20 years ago, in May 1999, the first three green flags were raised in Helsinki, Finland. Eco-Schools programme had started in Finland in Autumn 1998, four years after its launch in Europe. The idea for starting the programme had come from the neighbouring countries Sweden and Denmark, from where came also the name of the programme, “Vihreä lippu” in Finnish and “Grön Flagg” in Swedish, meaning “Green Flag”. The programme is still run bilingually, with the both national languages Finnish and Swedish.
During the first year, the program started as a pilot in Eastern Helsinki, where 4 schools and 2 kindergartens joined it - half of them getting a green flag after the first year. However, thanks to good press coverage and enormous interest among environmental education -minded teachers, the programme started spreading fast. After one year, in Spring 2000, already 80 schools and kindergartens from many parts of Finland had joined the programme, and 36 received the flag!
These days, in 2019, there are around 300 schools and kindergartens involved in the programme in Finland, with around 270 of them having the green flag. Among these is also still one of the original participants, kindergarten Päiväkoti Neulanen, that has been on the Eco-Schools journey for the whole 20 years. From the very beginning kindergartens (ages 1-6) have been a big part of the programme, nowadays forming 45% of the participant!
Back in 1998, when Päiväkoti Neulanen joined the programme, they had no previous experience of environmental education. However, during the 20 years in the programme, environmental education has become a core value of their educational work- “Our whole staff is very engaged in, and proud of the Green Flag, and environmental education is deep in our values and everyday activities” say early education teachers Karoliina Silander and Kira-Mia Tuisku, who nowadays take charge of running the program there. However, it is the work of their predecessors and long-time colleagues, that should be given the biggest credit – “Thanks to them, many good ideas and activities have continued to live on throughout the years, and it has been easy for new employees to get in the Eco-Schools work”.
A funny side story:
Päiväkoti Neulanen won the Finnish national prize in the Environment & Innovation contest 2009 organized by the international Eco-Schools programme. Their winning entry idea in the energy-saving innovation contest was a free-standing drying rack for wet outdoor gloves, integrated to a radiator.
The innovation didn’t get much international fame, because the international jury of the competition didn’t understand its purpose at all: “why would any school need to dry wet gloves on a daily basis?” Little did they know, that in Finland the kids spend time outdoors every day, whatever the weather – and therefore such a drying rack could save a lot of energy by removing the need for a separate drying cabinet
This May, the 20th anniversary of Eco-Schools in Finland was celebrated in three regional birthday parties and award ceremonies on different sides of the country. Over 600 eco-committee members from schools and kindergartens joined the happy celebrations. Hooray, Eco-Schools 20 years in Finland!