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The Barcelona Schools Agenda 21 Program

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Barcelona (ciudad)

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Main actors

Local Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2001/01

The Barcelona Schools Agenda 21 Program is aimed to integrate the principles of sustainability in schools’ educational programs.

The Barcelona Schools Agenda 21 Program was promoted in 2001 by the Barcelona City Council in collaboration with the AGBAR Foundation and the Barcelona Municipal Institute for Education. It aims at integrating the principles of sustainability in schools’ educational programs, and stimulates a participatory learning-process, developing skills and knowledge amongst pupils. Each school is invited to design, implement, and evaluate projects on environmental education according to individual needs and conditions. The project addresses the entire school community. Participants benefit through different measures of the program: the teaching staff is supported throughout the school year with information and consultancy in various forms (e.g. materials, seminars, personal advice). A network of school centres share best practice examples and experiences. The program builds a link between educational institutions, Barcelona, other external actors in the field of sustainability.

Hundreds of diversified environmental projects are implemented in Barcelona each year. The number of committed schools and organizations is rapidly increasing.

The Barcelona Schools Agenda 21 is a process which can be applied in any city concerned with environmental issues. It is successful because of its flexible and participatory character for coordinators and participants. In the long term, it can improve the population’s environmental consciousness.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Dubai International Award for Best Practices

This project was awarded the 'Dubai International Award for Best Practices' in 2010.

Barcelona (ciudad), Spain

Size and population development
In 2018, the Institute of Catalonia recorded the city of Barcelona’s population as 1,620,343. The city covers an area 101.4km2 with a population density of 15,987 per kim2. The population of the city remains relatively stable as it is already exceptionally densely populated while the surrounding metropolitan area continues to grow steadily

Population composition
The population is comprised of 52.73A% female and 47.27%male. The 0-14 is recorded at 12.63%,15-64 at 65.83%, 65-84 at 17.41% and 85+ @ 4.13%. 62% of the population were born in Catalonia, while almost 24% come from other areas of Spain. Approximately 14% come from other countries, a percentage that has significantly risen from less than 4% in 2001. Most migrants are from Pakistan, Italy, China, Ecuador, Bolivia and Morocco and the city is home to Spain’s largest (approximately 3,500) Jewish community. Spanish is the most spoken language in Barcelona and is understood almost universally. After Spanish, the Catalan language is the second most spoken language, and is understood by 95% of the population, while 72.3% can speak it, 79% can read it, and 53% can write it. 49.5% of Barcelona residents of all ages identified themselves at Catholic. The numbers reflect a broader trend in Spain whereby the numbers of self-identified Catholics has declined. Other religions include Jewish, Islamic, Evangelical, Jehovah’s Witness, Evangelical Buddhism and Eastern Orthodox.

Main functions
The city of Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia and the second-largest city in Spain. The city is located on the Iberian Peninsula facing the Mediterranean Sea between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs and bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola mountain range, the tallest peak of which is 512 metres high. Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and is today an important cultural centre and a major tourist destination. Particularly renowned are the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Main industries / business
The city of Barcelona is a leading economic, tourism, sports, cultural heritage, arts, science, fashion, and commerce center. In 2018 it maintained its ranking as the fourth most economically powerful city by GDP in the European Union and is one of the world's most prosperous city brands.

Sources for city budget
The City of Barcelona draws its budget for public expenditure largely from property tax, fees, fines, operating revenues, other taxes and subsides from the Government of Spain

Political structure
As the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, Barcelona is the seat of the Catalan government. The city is also the capital of the Province of Barcelona. Barcelona is governed by a city council formed by 41 city councillors, elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage. Barcelona's city council is organised in two levels: a political one, with elected city councillors, and one executive, which administrates the programs and executes the decisions taken on the political level.

Administrative structure
Since 1987, the city of Barcelona has been divided into 10 administrative districts. These are administrated by a councillor designated by the main city council. The executive branch is led by a Chief Municipal Executive Officer who reports to the Mayor. It is made up of departments which are legally part of the city council and by separate legal entities of two types: autonomous public departments and public enterprises.

It is critical to integrate young people into the strategies in order for an intergenerational approach like sustainable development to be successful. Schools are important places for the distribution of sustainability values. Young citizens themselves influence their families and local communities. Since the 1980’s Barcelona schools broached issues of ecological and social education, but a widely effective, long-term strategy and a systematic support by the administration were missing.

