city by employing roughly 10 percent of the population. There are also large manufacturing centers, such as the global headquarters of Gorenje, and other industrial centers located nearby that provide employment for much of the population.  Having the college present  in the region, enables  it to serve as a great testing ground for the students to understand why their  knowledge is needed in order for the economy and industry to grow  together in a sustainable way while still providing resources and employment for the residents. This commitment to environmental protection and sustainable practices as a whole shows the priority these subjects hold in the mindset of the population and is something I feel speaks well for the future sustainable development of the city, region, and nation as a whole.

The trip was a unique and beneficial  experience, and I look forward to the next visit and future collaborations.


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