The Future of Sustainability in Five Major Portuguese Municipalities

Five municipalities lay out their plans for a more sustainable future

The future of sustainability in Portugal has very much to do with the sharing of ideas and resources, according to the office of the EU Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira. The Ireland Portugal Business Network wholeheartedly agrees, and to that end, has pledged to hold his annual Sustainability Conference during St. Patrick's DayThis year, over the course of three days, starting on the 16th of March, the IPBN hopes to expand on the ideas presented last October by the AICEP Portugal Global Sustainability and Innovation Conference in which five Portuguese municipalities laid out their plans for a more sustainable future.

Many achievable goals have been set as well as other bigger ideas that aren't within the grasp of the municipalities without serious access to funding, but it's surely a step in the right direction. Here's the information that should be garnered, as there is a lot of movement on the local levels to keep Portugal at the forefront of the sustainable struggle.

Below is the video of the conference, but we've done the legwork to bring you the top talking points.

Joaquim Santos, Mayor of the Seixal Municipality presented “Project SeixalOn,” a set of innovative projects with the aim to establish technological solutions in the areas of the environment, biodiversity, mobility, energy, decarbonization, air quality, and climate change.

Carbon emissions saw a drop in 36% between 2007 and 2018 as a result of the commitment made by the municipality of Seixal following the implementation of the Covenant of Mayors. The municipality has gotten a 2.5 million Euro investment from the Environmental Fund (only 20% of the estimated cost) to establish The Living Lab for Decarbonisation, which is being used to test innovative solutions along the banks of the Seixal Bay. The Mayor stressed that they needed more funding to help complete their goal set which includes finalizing the following: the Brisa na Baía Eco Restaurant in Arrentela that uses photovoltaic and solar thermal panels, and even solar ovens. Green kiosks will be built in Seixal and Amora using both solar and wind power.

Electric car charging portals, electric minibusses, and personal electric mobility vehicles like scooters and bicycles will be introduced throughout the municipality to reduce traffic and promote greener transportation methods. Smart recycling points with monitoring sensors will be a standard in waste removal, with a built-in point system to reward citizens for environmentally-friendly behavior. Smart water meters will be installed around the Living Lab area so that data can be collected remotely thereby making it easier to detect leaks in the system and reduce consumption and operating costs. AMESeixal, the Municipal Energy Agency, will be monitoring all these implementations in a new control room currently being built. They are currently predicting a 680,626.71kwh reduction in energy consumption, a 288,291kwh reduction in energy consumption, a 283,865.50kwh production of renewable energy, and a 353,044 kg reduction in CO2 emissions. Additionally, there is a plan to collect biodegradable waste door-to-door called “Recolher Porta a Porta para Valorizar” which is projected to save 4,082 tonnes of waste from ending up in a landfill. 

Paulo Arsénio, the Mayor of the Beja Municipality presented “A Mobility Policy for Beja,” which took an in-depth look at sustainable mobility, public participation, and energy efficiency. In general, the municipality wants to save energy, use the sun as a green source, reduce CO2 Emissions, and have a nicer historical area for pedestrians. 

As this is the capital of the Baixa Alentejo region, solar equipment is important for both consumption and sales. The use of solar panels is currently being extended to many municipal buildings and other public areas. Their transport on-demand door-to-door transport system has been in use for some years already, but not they are expanding mobility and accessibility strategies to include heightened transportation of the elderly and disabled with reduced fare rates on public urban transport and taxi services. Intelligent parking systems are being implemented in the city center, allowing for free parking for residents in historic areas (in which the municipality has already closed many streets for pedestrian and bicycle traffic only) and an app to pay and top up the metered parking there and in other spots around town. There are also 10 - 12 electric charging stations in Beja, and Arsénio hopes to be able to expand that number as he believes it is the future.

The city already offers free public bicycles and is growing their cycling routes, and are offering electric bicycles that making riding the hills easier. The PART systems program designated 130 million euros for the country to fund public transportation in an initiative to reduce traffic and emissions. Arsénio argued that it isn’t a fair system as 33% of the total Portuguese area is in the Alentejo region so he was surprised the Beja received only 1 million while Lisbon received 75 million Euros. “We have to be stronger here in the internal region…[We] deserve the same opportunities as the people in Porto and Lisbon.”

Luciano Ribeiro, the Deputy Mayor of the Seia Municipality presented the “Efficient Management of Public Lighting” plan for Seia, located in the center of Portugal on the western range of the Serra da Estrela, which includes the highest peak in the country at 1993m of altitude.