Hence, Barcelona City Council's Environment Department set up the Barcelona Schools Agenda 21 Program to strengthen environmental education and to promote improvements of participating schools’environments. Till the university level, all types of education centres can take part: nurseries (0-3 olds), infants (4-6 olds), primary schools (7-12 olds), secondary schools (13-18 olds), and all sectors of special education. The program is designed for teachers, pupils, non-teaching staff, and families. It is aimed to stimulate and consult schools in designing, carrying out, and evaluating projects on sustainable development. Related initiatives begin with the immediate environment, like the school itself and its neighbourhood. A network among schools committed to sustainability is formed in order to exchange ideas and experiences. Part of this collaboration is sharing best environmental practices. Another priority is to support a culture of participation and cooperation at schools.

In 2000, the Barcelona Schools Agenda 21 Program was formed as a part of the Local Agenda 21. Reactions of schools were already in the beginning immense and the number of participants grew incrementally: In the first year, 2001, a number of 69 schools participated, and by 2012, the number grew to 388, more than half of all Barcelona Schools. The number of supporting NGOs, organizations, and institutions increased from 147 in 2002 to 448 in 2012.

An interdisciplinary team specifies the program’s basic services to the needs of each school. Through the year, teachers are supported with individual consultancies through email, telephone, and fax services 10 hours daily. Recent information is presented through a website and a biweekly electronic newsletter. Numerous technical and pedagogical information seminars and school visits are offered to directors, teachers, and non-teaching staff. Reflection groups and exchange days with inter-school working-groups are also offered. Furthermore, supporting materials and teaching resources are provided to schools. There is a large online-collection of documents on the different related topics.

Networking is not simply limited within schools; contacts to other related organizations are also facilitated. The city management, civil organizations committed to sustainability, and other signatories of the Barcelona Agenda 21 are emphasized organizations for external cooperation. One example is the initiative "Apropa’t als Parcs", which invites pupils to design and develop projects in a park area near their school and to turn the green space into a learning context. There are also connections to the national and international level. For example, pupils went to the Climate Change Meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, and exchanges, supported by the European Leonardo Program, with students from Germany, Hungary, France, and Greece were organized. The Barcelona Schools Agenda 21 forms part of different programs and school networks focusing on sustainability on a regional, national, and international level. Examples are XESC (School Network for Sustainability in Catalonia), the international youth program "Let's take care of the planet" (since 2010), and, since 2012, CoDeS (Collaboration of Schools and Communities for Sustainable Development).

To establish a participation scheme in the long term, milestones are set during the school year, including deadlines for project submissions or dates for notifications of approval. The participating schools agree to submit a yearly project on their objectives and projects including the number of participants and organizations as well as required resources. At the beginning of each school year, participants are invited to a solemn ceremony at the historical City Hall. In addition two closing events, one for primary and one for secondary schools, take place at the end of each school year. These community supporting congresses give students the chance to present their projects and exchange experiences.

Coordinators of the Barcelona Schools Agenda Program point out the continuity of the process. It consists of five phases, which emphasize individually the circumstances at each school:

  • "Motivation": Actions of interest and the possible commitment toward sustainability are identified in order to encourage the involvement of people and groups. The school communities are informed about ideas and committees are set up for coordinating projects.
  • "Diagnosis": Individual needs and strengths of each school’s educational program as well as its environmental and socio-environmental conditions are made concrete.
  • "Action Plan": Most urgent and more approachable problems are identified, a common vision is found, and an action plan designed.
  • "Implementation": The plan is implemented into practice.
  • "Assessment ": Participants track the process and appraise the degree of achievement of each of the goals. Objectives and actions are adjusted to the assessment. In 2005 a group of teachers from different schools collected comparable indicators and designed a guide for self-evaluation. It is divided into five parts: the educational process, the educational program for each subject and educational level, the management of recourses and school environment, the participatory culture at school, and relations to external actors in the field of sustainability.

In 2008, there was a budget of 321,480 Euros; it increased to 461.900 Euros by 2012. Each year main financial recourses come from the Environmental Department of the Barcelona City Council (around 80 %), which is also responsible for the coordination. The remaining 20 % are financed by different companies and non-profit organizations. The general development is supported by the AGBAR Foundation or concrete actions like construction by engineering enterprises.

