The picturesque Croatian town of Poreč-Parenzo on the Adriatic Sea is fusing its rich tourist heritage with a more sustainable future. The European Climate Pact Ambassador and local businesswoman behind this transformation is Gordana Lalić.
My world: a desire to make a difference
Gordana moved to Poreč-Parenzo as a child and still lives there some 30 years later. ‘When I think of home, I think of Poreč’, she says. From an early age, she was keen to improve her town for the benefit of the environment and local residents. She remembers organising cleaning missions around her block of flats with her school friends during the holidays. ‘We called ourselves the Green Squad’, she laughs. ‘We can only have been six or seven, but we had meetings once a week and then went out to pick up litter.’
Gordana graduated from the University of Zagreb, specialising in renewable energy, and won a prestigious award from the Croatian Energy Institute for her thesis on wind turbine blades. ‘This was a turning point, as it made me realise this is what I wanted to do with my life’, she says. So, in 2012, when Gordana had the opportunity to use her green expertise to contribute to Poreč-Parenzo’s future, she jumped at the chance.
Today, Gordana is CEO of Parentium, a company founded and owned by the town of Poreč to oversee projects in construction, energy efficiency and environmental activities. Gordana’s job is to coordinate all EU and nationally funded climate and environment projects in the town. She has been directly responsible for more than 40 environmental transformation projects. ‘I think the fact that we have this municipal company shows our town’s determination to take a leap forward’, she says. ‘This can be an example to other municipalities, because having the human resources available is often key to actually getting things done.’
My action: reconciling heritage with sustainability
When towns like Poreč-Parenzo want to become greener, they face challenges that are specific to their historical and touristic character. Far from being deterred, Gordana saw these challenges as opportunities. ‘I came back to Poreč because I saw a lot of potential’, she says. As a top tourist destination, Poreč struggles with seasonality. It sees its population balloon to over 100 000 over the summer, while in winter the figure hovers at around 18 000. So, Gordana made it a priority to improve and insulate the town’s building stock to reduce emissions when the population fluctuates. Her projects helped to make the buildings more energy efficient, as well as making other improvements such as removing asbestos roofing from private houses.
Another of her priorities was to introduce sustainable public transport, which had not been considered economically viable for a town of this size, particularly during the winter months. Since residents have traditionally had no option but to use their cars, transport accounts for 47% of Poreč-Parenzo’s total energy consumption and is responsible for 59% of the town’s CO2 emissions. ‘Something really needed to be done’, says Gordana. ‘So, we are introducing our first electric bus on the streets, thanks to EU funding. This pilot will help us to gather data, and also give people time to think about transport in a different way. If successful, I think we’ll probably be the smallest town in Croatia offering a public transport service.’
Other initiatives have focused more broadly on redesigning the life of the town and prioritising people over cars. ‘We closed one of our most congested streets and pedestrianised it for two days’, Gordana says. ‘We wanted our residents to ask themselves what life would be like if it was always like this.’ As part of the Poreč-Living Streets project, parking spaces along the street were permanently turned into ‘parklets’ – green areas that can be used for socialising and enjoyment. ‘We’ve turned streets into living spaces with trees and benches.’
Our planet: small actions for a larger goal
Thanks to the efforts of Gordana and her team, the town has retained its tourist appeal while making life greener and more sustainable for residents. As one of the first Croatian signatories of the Covenant of Mayors – a pan-European network of cities taking energy and climate action – Poreč has already reduced CO2 emissions through measures such as installing solar panels on eight public buildings, including kindergartens, schools and sports halls. The electricity produced meets around 45% of these buildings’ electricity needs over the course of a year. In 2016, Poreč committed to reducing emissions by 40% by 2030, but today the town is more ambitious. It is poised to meet the goals of the European Green Deal to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 – and Gordana will not stop there. ‘When local authorities and empowered citizens work together, I think that every city, not only Poreč-Parenzo, has more than a good chance to achieve climate neutrality by 2050’, she says.
Gordana thinks small actions can be powerful when taken by everyone. As an example, she recalls the removal of single-use plastic items, such as straws and cups, from all municipal buildings back in 2020. This encouraged employees – from nursery-school teachers to library and museum staff – to opt for reusable alternatives. ‘Every small step helps’, says Gordana. ‘Removing single-use plastic cups required action from around 600 employees, but it meant 156 000 fewer cups being thrown out every year. Even small numbers, when multiplied, can have a major effect.’
The journey that both Gordana and the town of Poreč have been on over the last 10 years has culminated in her becoming an Ambassador for the European Climate Pact, a pan-European movement of people, businesses, organisations and governments united to make Europe greener, more sustainable and habitable for generations to come. Gordana believes it’s her responsibility to speak up about the urgent need for people to take climate action, and says, ‘It is important to nurture and develop dialogue with citizens.’ She intends to use her role in the Climate Pact to encourage leaders in other small towns and cities across Croatia and Europe to follow the example of Poreč-Parenzo: ‘As a Climate Pact Ambassador, I’ve come to realise that what we are doing can help to influence others. Everybody can learn something from another city.’
Gordana aims to inspire young people in particular to take climate action. This is particularly relevant in 2022, the European Year of Youth, which celebrates the vision and engagement of young people in building a greener future. ‘We’re leaving this world to the next generation. Only young people can take on the challenge. We have to support them, we have to educate them, and we have to leave a positive legacy for them so they can continue doing what needs to be done.’