In 2013 and 14, the municipality tested technological solutions in Sabugueiro, a small village, in energy efficiency, mobility, healthcare, water management, and more. “We have made mistakes, we have tried, and we are looking for better solutions.” Most importantly, the region is launching a green electricity campaign so that in 3-4 years, they can have zero emissions. Electric bike-sharing projects, PAYT waste management systems, water network management, and green spaces monitoring are things that are already being updated toward more sustainable means. Their 20-30 strategy toward a smart city concept includes upping the digital skills of the rural population by expanding polytechnic education to include data analytics and other necessary fields of study. 

Ricardo Costa, the City Counsellor of the Guimarães Municipality presented the “Guimarães Smart City” project in which the governing bodies are setting things in motion to grow this World Heritage site toward digital, smart, knowledge-based innovation with a focus on industry.

Implemented works and works in progress include smart parking apps to reduce emissions by knowing where spaces are available, real-time public transit apps that are working to provide arrival and stop schedules, environmental stations exist to measure air quality and collect important data to monitor conditions, and more. Civic participation services like the City Portal and Cityfy app for people to avoid going to the municipality center. Inspired by Cascais’ similar system, Guimarães is also attempting to reward its citizens for physical exercise with points in the app system. In terms of the economic situation, the city is launching IG9, an innovation and business development project designed for the growth and installation of companies in the territory with an industrial-based incubator and an academy for digital transformation. The municipality is also developing the ProximCity platform to provide free e-commerce solutions for merchants, restaurants, and hotels. In addition, Guimarães is part of the URBACT Cities4CSR (or Cities for Corporate Social Responsibility) international program to enable cities to work together and develop integrated solutions to common urban challenges, by networking, learning from one another’s experiences, drawing lessons, and identifying good practices to improve urban policies.

In the area of urban data, the city is looking to monitor ticketing, tourism, and traffic flows to allow for real-time city management and to provide a visual map of information to its citizens for better route and social planning. They are also expanding their free wifi service to hotspots throughout the city. Future goals include a medium-term strategy to create a clean energy hub exploring power through hydrogen, graphene, lithium, and more. Costa closed by explaining a plan to introduce autonomous driving roads, but saying that “Like other cities, we are big on ideas, but we lack resources.”

Miguel Pinto Luz, Deputy Mayor of the Cascais Municipality presented a plan entitled “Cascais: Creating time, time to live.” Cascais is the 4th largest city in Portugal and in terms of budget, they are the second largest after Lisbon. He went on to say that 60% of its inhabitants are expats, and 1/3 of the territory is a natural park.

The initiatives presented began with the MyCascais authentication system where a single login can allow residents to communicate with the municipality through a digital platform. Their free public transportation is totally free so getting the proper licensing to access it can simplify the life of the resident. He said, “This is Europe, so data belongs to our citizens…privacy is our motto.” Next, he presented the Cascais Control Center with its predictive capabilities in traffic, for example, this is very important to prevent transportation issues." The gap between voters and citizens will be targeted with an SLA that will give the city three days to fix an issue like a pothole in the streets, to build trust if the city could not comply. The Citypoints App is a “gamification of citizenship” where residents are awarded points for managing waste smartly, using the bike-sharing system, and other types of sustainable good behavior to be redeemed with tickets to museums, longer parking passes, and more. Finally, Pinto closed by saying that “Cascais doesn’t use technology to make the best of our time, but we use technology to create time to be happy.”

The EU Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira sent representative Hugo Sobral to conclude the conference. In his speech, he highlighted the critical moment we are in right now. Sobral said, “it is a decisive moment in Europe where the framework for sustainability is being discussed by the EU Council and the Parliament… There’s a 1.8 trillion-euro package to address the current crisis for funding to support transitions to more [eco-friendly] adjustments for the EU member states.” Now is the time to program and to strategize. It’s important that these regional and local programs are articulated in order to tap into the new funds. The strategies should be framed on the benefits for both the local and national levels. There should be a harmonious strategy, so the communication between Mayors is incredibly important so that strategies can complement one another. 

For example, Seixal, Beja, and Seia are all working on Smart streetlights using LED lights that can provide data on air, noise, irrigation systems, car parks, and be used as wi-fi hotspots. Beja currently uses 75% of these lights, while Seia is struggling to implement this technology region-wide as the municipality’s cash flow is insufficient to make the total investment, but they are working to find the solution with their 10-year investment solution plan. Perhaps teaming up on this initiative alone could spark major change across the entire country.

To summarize, since the GDP drop is the largest that anyone has seen in a single year, creating new sustainable initiatives is incredibly important, not just fixing what’s broken. Cities are obviously at the forefront of the COVID fight, but they are also the ones that will lead the fight in a more sustainable future for us all.