The technical consulting service of the program consists of a pedagogical coordinator, five technicians (not all work fulltime), and one administrational secretary. For specific technical counselling and training tasks experts are hired of different institutions and specialized enterprises regarding different topics and socio-environmental challenges. The Barcelona Schools Agenda also takes part in different educational research programs of the European Union.

The Barcelona Schools Agenda creates a connection between two important affairs within the city of Barcelona: education and the Local Agenda 21. In 2012, there were 388 schools involved in the program. Since 2001 around 82,000 pupils, 7,600 teachers, and 63,000 families have taken part. There are a growing number of projects each year. In 2012, 320 have been carried out in various fields, from energy and water saving to sustainable transport and responsible consumption. More than 201 school vegetable gardens and 204 composts were built. 69 schools take part in actions related to waste prevention. 76 schools installed thermal or photovoltaic solar mini-plants. Twelve high schools are participating in the international education-project "Let’s Take Care of the Planet". 23 schools are doing actions in 11 different parks of the city. In 2012, over 90% of schools in Barcelona have requested information and 1,100 teachers, educators, and directors have participated in 69 training services. An active network was formed, which is strengthened by regular events during the school year. In 2012, the Barcelona Schools Agenda organized 55 exchange sessions, where 2,889 participants (pupils, teachers, etc.) participated. All participating schools were able to establish their own self-appraisal mechanisms, which turned out to be to be important for their autonomy. Another positive result was the new and profound connection that was established between the city and actors of the field of sustainability and schools.

The conceptual complexity and broadness of sustainable development turned out to be a challenge for some of the teachers. Many projects are focused on ecological issues. Some teacher have difficulties in defining concepts behind the term "environmental," which has influence on the educational plan. It is a challenge to emphasize that the objective does not revolve around changing the environmental habits of pupil’s day to day lives, but rather to form the abilities to observe and analyse the environment, and design alternative ways of actions. It was difficult to achieve a satisfying level of pupil participation and to build up a capacity for decision-making and team-working among the young participants and at schools in general.

As a measure to improve long term success, after five years of taking part in the program, schools are invited to formulate a comprehensive self-evaluation on their most ambitious initiatives. As a reward they receive a plaque of acknowledgement and 1,200 Euro to motivate them to set up new projects. Furthermore, there are special seminars offered to the school-staff. During these teachers are trained in facing more complex challenges that require a long term planning (up to three years) and in which concepts related to sustainability, innovation, transformation, flexibility, participation, and leadership of pupils meet management as well as the development of curriculum and a more sustainable school environment.

The success of the program was evaluated by looking at different key issues. First, a balance of cooperation, school autonomy, and long term commitment was observed. The program offers participants flexibility regarding their commitment to the network. A sense of collectivism was applied to individual efforts. The program allows education centres to identify their needs for action, and create suitable approaches themselves. At the same time, participants receive inspiration and support from partners. Program coordinators have learned to diversify their help. The idea of individuality is also reflected in the personal treatment of school staff. To motivate schools to take part, personal contact has been of key importance.

It is important for long term success to support a culture of critical citizenship. This includes the ability to recognize needs regarding sustainable development, finding methods of action, and evaluating and improving processes. It is reflected in the idea of motivation via rewarding special efforts. Critical to the success of the program was establishing ties with the municipal managers in order find the most sustainable solutions regarding building criteria and services (energy savings, ecological food, etc.). An important lesson learned is to keep the program adjustable for coordinators: instruments can be adapted and resources adjusted.

The Schools Agenda 21 was a pioneer project in Spain. Because of its success the idea has been used in other Spanish cities as well as in Portugal, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Cuba. It is applicable in any city, especially in those with a Local Agenda 21.

Education for Sustainable Development: The Barcelona School Agenda 21 Program:

Education for Sustainable Development: The Barcelona School Agenda 21 Program, ICLEI:

Ajuntament de Barcelona (2012): Educating for sustainability: The Barcelona school agenda 21 programme. Web:

Ajuntament de Barcelona (2000 - 2012): Documents - a collection of documents on the Barcelona School Agenda 21. Web:

Ajuntament de Barcelona (2011a): Environmental Education and management : two complementary strategies for the school community. Web:

Ajuntament de Barcelona (2011b): En el camí de l’escola sostenible. Una nova guia per fer l’Agenda 21 Escolar. Web:

Ajuntament de Barcelona (2012b): Departament d'Estadística. Web:

Brettschneider, N. and Simpson, R. (2011): Education for Sustainable Development: The Barcelona School Agenda 21 Program. Bonn:

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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